Updated at 7:39 p.m. ET on June 25, 2020.
The wildfire of coronavirus cases burning through the Sun Belt’s largest cities and suburbs could accelerate their movement away from President Donald Trump and the GOP—a dynamic with the potential to tip the balance in national elections not only in 2020, but for years to come.
Until the 2016 election, Republicans had maintained a consistent advantage in the region’s big metros—including Atlanta, Houston, Dallas, and Phoenix—even as Democrats took hold of comparable urban centers in other parts of the country. But under Trump, the GOP has lost ground in these diverse and economically thriving communities. And now, a ferocious upsurge of COVID-19 across the Sun Belt’s population hubs—including major cities in Florida and North Carolina where Democrats are already more competitive—is adding a new threat to the traditional Republican hold on these places.
“There’s a lag between the trends that we have seen in some of these big northern metropolitan areas and the southern metros,” Alan Abramowitz, a political scientist at Emory University, told me. “But they are definitely going in that same direction.”
In 2016, Trump won all five of the large Sun Belt states that could be battlegrounds in November. But the improving Democratic performance in the big metros provides Joe Biden a beachhead to contest each of them. Polls consistently give the former vice president a lead in Arizona and Florida, show him and Trump locked closely in North Carolina, and provide the president only a small edge (at best) in Texas and Georgia. New York Times/Siena College polls released today give Biden solid leads in Arizona, Florida, and North Carolina, and commanding advantages in the major population centers of each state, including Phoenix, Miami, Charlotte, and Raleigh. Fox News polls also released today show Biden leading Trump narrowly in North Carolina, Georgia, and (even) Texas, while opening up a comfortable 9-point advantage in Florida. Among suburban voters, Biden led by 20 percentage points or more in each of those states except Texas, where suburbanites still preferred him by 9 points.