Election 2020: How data can show what’s driving the Trump vs. Biden polls

It’s October, which means there is officially less than one month until the 2020 Presidential election on November 3. Opinion polls on the race between current President Donald Trump and the challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden, are everywhere. 

Although many people see public opinion polls as a way to anticipate the outcome of the election, they are most valuable when considered as a snapshot of people's beliefs at a given moment in time. Through our partnership with SurveyMonkey and Axios to collect and share data on the 2020 Presidential race, we’ve created a dashboard where you can track how survey respondents are feeling about the candidates.

But looking at candidate preference data alone doesn’t answer the critical question of this years’ election: What is driving voter preference? This year, that’s an especially tricky question. There are the major issues confronting the country this year—from challenges like the COVID-19 pandemic, to the disease’s impact on the national and global economies, to the nationwide protests for racial justice and equity. And there’s also the news cycle which seemingly tosses another knuckleball at voters before they’ve had a chance to process the last one.

By partnering with SurveyMonkey, we’ve been able to tap into their vast market research technologies to reach the public and visualize their answers to these critical questions. Through our Election 2020 platform, you can dig into this data and expand your understanding of not only what the topline polls are saying, but what is top-of-mind for the voters making the decision this year.

We’ll walk you through some of the key data you can find on our Election 2020 pages, and why it’s so critical to understanding this year’s political landscape.

Preferences by demographics

Understanding the way different demographic groups vote is critical. It’s very common for pollsters to break down results by categories like age bracket, race, and gender: Disaggregating data offers valuable insights into trends among voter groups that can inform understanding of potential election results. But the way the data is often presented—either in static crosstabs, or in percentage points scattered throughout an analysis—doesn’t really give people the insight into voters’ intersectionalities, and how they play out in the data.

SurveyMonkey wanted to give people a way to explore demographic data in a more granular and comprehensive way. They’ve broken down data on candidate preference by five different demographic categories—age, race, gender, education level, and party ID—and in a Tableau dashboard, anyone can choose which categories to combine to see more nuanced voter preferences.

For instance, if one were to just look at gender, the breakdown would be pretty clear: 52% of men support Trump, and 56% of women support Biden. But in this dashboard, you can also choose to layer in race. Suddenly, the picture becomes much more complex: 87% of Black women support Biden, and 76% of Black men support Biden. On the flip side, just 38% of white men support Biden, and 44% of white women support Trump. If you add in another dimension, like education, the numbers become even clearer: By far, the group that most strongly supports Trump (at 70%) is white men with a high school degree or less, and the group with the strongest across-the-board support for Biden is Black women with a postgraduate degree (91%).

"From the perspective of someone who's immersed in crosstabs and bar charts every day, this visualization is the clearest example yet of the value of pairing data collected through SurveyMonkey's mighty scale with visual storytelling tools from Tableau. The fact that it's highly interactive and responsive really brings the data to life in a way that isn't possible using standard tools,” Wronski says.

The COVID-19 pandemic

Let’s start with the big one. COVID-19 has posed one of the most significant challenges to the United States and its citizens in recent memory. Over 200,000 people have died, and the economy has recorded its steepest-ever drop on record, with the GDP declining more than 9%. As we near the Election, the virus is not showing signs of abating (for the latest data on COVID-19, you can visit Tableau’s COVID-19 Data Hub).

Our partners at SurveyMonkey have been tracking public sentiment around the pandemic since February, as it’s impacting the lives of nearly everyone in the United States this year. "The coronavirus pandemic has infiltrated every aspect of life for the past eight months, and it will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. We wanted to make sure to start measuring concerns early on, and we're committed to tracking public sentiment on this topic for as long as necessary,” says Laura Wronski, research science manager at SurveyMonkey.

Through our Election 2020 portal, you can analyze data on how the public is feeling about the pandemic in the leadup to the election. SurveyMonkey has asked respondents about their personal concerns around the virus—if they are worried about contracting it themselves, or someone in their family being affected, and if they are worried about the pandemic’s impact on the economy. Because SurveyMonkey’s Tableau dashboards make it easy to filter these responses by a number of demographic factors—from age to political affiliation—you can begin to see patterns in the data, and understand how concerns around COVID-19 could be a key factor in shaping the outcome of the election.

Government leadership

Elections are nearly always a referendum on leadership, and this year is no different. However, the pandemic is adding a new layer to how voters assess their elected leaders across the country. "As the election approaches, politicians who are on the ballot at every level will be judged by how well they responded to the coronavirus this year, both in terms of its effect on the economy through lost jobs and shuttered businesses and in terms of the public health infrastructure's response,” Wronski says.

Digging into the data, you can see virtually no difference along any demographic breakdown between people’s assessment of Trump as a leader overall, and people’s opinion of how he is handling the federal response to COVID-19. That can tell you several things: That voters’ opinions are, at this point, fairly solidified, and also that COVID-19 is a significant driver of that opinion.

Digging into the data on how respondents feel about their state government’s response to COVID-19 shows some interesting trends. The clearest split, in many states, seems to be along party lines. In Pennsylvania, for instance, 82% of Democrats approve of the state response, while 71% of Republicans disapprove. In South Carolina, 73% of Republicans approve of the response, and 74% of Republicans disapprove. It gets much more interesting along other demographic lines, though. Here’s the opinion split along gender lines in Pennsylvania: 60% of women approve, and 49% of men disapprove. And in South Carolina, 54% of women disapprove, and 54% of men approve.

"Like so much else these days, Republicans and Democrats are split in their views of how worrisome the coronavirus is and how well we've responded to it. Those partisan effects far outweigh any differences by age, gender, race, or other demographic characteristics,” Wronski says.

Voting

COVID-19 has complicated nearly every aspect of the 2020 Election, including voting. Multiple news outlets are reporting a sharp uptick in requests to vote by mail this year, due to concerns about gathering in public amid a pandemic. But through their data on how likely people are to vote by mail, SurveyMonkey is able to show a clear split along party lines. Overall, 70% of Democrat respondents say they’re likely to vote by mail, and 72% of Republican respondents say the opposite. Axios, our media partner in our Election 2020 initiative, has analyzed what this means in the context of the potential outcome, and what the implications could be if mail-in ballots are disqualified due to complications with the system.

"More people will vote by mail in this election than in any previous election, and that will reshape the logistics of the electoral tallying process and the entire narrative that we see on the news on Election Day. It's important for us to understand those dynamics early on so that we can help explain those changes to the public,” Wronski says.

Exploring with data

Now that you have a sense of the information SurveyMonkey is polling for and why—and how to discover it in Tableau—we hope you take some time to dig into the data and gather your own insights. As the election nears, SurveyMonkey, Tableau, and Axios will continue to deliver more data and analysis around the political landscape, so make sure you keep checking back to the Election 2020 page for the latest.

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