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Key voting groups are shifting in the race between Biden and Trump

Supporters of former President Donald Trump attend a campaign rally at the Forum River Center March 9 in Rome, Ga.
Chip Somodevilla
/
Getty Images
Supporters of former President Donald Trump attend a campaign rally at the Forum River Center March 9 in Rome, Ga.

There may have been a 4.8 magnitude earthquake that hit the Northeast on Friday, but there are indications some political tremors may also be taking place beneath the surface.

The latest NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll found that President Biden and former President Donald Trump are statistically tied, with Biden holding a slim 2-point lead, 50%-48%.

The closeness of the contest between the two candidates is to be expected. Given how well-known they are and the fact they ran against each other once already, people might think voters are locked in. But the survey found that plenty of people — about 40% -- said they are at least open to changing their minds.

Some key demographic groups are shifting, too. Young voters, Latinos and independents in the survey are either sliding away from Biden or aren't sold on voting for him. There's a massive shift among nonwhite voters overall, while older voters and college-educated white voters — men in particular — are moving heavily in Biden's direction.

That has the potential to reshape the presidential map again. It gives Democrats increased hopes of continuing gains in Sun Belt states, like Arizona, Georgia, Nevada and New Mexico, where the populations continue to grow more diverse and have fewer blue-collar white voters. Republicans, on the other hand, could increase their grip on parts of the industrial Midwest.

"It's a big deal, because we're in the beginnings of a seismic shift in the nature of our parties," said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion, which conducted the survey of more than 1,300 adults. "Regardless of what happens in 2024, there's a coalitional shifting going on, and the question is, where does that end up and where are we in 10 years with these trends?"

With the caveat that subgroups in national polls have a significantly higher margin of error than the overall sample's +/- 3.5 percentage points, take a look at the numbers, comparing Marist's survey data from this week to the 2020 exit polls (in order of the severity of the net shift from Trump to Biden and vice versa):

College-educated white men:

  • 2024: Biden +21; 2020: Trump +3 (net change: Biden +24) 


College-educated white voters overall:

  • 2024: Biden +24; 2020: Biden +3 (net change: Biden +21)


College-educated white women:

  • 2024: Biden +28; 2020: Biden +9 (net change: Biden +19) 


Over 45:

  • 2024: Biden +6; 2020: Trump +3 (net change: Biden +9)


Under 45:

  • 2024: Trump +1; 2020: Biden +14 (net change: Trump +15)


Independents:

  • 2024: Trump +7; 2020: Biden +13 (net change: Trump +20)


Nonwhite:

  • 2024: Biden +11; 2020: Biden +45 (net change: Trump +34)
President Biden waits to speak to supporters during a campaign event at El Portal Restaurant in Phoenix on March 19.
Brendan Smialowski / AFP via Getty Images
/
AFP via Getty Images
President Biden waits to speak to supporters during a campaign event at El Portal Restaurant in Phoenix on March 19.

Biden's gains with college-educated white voters is a continued shift

When Trump won the presidency eight years ago, he did it largely by firing up white voters without college degrees. It was a group that once sided with Democrats because of economic issues, but Trump moved them more in his direction in part by vilifying immigrants and playing on white grievance.

To give an idea of just how salient those two issues are in GOP politics right now, this past week's NPR survey found that 84% of Republicans want to deport migrants in the U.S. illegally, and three-quarters also said they believe discrimination against white people has become as problematic as discrimination against Black Americans and other minorities.

On the other hand, white voters with degrees — a group that had backed Republicans for decades — appear to be continuing their migration to the Democratic Party. In 2020, Biden cut into Trump's margins with white voters along all educational lines, according to exit polls.

As compared to 2016, Biden gained 2 points with white, college-educated women and 11 with white men holding college degrees. He even cut into Trump's margins with whites without college degrees by double-digits as well.

In the four years since Biden took office, according to the NPR poll, white men with degrees have shifted another 24 points in Biden's favor, and he's gained another 19 with white women with degrees. It's a trend that Miringoff said he is seeing in the surveys Marist has conducted in various states as well.

Trump is winning over independents, while young voters and Latinos sour on Biden

Because of how the Electoral College is set up, Miringoff pointed out that even though Biden has a 2-point lead in the survey, a Democrat probably needs more like a 4- or 5-point advantage in national polls to translate to an Electoral College victory.

That's why winning over key groups that were with him in 2020 is so important for Biden. But polls have shown for years now that independents and young voters have disapproved of the job he's doing, and younger voters are upset, in particular, with Biden's handling of the war in Gaza.

Nonwhites have been below their levels of support they gave Biden in the 2020 election. But it is most acute with Latinos and young Black voters. In this survey, 56% of Latinos disapproved of the job Biden is doing.

Compare that to the 67% of Black voters who approved of the job the president is doing — far above his overall approval rating of 43%. Combined data from Marist's 2023 surveys found a 20-plus divide, however, between younger Black voters and older ones.

The questions now for the coming months are whether the younger voters who have shifted toward Trump stay there, whether they decide not to vote or if they move toward a third-party candidate, like Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

Biden retains a 2-point lead when Kennedy and other third-party candidates are included, like professor Cornel West, running as an independent; as well as the Green Party's Jill Stein. Kennedy gets 11% in the poll, and he pulls significant support from those who dislike both candidates, independents, those under 45 and nonwhites.

The Biden campaign sees an opportunity

Only half of voters under 45 and 54% of nonwhite voters said they already know who they will vote for and that nothing will change their minds.

Democrats are banking on the wavering voters eventually deciding against casting their votes for Kennedy, as scrutiny of his candidacy increases in the next few months — and they see a second Trump presidency as an urgent threat.

That's their hope, anyway. It could be tough to bring some young voters back on board with so many upset over Gaza. In the survey, 61% of voters 18-29 said they disapprove of the job Biden is doing overall — and he has a lot of work to do to get Latinos even close to the level they supported him at four years ago.

The campaign right now has the money to organize and run TV ads to try to persuade them. Biden undoubtedly needs to make up a lot of ground with younger voters and Latinos, but if these other voter shifts hold among white voters with college degrees, he might not need the 2020 margins he won with young people and Latinos to win again.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.
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