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Biden Leads But Many Anticipate Secret Trump Vote


Democrat strong in swing counties; close House ballot

West Long Branch, NJ – Joe Biden holds a 13 point lead over Donald Trump among all registered voters in Pennsylvania according to the Monmouth (“Mon-muth”) University Poll.  Among likely voters, the Democrat has an edge of 7 to 10 points depending on the expected turnout level. Biden is also ahead in key swing counties, which include the region of his birthplace. Despite the challenger’s poll lead, voters are evenly divided on who they think will win the Keystone State’s electoral votes this year as a majority believe that their communities hold a number of “secret Trump voters.” Other poll findings include a close margin on the generic congressional ballot and better reviews for the commonwealth’s governor than for the president on handling the pandemic.

Among all registered voters in Pennsylvania, Biden is supported by 53% and Trump by 40%, with 3% saying they will vote for another candidate and 4% who are undecided. Biden is in a relatively stronger position among his fellow Democrats (93% to 1%) than Trump is among Republican voters (84% to 12%). Biden also enjoys a wide margin among independent voters (54% to 33%).

Biden has the advantage among voters under 50 years old (60% to 29%) as well as voters age 65 and older (52% to 42%). Trump has an edge among voters between 50 and 64 years old (56% to 43%). White voters without a college degree also prefer the incumbent (55% to 39%) while the challenger leads among white college graduates (61% to 34%) and voters who are Black, Hispanic, Asian or from other racial groups (76% to 16%).

Biden is doing especially well in ten counties where the vote margins were closest in the 2016 presidential election. The Democrat currently holds a 54% to 35% lead among registered voters in these swing counties*, which are concentrated in a swath that runs from the Philadelphia suburbs into the northeast region where the candidate grew up. The poll also finds that Biden racks up a huge margin in four large counties that went solidly for Hillary Clinton in 2016 (68% to 26%), while Trump leads in the remaining counties that he won handily four years ago (55% to 40%).

“Even taking into account any polling error from four years ago, Biden is clearly doing well in swing areas. The Democrat has roots in this region which may be helping him, but there seems to be an overall erosion of support for Trump compared to 2016,” said Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute.

vote choice:
Higher likely
Lower likely
Source:  Monmouth University Poll, July 9-13, 2020

Biden’s lead narrows when different likely voter models are applied. A model based on a somewhat higher level of turnout than 2016 gives him a 10 point edge (52% to 42%) while one reflecting lower turnout puts his lead at 7 points (51% to 44%). Looking just at the swing counties, the higher turnout model has Biden ahead there by 17 points (53% to 36%) and the lower turnout model gives him a 13 point lead (51% to 38%). Four years ago, Clinton won the cumulative vote in these counties by just over one percentage point.

In four core Clinton counties, Biden holds a lead between 39 points (67% to 28% low turnout) and 42 points (68% to 26% high turnout). In 53 core Trump counties, the incumbent holds a lead between 20 points (58% to 38% high turnout) and 23 points (60% to 37% low turnout). Trump and Clinton won the cumulative vote in their respective core counties by 33 and 36 points in 2016.

Comparing the current results to a Monmouth University Poll taken in August 2016, Biden’s likely voter position is similar to Clinton’s summer standing in the swing counties, where she led Trump by 50% to 40%. Interestingly, Trump is doing slightly better now in core Clinton counties than four years ago, when he was polling at 21% to 67% for Clinton. Biden, however, is currently stronger than Clinton was in the president’s base counties, where she was polling at 27% to 60% for Trump.

“The good news for Biden is that he hits the magic 50% mark in all the turnout models and far fewer voters are considering a third party candidate than four years ago. This suggests somewhat more stability in the numbers, but there are also signs that Biden has not pulled clearly ahead of Trump on some key metrics,” said Murray.

Among all registered voters, 45% say they are certain to vote for Biden and 36% say the same for Trump. At the other end of the spectrum, 40% say they are not at all likely to vote for the challenger and 49% say the same for incumbent. Using the poll’s lower turnout likely voter model, though, these gaps narrow for both firm support (44% Biden and 41% Trump) and those who are not at all likely to support the candidate (44% Biden and 47% Trump).

Most registered voters (54%) say they were surprised in 2016 when Trump ended up winning Pennsylvania’s electoral votes. They are evenly divided on whether they expect Trump (46%) or Biden (45%) to win the commonwealth this time around. One reason for this seems to be that most voters (57%) believe there are a number of so-called secret voters in their communities who support Trump but won’t tell anyone about it. Less than half that number (27%) believe there are secret voters for Biden. The suspicion that a secret Trump vote exists is slightly higher in swing counties (62%) and Clinton counties (61%) than in Trump counties (51%). The belief in a secret Biden vote is somewhat more prevalent in Trump counties (32%) than Clinton counties (23%) and swing counties (23%).

“The media consistently reports that Biden is in the lead, but voters remember what happened in 2016. The specter of a secret Trump vote looms large in 2020,” said Murray.

