In 2016, Donald Trump pulled off a big upset in the country's presidential election by scooping up electoral college votes in former industrial states like Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania that had gone for President Barack Obama in 2012.
Now, a new poll by Baldwin Wallace University shows the president trailing a generic Democratic Party challenger in those pivotal states ahead of the 2020 election — but there are caveats.
Of course, polling in the 2016 election showed Trump trailing in those states — something that didn't materialize in the actual election.
A similar Baldwin Wallace poll before the 2016 election showed Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton getting roughly 43 percent of the vote in Ohio and Trump grabbing about 34 percent, with the rest of the voters undecided. The polls were right about Clinton's level of support, but nearly all the undecided vote went to Trump. He won the Buckeye State by eight points. Though he lost the national popular vote by more than 2 million votes, the electoral college votes in states like Ohio and Michigan helped put Trump over the top in 2016.
This time around, Baldwin Wallace's poll of 1,031 Ohioans shows an unspecified Democrat up by 44 percent to Trump's 39 percent, with about 16 percent undecided. That could mean the race is still anyone's game — especially since Democrats have yet to choose a candidate and about one in 10 respondents to the poll indicated that who Democrats choose could tip their vote.
The gap between Democrats and Trump is wider in the other states polled, though undecideds in each will truly determine the race. In those other states, Trump won by much narrower margins — less than one percentage point — in 2016.
• About 47.5 percent of the poll's 1,038 respondents in Wisconsin said they would vote for a Democrat against Trump, while 34 percent said they would vote for the incumbent and 18 percent said they were undecided.
• Roughly 47 percent of 1,037 respondents in Pennsylvania said they would vote for the Democratic candidate, while 37 percent said they would vote for Trump. Almost 16 percent said they were undecided.
• Almost 47 percent of the 1,023 people responding to the poll in Michigan said they would vote for a Democrat, compared with about 34 percent going with Trump there. Slightly more than 19 percent are undecided there.
Respondents were representative of Census data for each state based on age, education, gender and whether they lived in urban or rural areas.
The economy and issues around health care were the most prominent on respondents' minds in each state. That could be good or bad for the president. While unemployment has been very low during Trump's tenure, job growth and wages have lagged the nation in Ohio, and continued frustration with America's health care system likely won't play to the president's favor.
Other factors could play into the race as well, including immigration and national security, where respondents gave the president mostly low marks.
Between 45 and 49 percent of respondents in each state said they were almost certain to vote against Trump — a margin generally 10-20 points higher than those who said they were certain to vote for the president.
But almost half of respondents said the Democratic Party had gone too far left. A similar margin said the Republican Party had gone too far right. Those responding to the poll had some clear preferences in terms of the Democratic Party's nominee — former Vice President Joe Biden led in every state except Wisconsin, where U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders was the top choice. Sanders was the second-most popular candidate in every other state, while U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren was third in each.
One factor that could make or break the president's as-yet-determined challenger in November: women voters. The Baldwin Wallace poll shows that support for Trump was at least 10 points lower in every state polled, while staunch opposition to the president was higher. In Ohio, women supported a generic Democratic nominee by 11 points. That support ranged as high as 26 percent in Michigan among poll respondents.
“The difference in women’s lack of support for Donald Trump will be critical to the chances of a Democratic nominee winning these states," Baldwin Wallace Community Research Institute Director Dr. Tom Sutton said in a news release. "This follows the trend of women supporting Democratic candidates in the 2018 Congressional midterms that resulted in a Democratic majority being elected to the House.”
The poll is the first of four Baldwin Wallace will administer in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. The next will take place this spring, after Democrats have chosen their nominee.