WASHINGTON - Joe Biden continues to make inroads against President Donald Trump in states that went Republican four years ago, new polling suggests. If Democrats can flip a few of them - especially Arizona or Florida - while maintaining their 2016 wins, Biden's path to victory would be a straightforward one.
Elsewhere in the world of data, a Senate race in Maine illustrates the perils of moderation in the modern GOP and - following Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's death on Friday - a partisan divide is clear over when the next Supreme Court justice should be chosen, and by whom.
BIDEN AIMS TO FLIP RED STATES BLUE
Nationally, Biden continues to enjoy the medium-sized polling lead he's now maintained for months (although it has dropped slightly from earlier peaks). During the two-week period concluding Sept. 22, the USC Dornsife poll put him 9 points ahead of Trump, 51% to 42%. FiveThirtyEight's polling average shows a slightly smaller but still impressive 7.3-point Biden lead.
As Hillary Clinton's Electoral College defeat in 2016 made clear, elections are won at the state level, not nationwide. But new polls also show Biden winning or trailing closely behind in key states that went for Trump last time around, suggesting that Biden's position in the states is more favorable than Clinton's was.
Two red states that would make a Trump win almost impossible were they to flip blue - Florida and Texas - remain close, new polling from CBS News and YouGov finds. Of likely Florida voters, 48% favored Biden while 46% favored Trump in the CBS/YouGov poll; their Texan counterparts favored Trump 48% 46%.
A poll by the Washington Post and ABC News gives a slightly different picture of Florida - one where Trump has a small edge, 51% to 47% among likely voters.
How to make sense of the difference? The key thing is that both the YouGov and Post/ABC polls have the lead within their surveys' margins of error. That means both polls are saying that the race in Florida - a perennially close state - is, once again, too close to call. Remember that polls are based on random samples, and therefore always have some built-in uncertainty, no matter how well they are done. In addition, pollsters also have the challenge of figuring out not only how people would vote, but if they'll vote at all, which adds more uncertainty.
Rather than focus too much on any individual survey, look at the averages. In Florida's case, they show a very close race.
North Carolina is another state that Trump won in 2016 that remains very close. A new Emerson College survey found likely voters split 50% Biden, 49% Trump, with only 1% undecided.
Then there's Arizona, where Monmouth University identified a decent lead for Biden among all registered voters, 48% to 44%. Different likely voter turnout models produce a tighter race: Higher turnout than 2016 narrowed the split to 48% Biden and 46% Trump, while lower turnout brought things to a dead tie at 47% each.
Another Arizona poll, again by the Washington Post and ABC News, found more positive results for the Trump campaign: Biden had a two-point lead among registered voters, but a one-point deficit among likely ones - again, all within the margin of error.
Georgia, however - which Clinton supporters dreamed of flipping but lost decisively - remains a tough nut for Democrats to crack, per a new Monmouth poll. Registered voters split 47% for Trump, 46% for Biden, Monmouth found. In the survey's alternative likely voter turnout models, Trump's lead improved slightly to 48% to 46% if turnout increased.
IN MAINE, AN INCUMBENT OUT OF SYNC WITH TRUMPISM
The Trump-Biden race isn't the only one on the ballot, but it affects many other races, especially for the Senate. In Maine, a new Suffolk University/Boston Globe survey finds Republican Sen. Susan Collins trailing Democratic challenger Sara Gideon by 5 points.
The survey found that 46% of respondents plan to rank Gideon first in the state's ranked-choice voting system, while Collins was the top choice of only 41%.
Collins is widely viewed as one of the remaining Republican moderates in the Senate. She's supported abortion rights and voted to uphold Obamacare, while voting to confirm conservative Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh and acquit Trump during the president's impeachment trial.
The result has left her with some unenthusiastic Trump supporters on one side and liberal critics and challengers on the other.
Now, another nomination battle for the high court has made Collins' long-running balancing act even harder. The senator says she will oppose any nominee prior to the election, and although the Suffolk/Globe survey was mostly conducted before Ginsburg's death, the Globe's interviews with respondents suggest the issue only complicates her bid.
"Few voters interviewed were impressed with Collins' announcement that she thinks the winner of the Nov. 3 election should make the nomination," the Globe's Victoria McCrae wrote.
SUPREME COURT BATTLE RAISES ELECTION STAKES EVEN HIGHER
Ginsburg's open Supreme Court seat entered the presidential race like a firecracker thrown into a packed room.
But the immediate question - whether Republicans should try to push through the new justice before the election - has voters split along clear partisan lines.
YouGov found that 51% of registered voters opposed Trump making an appointment before the next inauguration, versus 42% who said he should. While 84% of Democrats opposed a nomination now, 86% of Republicans favored one.
A poll by Reuters/Apso's worded the question slightly differently, asking if the winner in November should make the appointment, and got a different result: 62% of Americans - including 84% of Democrats and 49% of Republicans - favored having November's winner make the call. Presumably, many of the Republicans in the survey think Trump will win.
The loss of the liberal Ginsburg has motivated Democrats more than Republicans, a Morning Consult/Politico poll suggests. In one week, the number of Democrats who identified the Supreme Court as "very important" to how they will vote increased by 12 percentage points, while for Republicans the increase was only 4.
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