– Generic House ballot –

The Monmouth University Poll also posed a generic ballot test for the U.S. House of Representatives election, which shows 49% of registered voters currently supporting the Democratic candidate in their district and 45% backing the Republican. Applying likely voter models to these results, high turnout puts the statewide vote choice at 48% Democrat and 46% Republican while low turnout has it at 48% Republican and 47% Democrat.

In the 2018 midterm election, Democrats won the cumulative house vote in Pennsylvania by 10 points, although this statewide margin was inflated by two or three points because of the lack of a GOP challenger on the ballot in PA18. The decrease in the Democratic margin this year seems to be the result of a shift toward the GOP in safe districts more than in the competitive districts. In 12 congressional districts where the winning margin for either party was greater than 15 points, the Democrats held a cumulative 14 point edge in the final vote count in 2018. In the current poll, they have a 3 point deficit (46% for the Democrats to 49% for the Republicans) in these seats using the low turnout model.

In the six most competitive districts, the Democrats held a narrow 4 point cumulative edge in 2018 and currently the race is about even here at 47% Democrat and 45% Republican among likely voters in the low turnout model. Three of these seats were won by the GOP (PA01, PA10, PA16) by between 2 and 4 points and three were won by Democrats (PA07, PA08, PA17) by between 9 and 12 points.

“The overall generic House ballot looks dimmer for Democrats than two years ago, but that is mainly in safe seats where this swing won’t affect the outcome. There has been a smaller shift in the more competitive districts, but since Democrats had relatively larger victory margins there the overall outlook may be status quo. Vulnerable Republicans may have slightly more breathing room than two years ago. Of course, we won’t know for sure until we see some district-specific polls,” said Murray.

– Other results –

A weak spot for the president is his handling of the coronavirus outbreak. Just 42% of registered voters say he has done a good job while 56% say he has done a bad job. By contrast, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, earns praise on this issue – 67% say he has done a good job and just 29% say he has done a bad job.

On the economic front, just 17% of voters feel that it is harder for them to pay their household bills now than it was four years ago – including 23% of Democrats, 18% of independents, and 10% of Republicans. Another 25% say paying bills is actually easier for them now – led by 46% of Republicans, but just 23% of independents and only 6% of Democrats. Most voters (54%) say their household bill burden is about the same as four years ago – including 67% of Democrats, 53% of independents, and 42% of Republicans.

Overall, 40% of Pennsylvania voters have a favorable opinion of Trump and 54% have an unfavorable one – including 47% very unfavorable. His opponent, Biden, gets a 45% favorable to 47% unfavorable rating, including 32% very unfavorable.

Republican voters (42%) are much more likely than Democrats (18%) to say they are very optimistic about the 2020 presidential election, but more Democrats (53%) than Republicans (42%) say they feel more enthusiastic about this contest compared to past elections. Among independent voters, 19% are very optimistic and 30% feel more enthusiastic about November than past elections.

The Monmouth University Poll was conducted by telephone from July 9 to 13, 2020 with 401 Pennsylvania registered voters. The question results in this release have a margin of error of +/- 4.9 percentage points. The poll was conducted by the Monmouth University Polling Institute in West Long Branch, NJ.

* 2016 presidential margin by county groupings:

Swing (26% of vote) – counties where the winning margin for either candidate was less than 10 points, with a cumulative vote of 48.6% Clinton and 47.4% Trump (Berks, Bucks, Centre, Chester, Dauphin, Erie, Lackawanna, Lehigh, Monroe, Northampton).

Clinton (34% of vote) – Clinton won these counties by more than 10 points, with a cumulative vote of 66.3% to 30.7% (Allegheny, Delaware, Montgomery, Philadelphia).

Trump (40% of vote) – Trump won these counties by more than 10 points, with a cumulative vote of 64.8% to 31.4% (remaining 53 counties).


(* Some columns may not add to 100% due to rounding.)

1. If the election for President was today, would you vote for … Donald Trump the Republican, Joe Biden the Democrat, or another candidate? [NAMES WERE ROTATED] [If UNDECIDED: If you had to vote for one of the following candidates at this moment, who do you lean toward – Donald Trump or Joe Biden?]

REGISTERED VOTERS (with leaners)July
Donald Trump40%
Joe Biden53%
Another candidate3%
(VOL) No one0%
(VOL) Undecided4%

[1A.  If Trump/Biden voter, ASK: Are you certain about your vote choice, or might you change your mind before election day?]


2. What is the likelihood that you might vote for Donald Trump in November – very likely, somewhat likely, not too likely, or not at all likely?

Certain for Trump (from Q1/A)36%
Very likely 2%
Somewhat likely 5%
Not too likely5%
Not at all likely49%
(VOL) Don’t know2%

3. What is the likelihood that you might vote for Joe Biden in November – very likely, somewhat likely, not too likely, or not at all likely?

