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A Law-and-Order Push by Trump, but Little Change in Biden’s Lead

Despite the spotlight of the Republican convention and the unrest in Portland, Ore., and Kenosha, Wis., a big wave of new polls Wednesday showed that President Trump continues to trail Joe Biden by a significant margin both nationwide and in the critical battleground states.

On average, Mr. Biden maintains a lead of around seven to eight percentage points among likely voters nationwide, down from a lead of eight to nine points heading into the conventions. In a direct comparison, an average of the new polls showed Mr. Trump faring a mere seven-tenths of a point better than polls by the same firms conducted in early August before the Democratic National Convention.

The new results suggest that the president’s effort to reframe the race around law and order at the Republican convention hasn’t fundamentally reshaped the race to his advantage; Mr. Biden, in fact, won stronger approval on that issue in crucial states, according to new Fox News polls.

For now, at least, Mr. Trump finds himself in an unenviable position: He trails by a wide margin, even at a moment that usually represents the high-water mark for the president’s party in the polls. More often than not, a president goes on to fare worse in election results than in the polls taken just after the convention.

Usually candidates enjoy a fleeting bounce after their convention, as they bask in the afterglow of a nationally televised four-day infomercial. To the extent the president’s modest gains are attributable to the lingering effects of the convention, Mr. Biden’s lead could grow again in the weeks ahead.

But sometimes a bounce lasts and becomes a bump. This year, the case for a possible Trump bump is straightforward: The national political environment has seemed to change in the president’s favor over the last few months. The number of new coronavirus cases has dropped significantly. The stock market has reached record highs. At the same time, unrest in Kenosha and Portland gave the president and the Republican convention an opening — an opportunity to shift the national political conversation, at least temporarily, to an issue where Republicans might be on stronger ground.

The polls offer at least some support for the first half of the attempted convention pivot: declining concern about the coronavirus. The CNN/SSRS poll on Wednesday found that 51 percent of voters believed that the worst of the coronavirus was behind us, up from 40 percent two weeks ago. Similarly, the GSG/GBAO/Navigator poll found that 45 percent of voters believed the country needed stricter social distancing measures, down from 57 percent in mid-July.

The polls have offered less evidence to support the assumption that the president’s law-and-order pivot will work to his advantage. To be sure, recent polling from Civiqs and Marquette Law School has shown that Black Lives Matter has become less popular in recent months, whether because of persistent unrest or ambitious policy demands. But back in June, the president’s standing fell to its lowest levels of the race after the public reached a negative judgment of his handling of the protests that followed the death of George Floyd in police custody.

According to the new Fox News polls, likely voters in both Arizona and Wisconsin — two of the states likeliest to decide the election — said by a five-point margin that they preferred Mr. Biden to Mr. Trump to handle policing and criminal justice. Mr. Biden’s edge on the issue was lower than his overall lead over Mr. Trump, and also lower than his lead on handling the coronavirus, so the poll is at least consistent with the possibility that the issue is better for Mr. Trump than the alternatives. But it does not suggest that it is a winning issue.

If there was any good news for Mr. Trump in the day’s polls, it was a Monmouth University survey of Pennsylvania that found Mr. Biden leading by just one to three points among likely voters, depending on the turnout. Most analysts have assumed that the state is part of Mr. Biden’s path of least resistance to the White House, so a low-single-digit lead in the state suggests that Mr. Trump remains stubbornly competitive in the Electoral College, despite a significant national disadvantage.

It’s possible that additional polls will confirm that Mr. Biden has a greater challenge in Pennsylvania than previously believed, but for now it is more likely that the poll, of just over 400 respondents, is a bit of an outlier.

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