President Trump is underwater in key battleground states that are likely to decide the 2020 election — and polling shows trouble for him even in the traditional Republican bastions of Texas and Arizona.
While allies of the president cautioned against reading into polls so far away from Election Day, they acknowledged Mr. Trump’s path to 270 Electoral College votes will be tight.
His 2016 victory was sealed in Rust Belt states of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, but the latest numbers show he will be hard-pressed for a repeat. The leading two Democratic candidates, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden and Sen. Bernard Sanders, both hold double-digit leads over Mr. Trump in Michigan, according to a Glengariff Group poll released this week.
Just 36% of the state’s voters are firmly behind Mr. Trump. The majority said they are looking to vote for someone else.
“The Blue Wall seems to be real, and President Trump’s 2016 victory was an anomaly which will be tough to repeat,” Saul Anuzis, a former chairman of the Michigan Republican Party, told The Washington Times.
The news wasn’t any better for Mr. Trump in a broader batch of approval numbers in battleground states released Wednesday by Morning Consult, another polling firm.
By double-digit margins, majorities of voters in Michigan and Wisconsin said they disapprove of the job Mr. Trump is doing. His deficit is 7 percentage points in Pennsylvania.
The bright spot was Florida, where his approval-disapproval was dead even at 48% each. But Iowa, New Hampshire, Ohio, North Carolina and even Arizona showed more disapproval.
Republican pollster Whit Ayres said the Midwestern states are always competitive, and polls at this point in the 2016 cycle likely showed Mr. Trump in a similar position.
“It’s the economy that’s his ace in the hole. He’s very unlikely to change his basic message regardless of what polls say,” Mr. Ayres said.
The Trump campaign cited the booming economy and Mr. Trump’s record of bringing back manufacturing jobs as reasons that they will not only hold the 2016 map, but also expand it.
“America’s economy and its workers are thriving with many of these key states experiencing record low unemployment rates,” said Sarah Matthews, a spokeswoman for the president’s reelection campaign. “When there is a clear choice between a defined opponent and President Trump, the president’s record of success will always win against the Democrats’ socialist, job-killing policies.”
Mr. Ayres agreed with that logic but said Mr. Trump’s ability to capitalize on the strong economy is dependent on whom the Democrats choose as their nominee.
“If they nominate someone who can consolidate the majority of Americans who disapprove of the president, then the economy’s clearly not enough,” he said. “But if the Democrats nominate some socialist who is going to divide the non-Trump voters, then the economy’s probably enough to get him reelected.”
That difference was on display in Texas, where a shock poll from Quinnipiac University on Wednesday showed Mr. Trump trailing Mr. Biden by 4 percentage points.
Quinnipiac Poll assistant director Peter A. Brown said the numbers “could spell trouble for President Trump.”
Quinnipiac says Mr. Trump leads Sen. Elizabeth Warren 46% to 45% and leads Mr. Sanders 47% to 44% — still troubling news for a Republican president seeking reelection.
Mr. Trump has seen scare polls out of Texas before, including a Washington Post-sponsored survey in September 2016 that showed Hillary Clinton with a 1 percentage point lead. Mr. Trump won the state by 9 points.
Ted Harvey, chairman of the Committee to Defend the President, a leading outside backer of Mr. Trump, said he is not that concerned about what polls say this early in the campaign.
He predicted that the president’s record on major issues such as the economy, immigration and trade will consolidate support behind him.
“Certainly, Trump’s effort to deal with the unfair trade practices that we have with many of our trading partners, with China specifically and with Mexico and Canada and … bringing manufacturing jobs back to America — that’s going to help us in those Rust Belt states,” Mr. Harvey said.
But that could be a tough sell for some in the Midwest. The Glengariff poll found that by a 47% to 26% margin, Michigan voters said Mr. Trump’s policy of putting tariffs on Chinese goods is bad for the state.
“Trade wars with our major trading partners obviously threaten the economic recovery,” Mr. Ayres said. “That’s not exactly economic rocket science.”
Mr. Harvey’s group and Great America PAC, another pro-Trump group, on Wednesday announced a joint $1 million-plus effort to register voters in battleground states such as Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida and North Carolina.
Mr. Harvey said a wealth of people who did not vote in 2016 and wouldn’t necessarily show up in current polling likely back the president and can be persuaded to turn out.
“We have a very sophisticated effort being put forth to identify these voters, figure out where they lean politically, where they lean ideologically, and then work heavily on them to get them to register to vote and participate in the next election cycle,” he said.
The effort will expand into states that the president lost in 2016, such as New Hampshire and Colorado, where Mr. Harvey used to be a state senator.
“There is no reason why we should have lost Colorado in the last election,” he said.
But Mr. Trump is underwater in those states as well, and looking for new battleground states to try to make competitive would be an uphill battle — particularly if the campaign has to deploy resources to shore up support in traditional Republican strongholds.
“The path to 270 is very narrow, which is why Trump suggested he preferred a national popular vote and would have campaigned nationwide,” Mr. Anuzis said in an email.
Mr. Trump last year said he would prefer a popular vote because it’s easier to win, but in March said the Electoral College system is “far better” for the country.
He narrowly lost the popular vote to Mrs. Clinton, an outcome he chalked up to unspecified voter fraud.