Certain for Biden (from Q1/A)45%
Very likely 3%
Somewhat likely 6%
Not too likely4%
Not at all likely40%
(VOL) Don’t know2%

4. If the election for U.S. House of Representatives was held today, would you vote for the Republican or the Democratic candidate in your Congressional district? [ITEMS WERE ROTATED] [If UNDECIDED: At this time do you lean more toward the Republican or more toward the Democratic candidate?]

 REGISTERED VOTERS (with leaners)July
(VOL) Other candidate 1%
(VOL) No one0%
(VOL) Undecided5%


5. Is your general impression of Donald Trump very favorable, somewhat favorable, somewhat unfavorable, or very unfavorable, or do you have no opinion?

Very favorable25%
Somewhat favorable15%
Somewhat unfavorable7%
Very unfavorable47%
No opinion6%

6. Is your general impression of Joe Biden very favorable, somewhat favorable, somewhat unfavorable, or very unfavorable, or do you have no opinion?

Very favorable17%
Somewhat favorable28%
Somewhat unfavorable15%
Very unfavorable32%
No opinion9%


7. Has Donald Trump done a good job or bad job handling the coronavirus outbreak? [Is that very or somewhat good/bad?]

Very good25%
Somewhat good17%
Somewhat bad10%
Very bad46%
(VOL) Don’t know2%

8. Has Governor Tom Wolf done a good job or bad job handling the coronavirus outbreak? [Is that very or somewhat good/bad?]

Very good32%
Somewhat good35%
Somewhat bad8%
Very bad21%
(VOL) Don’t know4%

9. Do you feel optimistic or pessimistic about the 2020 presidential election? [Is that very or somewhat optimistic/pessimistic]?

Very optimistic27%
Somewhat optimistic36%
Somewhat pessimistic18%
Very pessimistic10%
(VOL) Neither, don’t care4%
(VOL) Don’t know5%

10. How motivated are you to vote in the November election for president – very motivated, somewhat motivated, or not that motivated?

Very motivated85%
Somewhat motivated11%
Not that motivated4%
(VOL) Don’t know0%

11. Compared to past elections, are you more enthusiastic than usual, less enthusiastic, or about the same as past elections?

More enthusiastic42%
Less enthusiastic11%
About the same46%
(VOL) Don’t know1%

12. Thinking about your family finances, is it easier or harder for you to pay your household bills now than it was four years ago, or is it about the same?

About the same54%
(VOL) Don’t know3%

13. In the 2016 election for president did you vote for Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, another candidate, or did you not vote for president?

Donald Trump41%
Hillary Clinton36%
Did not vote13%
(VOL) Don’t know3%

14. As you know, Donald Trump ended up winning Pennsylvania’s electoral votes in 2016. Thinking back, were you surprised or not surprised by this result at the time?

Not surprised43%
(VOL) Neither, didn’t think about it1%
(VOL) Don’t know1%

15. Regardless of who you support now, who do you think will win Pennsylvania this year –  Donald Trump or Joe Biden? [NAMES WERE ROTATED]

(VOL) Other0%
(VOL) Don’t know9%

16. Do you think there are so-called secret voters in your community who support Donald Trump but won’t tell anyone about it, or not really?  [If YES: Would you say that many voters are like this or only a few?]

Yes, many27%
Yes, only a few17%
Yes, not sure how many13%
No, not really35%
(VOL) Don’t know8%

17. Do you think there are so-called secret voters in your community who support Joe Biden but won’t tell anyone about it, or not really?  [If YES: Would you say that many voters are like this or only a few?]

Yes, many5%
Yes, only a few13%
Yes, not sure how many9%
No, not really64%
(VOL) Don’t know9%


The Monmouth University Poll was sponsored and conducted by the Monmouth University Polling Institute from July 9 to 13, 2020 with a statewide random sample of 401 Pennsylvania voters drawn from a list of registered voters. This includes 140 contacted by a live interviewer on a landline telephone and 261 contacted by a live interviewer on a cell phone, in English. Monmouth is responsible for all aspects of the survey design, data weighting and analysis. The full sample is weighted for party registration, age, gender, race, education, and region based on state voter registration list information and U.S. Census information (CPS 2018 supplement). Data collection support provided by Braun Research (field) and Aristotle (voter sample). For results based on the full voter sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the error attributable to sampling has a maximum margin of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points (unadjusted for sample design). Sampling error can be larger for sub-groups (see table below). In addition to sampling error, one should bear in mind that question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of opinion polls.

Party Registration
39% Republican
14% Other/none
47% Democrat
Self-Reported Party
35% Republican
29% Independent
35% Democrat
47% Male
53% Female
22% 18-34
22% 35-49
29% 50-64
27% 65+
83% White, non-Hispanic
10% Black
  4% Hispanic
  2% Asian
  1% Other race
60% No degree
40% 4 year degree

Click on pdf file link below for full methodology and crosstabs by key demographic groups.