Trump Onslaught Against Biden Falls Short of a Breakthrough

 President Trump has leveled scathing law-and-order attacks on Joseph Biden for weeks. But a new poll shows Mr. Biden ahead in three states Mr. Trump hopes to pick up, and maintaining a lead in Wisconsin.

President Trump’s weekslong barrage against Joseph R. Biden Jr. has failed to erase the Democrat’s lead across a set of key swing states, including the crucial battleground of Wisconsin, where Mr. Trump’s law-and-order message has rallied support on the right but has not swayed the majority of voters who dislike him, according to a poll conducted by The New York Times and Siena College.

Mr. Biden, the former vice president, leads Mr. Trump by five percentage points in Wisconsin and by a wider, nine-point margin in neighboring Minnesota, a Democratic-leaning state that Mr. Trump has been seeking to flip with his vehement denunciations of rioting and crime.

The president has improved his political standing in Wisconsin in particular with an insistent appeal to Republican-leaning white voters alarmed by local unrest. But in both Midwestern states, along with the less-populous battlegrounds of Nevada and New Hampshire, Mr. Trump has not managed to overcome his fundamental political vulnerabilities — above all, his deep unpopularity with women and the widespread view among voters that he has mismanaged the coronavirus pandemic.

Credit...Doug Mills/The New York Times

Overtaking Mr. Biden in some of those four states could be a significant boost to Mr. Trump’s re-election chances. He narrowly won Wisconsin in 2016 and barely lost the other three to Hillary Clinton.

While Mr. Trump has steadied his candidacy since his political nadir early in the summer, the Times poll suggests that, less than two months before Election Day, he has yet to achieve the kind of major political breakthrough he needs.

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Voters in Wisconsin and Minnesota are split on the question of which candidate they trust more to handle the subject of law and order, which Mr. Trump has tried to elevate. But the poll, conducted among likely voters, showed they prefer Mr. Biden by clear margins on the issues of the coronavirus pandemic, race relations and fostering national unity, a sobering result for the president’s supporters.

Those in Minnesota and Wisconsin who trust Joe Biden or Donald Trump to do a better job on ...
Race relations
Unifying America
Handling protests
Violent crime
Law and order
The economy
Based on a New York Times/Siena College poll of 1,574 likely voters from Sept. 8 to Sept. 10 in Wisconsin and Minnesota.

Further, Mr. Trump is still struggling to garner the level of support most incumbent presidents enjoy at this late stage of the campaign. In none of the four states did Mr. Trump’s support reach the 45-percent mark — a particularly ominous sign given the absence of serious third-party candidates, who in 2016 helped him prevail with less than 50 percent of the vote in a series of battleground states.

And while Mr. Trump delivered a focused set of attacks on Mr. Biden at the Republican convention, he has swerved far off message in recent days as he has struggled to rebut reports that he disparaged American war dead and told the journalist Bob Woodward that he deliberately misled the public about the severity of the pandemic.

In Wisconsin, Mr. Biden received 48 percent support compared with 43 percent for Mr. Trump. That’s a significant drop-off from June, when a Times/Siena poll showed Mr. Biden ahead by 11 points.

Nearly all of the narrowing came as a result of Mr. Trump’s recovering support from voters to the right of center, some of whom had expressed feelings of disillusionment in the earlier poll amid the ravages of the pandemic and a major wave of racial-justice protests.

Mr. Biden is further ahead in Minnesota, 50 percent to 41 percent. Though no Republican presidential candidate has captured Minnesota since Richard M. Nixon’s re-election in 1972, Mr. Trump lost it by only 1.5 percentage points four years ago. His campaign wants to compete aggressively there to counter anticipated setbacks elsewhere in the industrial Midwest. Both nominees are headed there next week.

Chris Rutherford, 51, of Minneapolis, is leaning back in Mr. Trump’s direction as a result of recent unrest. A Republican who said he was dismayed by Mr. Trump’s “constant lying,” Mr. Rutherford said he had been deeply troubled by the damage to his community inflicted first by the coronavirus pandemic and then by episodes of vandalism and rioting.

“Covid is wiping out these businesses and this was the nail in the coffin,” Mr. Rutherford said, stressing, “We cannot have these riots.”

Mr. Rutherford said that while he slightly favored Mr. Trump, he might still support Mr. Biden if he did more to warn of repercussions for people who “grotesquely violate the law.”

Images of arson and violence in cities like Portland, Ore., and Kenosha, Wis., have plainly alarmed voters, albeit in a broader sense: They indicate being far more concerned about crime in the country than they are about crime in their area.

When asked which issue is more important, addressing the virus or addressing law and order, slightly more voters in the four states said law and order.

While Mr. Biden enjoys a nine-point advantage on the question of who would do a better job handling the protests, the difference is smaller on the matter of which candidate would better impose law and order.

And there are signs that Mr. Trump’s barrage against Mr. Biden on the issue of policing, while inaccurate, has been effective: 44 percent of those surveyed in the four states said he supported defunding the police while only 39 percent said he was not in favor of doing so, which the former vice president has said repeatedly.

Yet even as the president tries to steer the campaign away from the pandemic and toward urban unrest, some of the most pivotal voters are more focused on the virus.

Those who didn’t vote in 2016 and those who supported third-party candidates — potentially the decisive slice of this year’s electorate — each said by large margins that addressing the pandemic was more important than addressing law and order.

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