President Trump has the “benefit of the doubt” from suburban and rural voters but former Vice President Biden is looking at sizable opportunities when it comes to swing voters and their view of the economy.

That’s according to new research by the progressive economic group Focus on Rural America.

FRA co-founder Jeff Link said that the 20 Wisconsin voters in the June 29-July 1 focus group did not hold Trump responsible for the coronavirus-related recession on the grounds that the pandemic and its attendant effects are brand-new and would be challenging to navigate for anybody.

“The one bit of good news for Trump here is that he gets the credit for the pre-COVID economy,” Link said.

Participants were largely sour on Trump’s combative leadership style and doubted his ability to lead the nation through the pandemic and recent civic unrest. However, they were willing to look past that in making their election decision if the economy begins to turn around by November.

Link and his co-founder Patty Judge said Biden has a significant opportunity in voters’ increasing ambivalence toward Trump. If Biden can flip just 10 percent of 2016 Trump voters to his side in November, that could spell a Democratic win in Wisconsin. But to do this, the former VP must define himself for this crucial slice of the electorate.

“These [voters] are the toughest audience for the VP,” Link said. “He’s known, but the knowledge of the VP is a mile wide and an inch deep.”

In 2017, FRA gave its focus group participants pens and paper and asked them to name Trump’s three major platform points, which they did easily: repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, build a wall, and end NAFTA. In 2020, voters had a much harder time naming the president’s priorities for reelection.

Link said that an unclear election message on the GOP side is a major opening for Biden, who must run to tell Wisconsin voters who he is before the president can define him.

“We think the key for Biden is, give people the two or three things you’re gonna do,” Link said.

He said Trump still has a slight edge on the question, “who is best for rural America?”

But he also said Trump is almost exclusively focused on turning out his base. If Biden can flip even a fraction of Obama-Obama-Trump voters this November, “Trump will have nowhere to turn,” Link said.

–By Caroline Kubzansky for

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