I kind of doubt that the 2020 presidential contest will ever settle into anything that resembles a normal campaign, and regardless of what the pollsters say, I’ll be biting my nails on Election Day because I’ve already lived through one contest I thought Donald Trump would surely lose only to see him win. Yet, if there’s anything that could give me a sense of calm and confidence, it’s persistently bad polls from Florida for the president that show he’s not even competitive there.
Here’s a start on that. The University of North Florida Public Opinion Research Lab polled 3,244 registered Floridians last week and found them highly unimpressed with Trump’s performance on the Covid-19 pandemic.
Although Gov. Ron DeSantis has taken his cues in handling the state’s response to the coronavirus directly from the president, a narrow majority of Florida voters approve of the job he is doing, while most disapprove of the way President Donald Trump is handling the crisis…
…Only 45% strongly or somewhat approve of the job Trump is doing to address the pandemic, with 53% disapproving. By contrast, a narrow majority, 51%, approve of the job DeSantis is doing while 46% disapprove.
The poll also shows Trump trailing Joe Biden 40 percent to 46 percent. This is a change in public opinion. Two polls from early March, one by Univision and one by Florida Atlantic University, showed Trump beating Biden. In fact, I’ve seen no evidence throughout Trump’s first term until now that he has much to worry about in Florida at all. He’s looked consistently strong there, enough so to discourage me from the thought that the Sunshine State will be a swing state this time around.
If Florida were the only state to flip from red in 2016 to blue in 2020, Trump would still win the Electoral College by a 277-261 margin. But Florida is very unlikely to be the first (or only) state to flip. Assuming any states flip, Florida is likely to the third or fourth or fifth domino to fall. The demographics and politics of the state assure that is not the ripest target for Biden. If Pennsylvania were also to fall, Biden would win 281-257. That’s all it would take.
So, if November arrives and Trump is looking deeply underwater in Florida and I have confidence that he will lose there, I can feel even more confident that he’s on track to lose the election. There are signs that the botched handling of the coronavirus crisis has hurt the standing of not only Trump in Florida, but also Governor Ron DeSantis and Senator Rick Scott. In particular, Scott, who has the state’s governor from 2011-2019, is being blamed for making Florida’s unemployment insurance system an ungenerous and hard to navigate pain in the ass.
Privately, Republicans admit that the $77.9 million system that is now failing Florida workers is doing exactly what Scott designed it to do — lower the state’s reported number of jobless claims after the great recession.
“It’s a sh– sandwich, and it was designed that way by Scott,” said one DeSantis advisor. “It wasn’t about saving money. It was about making it harder for people to get benefits or keep benefits so that the unemployment numbers were low to give the governor something to brag about.”
It could be that Trump will bounce back, or that the polls remain close enough that I can’t have any confidence about the outcome. But if Trump isn’t competitive in Florida, it’s really hard to see how he can win reelection.