In the last few weeks, Joe Biden has led President Donald Trump by a fairly consistent 8-point average in national polls and has maintained leads in more than enough battleground states to win the Electoral College, including Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — all states Trump won in 2016.
But there are signs Trump’s ground operation is paying off when it comes to registering new voters in key states, an advantage that could become important if the race tightens before Nov. 3.
The Trump campaign has boasted that it knocks on more than a million doors a week, a claim that’s impossible to independently verify. In sharp contrast, the Biden campaign had ditched a ground game for virtual outreach, citing Covid-19 concerns — even though academic research has routinely concluded door-to-door canvassing is the “most consistently effective and efficient method of voter mobilization.” Only just now has the Biden campaign decided to restart its in-person voter contacts in some battleground states.
As deadlines approach, new data from the past few months shows Republicans have swamped Democrats in adding new voters to the rolls, a dramatic GOP improvement over 2016, even if new registrations have lagged 2016 rates across the board. It’s a sign that in a pandemic, Democrats are struggling to seize traditional opportunities to pad their margins, such as the return of students to college campuses.
Of the six states Trump won by less than 5 points in 2016, four — Arizona, Florida, North Carolina and Pennsylvania — permit voters to register by party. In all four states, voter registration trends are more robust for the GOP than four years ago.
In Florida, Republicans added a net 195,652 registered voters between this March’s presidential primary and the end of August, while Democrats added 98,362 and other voters increased 69,848. During the same period in 2016, Republicans added a net 182,983 registrants, Democrats 163,571 and others 71,982. In 2016, Trump prevailed in Florida by just 112,911 votes.