(Bloomberg) -- Joe Biden has a substantial lead over President Donald Trump in 300 of the crucial so-called swing counties that could determine the November election, a new poll released Tuesday showed.
The poll was taken last week as Americans were just beginning to grapple with staying at home and employment and economic worries because of the coronavirus. Trump was holding daily televised briefings on the coronavirus, while Biden was largely out of the limelight. Both Biden and Trump have put the issue of leadership front and center in the campaign.
The Monmouth University poll showed that 50% of voters in crucial swing counties backed Biden, while only 41% backed Trump. Biden is the Democratic front-runner to face off against Trump in the November presidential election, having amassed a near-insurmountable lead in delegates over Bernie Sanders.
In 2016, the 300 counties gave a margin of victory to either Trump or Hillary Clinton of less than 10 percentage points, and comprise about one-fifth of the total U.S. electorate.
The poll did not yet show much impact from the pandemic's hit on the economy.
Sixty-two percent of respondents said their current financial situation was stable, more than the 55% who said their situation was stable in the same poll in April 2019. Only 25% said they were struggling and just 12% said that it was improving.
Initial unemployment claims spiked more than 33% in the week ending March 14, three days before the poll began, as the service industry contracted due to increased social-isolation measures and government-ordered shutdowns in some parts of the country.
"The coronavirus situation is just starting to hit American family finances," said Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute.
The swing counties in 2016 included such closely watched areas like Erie County, Pennsylvania, where Trump beat Clinton by 1.6 percentage points, becoming the first Republican to win there since 1984. It also included Muskegon County, Michigan, a Democratic stronghold that Clinton won by just 1,200 votes.
Overall, Biden had a negligible lead among voters nationally, with 48% preferring him, 45% backing Trump, 3% backing an independent candidate and 4% undecided. That 3 percentage-point lead was within the margin of error of 3.6 percentage points.
Biden has led in head-to-head match-ups against Trump by 2 to 11 points in polls taken since mid-February, shortly before he won the South Carolina primary and took command of the Democratic nominating contest.
Murray said that while the national results show a tight race, the Electoral College will ultimately decide the race.
"The poll results suggest Biden may actually be starting out with an advantage in crucial swing areas of the country," he said.
The poll showed a slight uptick in Trump's approval rating, with 46% of respondents viewing him favorably and 49% unfavorably. That was an improvement over last month, when 44% viewed him favorably and 53% unfavorably.
Trump has argued that fighting the pandemic has made him a "wartime president," but Murray said he has not seen the kind of rally that George W. Bush received after the Sept. 11 attacks or John F. Kennedy had during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
"As with everything we've seen over the last two years, partisan tribalism seems to be the primary motivator for how people view President Trump," he said. "Even a crisis like this one doesn't seem to move the needle much."
The poll of 754 registered voters across the U.S. was conducted by phone March 18-22, just as the impact of the coronavirus was starting to be felt.
(Adds new information on Trump approval in 15th, 16th and 17th paragraphs)
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