Human nature is such that we tend to believe that what we want to happen, will actually happen. In politics, that isn’t always the case. And especially in this charged, partisan and personal environment that is even more true as people’s passions, on both sides, are high and they can’t imagine their ‘guy’ losing.
However this a look at ‘the race’, at the electoral politics . One month out from the election on Nov. 3, this is how Thinking Man handicaps where things stand with just under thirty days to go.
This is the first in a series of three articles on the outlook for the election, with discussion on where things are, how they got here and what might happen in the last month of the campaign. The first in this series, below, will take a look at the presidential race: President Donald Trump against former Vice President Joe Biden.
Biden is ahead in the national polls. The gap widened after the first debate. Several demographics were turned off by Trump’s performance and Biden’s lead grew to double digits after the race had been closing somewhat leading up to the debate.
Trump supporters will point to the fact that he was behind in polls in 2016 right up until election day itself but ended up winning. That is true, but Biden is not Hillary Clinton. Hillary Clinton had the second highest negative poll numbers in the history of presidential polling (oddly enough, just behind Donald Trump, who had the highest). Biden does not have the intense dislike among certain voters that Trump’s 2016 opponent had and so Republicans can’t count on a repeat result.
Pundits say that the real campaign season starts when the parties hold their conventions and formally choose their nominees. After Democrats and Republicans gathered in August, Biden was clearly ahead. With the pandemic, traditional campaigning had been put on hold. Biden had largely remained at home in Delaware, while Trump had been in the public eye by virtue of his position as President. For weeks, Trump had daily press briefings on the pandemic, and the normal news cycle kept him in front of voters. Biden, meanwhile, was holding some campaign events virtually but mostly was out of the spotlight. Yet, the curious thing was that Biden’s lead in the polls widened over the summer. Trump was losing ground, despite Biden being almost invisible for months.
The conventions brought both candidates fully into the news cycle and Biden was well positioned.
Yet, widespread and ongoing violence in several major cities became the lead story on almost every nightly newscast. Especially on the west coast where cities such as Seattle and Portland are run by far left Democratic mayors, and where the local governments took a largely ‘hands off’ approach to rioters, this began to have an effect on voters. Riot violence, day after day, with seemingly little response from local government s to restore order, didn’t play well across the country. In polling in late September, roughly 65% of people said that security and safety were one of their main concerns. That was up dramatically from earlier in the year and that began to show in presidential polling numbers, helping President Trump.
Better than expected economic numbers over the summer also helped the President. Like it or not, the response to the pandemic is a judgment between balancing the significant health concerns and the significant devastation to the economy. The economy seemed to be showing life and improving more quickly than expected from the rapid contraction at the worst of the pandemic and that brought optimism to voters. An improving economy helps the incumbent.
Though Biden was still ahead in the polls, Trump had begun to close the gap and in certain key areas had pulled to within a dead heat. If there was any momentum, it seemed to be slowly leaning toward the incumbent.
The first presidential debate changed that. The tone of the debate turned voters off across the spectrum. With the passion that this election has among the electorate, each candidate’s base of voters did not change their minds on who they were voting for, even if they didn’t like the nastiness of the debate. But voters without strong loyalties moved towards Biden and polls across the board showed his lead now at the highest it’s been.
Republicans will also note that we were reminded in the last election of the constitutional outlines of the electoral college. In 2016, Clinton won the popular vote but lost the election, only the fifth time in history that has happened. The biggest lesson from that is that it isn’t the national polls that are key, but the state by state polls that determine the electoral vote. Trump won the electoral vote, and thus the presidency, by winning key swing states.
In 2016, Trump won the old rust belt states of Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania with his populist economic message that appealed to traditional Democratic union voters. In each of those states, Trump won by less than 1%.. A small shift in any of those states would tip the scales the other way. With recent events and the push to increase voter turnout among minorities, that could be the difference in places like Detroit, Philadelphia and Milwaukee.
Arizona is another battleground state. In 2016, the state’s two US senators were both Republicans and Trump won the state by just over 4%. Things have changed significantly in four years in Arizona. Both of the senators were considered to be fairly popular. But Trump had very public disagreements with both and launched personal attacks on each of them, and did so very often, when they disagreed with him. Sen. Jeff Flake announced that he would not seek re-election in 2018 and Trump expressed his satisfaction that Flake would be gone. However, it didn’t work out well for the President as Democrats won the seat that year. Trump also clashed with the other senator from Arizona, state icon and previous Republican presidential candidate John McCain. Trump repeatedly made personal attacks on McCain, even after he died of brain cancer. When McCain died, the governor appointed a Republican to serve the remainder of McCain’s term. That seat is up for election this year and the Democrat has s significant lead in the polls and it is quite possible it will flip. In 2016, Republicans held both of the state’s US senate seats and by the end of 2020, betting odds are that Democrats will hold them both.
Trump’s fortunes in Arizona seem to be following those of other Republicans. He is trailing Joe Biden as of this writing and faces an uphill battle in the final weeks, with the tide seemingly going against Republicans. Ronald Reagan famously had an ‘11th commandment’ which said you don’t attack other Republicans publicly. Trump clearly doesn’t agree, does so regularly, and in Arizona he may very well pay for it.
Biden seems likely to hold almost every state that Clinton won in 2016. If that is the case, Trump needs to hold all the states he won in order to have a chance. That means he would have to run the table on every state where the race is close and so his margin for error is much smaller than Biden’s.
As noted above, Trump won Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania by less than 1%. Polls in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania show Trump trailing by more than 5%. In Florida, Trump is showing strength among Hispanice voters with polls showing him doing better than he did in 2016. But he is doing worse among older voters and is also behind in the overall polls there. In similar battleground states of North Carolina, and Minnesota, Trumps is also behind.
In short, the election is Biden’s to lose. If nothing changes, Biden will win in an electoral landslide. It won’t be close.
There is still a month before the election, and there are things that could change the outcome. The biggest risk that Biden has is the radically liberal wing of the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party has moved far to the left in the last four years and voters have been turned off by what they see as an example of that in the reactions to the summer’s violence in major cities. The biggest risk that Trump has is his own ability to turn off voters by his brash manner. His core base does not seem to be influenced by it but the reaction to the debate shows there is a significant block of voters who don’t like the combative style.