FARGO — To nobody's surprise, President Donald Trump will easily win North Dakota in the upcoming election. A newly released statewide poll confirms that the Republican incumbent remains popular in a state that gave him 63% of its votes in 2016.
But it's the figures for Trump's Democratic challenger, Joe Biden, that might be more important for the president's reelection chances.
A survey by DFM Research of St. Paul, Minn., shows 56% of North Dakota voters casting their ballot for Trump in the presidential election and 37% choosing Biden. The other 7% are split between other candidates and undecideds.
The poll of 500 likely voters was conducted Sept. 12-16 by live calls to landlines, cellphones and text-to-web. It was sponsored by North Dakota Voters First. It has a margin of error of 4.5%.
The survey also shows Measure 1, an initiative placed on the ballot by the state legislature that would expand the Board of Higher Education, garnering only 32% support while 46% are opposed.
Measure 2, an initiative also placed on the ballot by the legislature that would require a higher bar for citizen-led initiated measures, only has 20% support while 54% are opposed.
The poll's executive summary, written by pollster Dean Mitchell, says it's likely Biden will garner around 40% of the vote to give Trump a victory in the 20-point range in North Dakota. That will be down significantly from the president's 36-point margin in the state in 2016 when he defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton 63% to 27%.
"This relative narrowing from the top of the ticket will allow the Democratic-NPL Party … to make noticeable legislative gains in Cass and Grand Forks County, while holding vulnerable rural east seats," the summary said. "This election will really show the divide between Fargo and Grand Forks, and the remaining 70% of the state."
In the bigger picture, Biden's numbers might portend trouble for Trump in battleground states that will decide the Electoral College.
While Trump getting about 56% of the vote in North Dakota is impressive here for the president, the growth in Biden's numbers compared to Clinton's does show some erosion in Trump's support. And while it won't cost him here, similar erosion in other states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, Florida and Arizona would likely cost Trump the White House.
Most polls show Biden leading Trump nationally, while the battleground states remain tight.
The 2012 election might be the best, most recent example of why Biden receiving 36% to 40% of the vote in North Dakota is important for Democrats.
In 2012, incumbent Democrat Barack Obama got 38.7% in North Dakota compared to 58.3% for Republican Mitt Romney. That was the year Obama received 332 electoral votes to Romney's 206.
It is always dangerous to attempt to compare any past election to one involving Trump. He is such a different candidate and attracts such an odd coalition of voters. But those 2012 numbers gave Obama victories in places like Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida and even Iowa. If Biden wins those states, he will be the next president.
Of interest from 2012 is that Romney beat Obama by just 3 percentage points in Cass County. Trump beat Clinton by 10 points in Cass County in 2016. If Biden equals or outpaces Obama in Cass County, it might extrapolate to him doing well in key suburban areas of swing states. It's something to watch.
Part of Trump's drop in support might come from how North Dakotans feel about the direction of their state. The poll found 54% of North Dakotans think the state is "moving in the right direction" while 29% think it is on "the wrong track." Seventeen percent said they were unsure.
While a majority of residents believing their state is headed in the right direction is impressive, that number is down significantly compared to recent public polling.
In a 2014 DFM Research poll conducted for Rob Port's Say Anything Blog and Valley News Live, 70% said North Dakota was on the right track. In a 2018 Mason-Dixon poll conducted for KFYR-TV in Bismarck, 69% said the state was on a good path.
The rest of the poll shows a steep uphill climb for Democrats in North Dakota.
Republican Gov. Doug Burgum leads challenger Shelley Lenz 56% to 24%. Burgum has a 61% favorable rating.
While Republican state auditor Josh Gallion only garners 42% in the poll, his Democratic challenger Patrick Hart only reaches 26%. A whopping 32% of voters are undecided on the auditor's race.