Patrick Semansky / AP
Thursday, Oct. 8, 2020 | 12:30 p.m.
Joe Biden maintains a steady lead over President Donald Trump in Nevada and the two are virtually tied in Ohio, as voters continue to express dissatisfaction with the president’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, according to new polls by The New York Times and Siena College released Wednesday.
Biden leads 48% to 42% among likely voters in Nevada and 45% to 44% in Ohio, the polls found. Six percent of Nevada voters and 7% of Ohioans said they remain undecided. The polls were taken after Trump announced he had tested positive for the coronavirus, and most of the survey took place before Trump returned Monday to the White House from the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
As the two campaigns spar this week over safety precautions for next week’s debate, voters in both states, including about 20% of Trump’s supporters, said by wide margins that the president did not take adequate precautions to protect himself from the virus.
The results illustrate the shifting political dynamics in a pair of states each party has been hoping to flip from its 2016 results. When The Times polled Nevada last month, Biden held a 4-point lead. And Ohio, a state critical to Trump’s Electoral College prospects, appears to be a tossup after Republicans and many Democrats had assumed the state’s demographics made it virtually certain to remain in Trump’s column. The president carried Ohio by 8 percentage points in 2016.
The margin of error for both polls is 4.3 percentage points.
The results show the extent to which voters’ views on the coronavirus crisis and Trump’s management of it continue to hang over the election.
Voters in Nevada said, by a 10-point margin, that they trusted Biden more than the president to handle the pandemic. In Ohio, Biden’s advantage on the question was 7 points.
About one-third of voters in each state said Trump did take adequate precautions to protect himself, while 62% in Nevada and 58% in Ohio said he did not.
And asked how politicians should campaign during the pandemic, just 20% of Ohio voters and 28% of Nevadans said it is appropriate to appear in person before large crowds. Sixty-five percent of Ohioans and 58% of Nevada voters said candidates should campaign only in front of small, socially distanced groups.
Even sizable chunks of Trump’s own supporters — 37% in Ohio and 22% in Nevada — found his large rallies to be inappropriate in the coronavirus era.
“I really wish he had been more of a role model in showing us how to be safe,” said Karen Pellerin, a 57-year-old retiree from Sparks. “I’m pretty disgusted that he gets out the hospital and walks around the White House with the virus.”
Still, Pellerin said she planned to vote for Trump. She said she had “no confidence” in Biden and his running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris of California.
Biden’s strength in the two states, as it is elsewhere, is powered by women; he led Trump by 11 percentage points among women in Ohio and 14 points in Nevada. He also has retained a significant advantage among suburban voters, leading by 32 percentage points in Nevada and 22 points in Ohio.
Biden’s 6-point lead among likely voters in Nevada comes after Democrats have fretted for months about the state’s large population of unionized casino workers being put out of work because of the pandemic. The Culinary Union, which represents casino workers in Las Vegas and Reno, had 90% of its members unemployed in March, vastly increasing the difficultly in organizing workers who had not already left the state.
Until recent weeks Biden’s campaign has barely contested Ohio, a state that has moved solidly toward Republicans in recent years. His campaign has been focusing what television advertising it has purchased in Ohio in markets that bleed into Michigan and Pennsylvania, battleground states that are more critical to his path to winning the Electoral College. But with polls showing a narrow race there, Democrats in the state have been urging the Biden team to be more competitive.
The former vice president’s polling lead is particularly significant in Nevada, where in 2016 nearly 70% of all votes were cast before Election Day. In Clark County, the state’s largest, ballots were mailed out to registered voters Wednesday.
More than 2 million Ohioans — more than a quarter of the state’s registered voters — have requested absentee ballots, which officials were to begin mailing Tuesday.
Christine Ponkowski, who owns a housecleaning business in Henderson, described Trump’s handling of his own coronavirus case as infuriating. Ponkowski, 56, won’t enter a room in a client’s home unless it there are no other people present, to protect herself and her customers.
Ponkowski said she planned to cast her ballot for Biden on Thursday.
“It’s sad when anybody gets the virus,” she said. “I have family members who have gotten the virus. My next thought is maybe this will wake him up. But it just empowered him and his minions who follow him.”
Like many Biden supporters, Ponkowski said she is planning to vote for the former vice president primarily to remove Trump from office. Asked why she plans to vote for Biden, she replied: “Because Bernie Sanders isn’t on the ticket.”
In both states, Biden is winning overwhelming support from voters who in 2016 cast ballots for third-party candidates or didn’t vote. In Ohio, 51% of third-party voters are backing Biden, compared with just 16% for Trump. In Nevada, Biden leads those voters 45% to 26%.
Biden is also peeling off about twice as many of Trump’s 2016 vote as Trump is from Hillary Clinton’s, the poll found.
In Columbus, Ohio, Kirsten Mullins, an accountant for a hedge fund, voted for Trump in 2016 but plans to vote for Biden this year. She described herself as a fiscal conservative but said that Trump had failed to lead the country through the coronavirus pandemic.
Mullins, 28, described Trump’s photo-op ride to wave at supporters outside Walter Reed hospital Sunday as “embarrassing.”
“For him to tweet that he’s the best he’s felt in 20 years and taking the credit for drugs that 99% of Americans are not going to have access to, it’s a slap in the face for people who are struggling with the repercussions of this virus every day,” she said.
In both states, Trump retains a base of committed supporters who chafe at what they perceive as personal disrespect from Democrats and the media.
Bill Brandyberry, a home inspector from Canton, Ohio, said he was offended by the haranguing that Trump took from Democrats and some journalists for removing his mask upon returning to the White House on Monday night.
“They’re making a big deal about how he removed his mask,” Brandyberry said. “I didn’t see anybody around him, and he was outside on the front porch. Come on. That’s what I’m tired of.”
Brandyberry, 61, said his mother died of the coronavirus in May and her cremated remains sit on his fireplace hearth because restrictions in Pennsylvania, where she is to be buried, limit funerals to 25 people.
Still, he said he was more concerned about the prospect of a Biden administration than he was about Trump’s handling of the pandemic.
“Biden will defund the police, ruin the police departments and then take my gun, and then what,” he said.
Biden has said repeatedly he opposes defunding the police and has proposed increasing federal aid to law enforcement agencies, with conditions.
The nation’s partisan divide even colors voters’ perception of the seriousness of Trump’s illness. Republicans, by a margin of 79% to 10% in Ohio, and 84% to 10% in Nevada, overwhelmingly believe that Trump will recover quickly from the virus. Pluralities of Democrats in both states said he will “take weeks to recover.”
“I’m surprised that he seems to have recovered quickly given what I’ve heard about the virus,” said Suzan Loda, a 62-year-old homemaker from Winnemucca. “If those drugs were that effective at making him get well so quickly, I would like to see them available to everyone.”
Loda said she remained undecided in the presidential campaign but was leaning toward backing Trump.