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A mid-July Washington Post-ABC News poll found that Biden leads Trump by double digits. It was conducted by telephone among a random national sample of 1,006 adults, with 75 percent reached on cell phones and 25 percent on landlines. Results have a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
In sum, Biden leads Trump 55 percent to 40 percent among registered voters, rising from a 10-point lead in May and with only a two-point advantage in March. Despite Trump repeatedly assuring the country that the pandemic is under control, his approval rates have gone south, as Covid-19 infections and deaths have dramatically spread.
However, the Washington Post analysis showed that the margins in the swing states presented a closer race than the national popularity gap between the Trump and Biden reveals. Trump does not need to beat Biden in the national polls, he only needs the votes in the swing states, and not that many. Remember Trump won the election through the electoral college by winning a total of 80,000 votes in three states.
There are two factors which must be taken into account, when looking at this poll and others that show Trump could be facing a likely defeat, if he doesn’t come up with a message that emphasizes his past and potentially future economic gains.
The first factor, as the Post’s reporters concluded, is the pandemic’s debilitating effect on Trump’s image as a competent leader. Biden leads Trump by 54% to 34% in the response to: Who do you trust more to handle the coronavirus outbreak?” Trump’s disapproval rating for handling the coronavirus outbreak was 60%. And when asked, “Do you approve or disapprove of the way Donald Trump is handling his job as president?” Trump received a 57% disapproval rating.
These high disapproval ratings would appear to doom Trump’s attempt at being re-elected.
But approval ratings are a slippery ledge to hold onto, ask Hillary Clinton. Trumps’ unfavorable rating was 9% above hers. Twelve days before the election Clinton RealClearPolitics polling-average showed Clinton leading Trump nationally by nearly six points, two points higher than what Barack Obama beat Mitt Romney in 2012. NBC news reported that the Trump campaign was telling reporters, based on their own analytics of Oct. 27, they had just a 15 percent chance of winning. This perspective reinforces the need for Democrats not to assume Trump’s low approval ratings translate into Biden votes. But they do force Trump to divert attention from the pandemic to something else, like the economy.
The second factor underscores how approval rates can miss the intensity of a candidate’s supporters to actually turn out and vote. The Post-ABC News poll showed Trump’s supporters far more enthusiastic for voting for him (69%) versus the level of enthusiastic support for voting for Biden (39%). This may or may not be a problem for Biden. What is ironic is that CNN reported exit polls from the 2016 race showed that Hillary Clinton’s supporters were more enthusiastic than Trump’s were for him. Of the 28% of voters who made up their mind who to vote for in the last month before the 2016 election, 49% of Trump voters decided then, whereas only 40% of Clinton supporters did. That shows most Clinton voters were already enthused about her campaign. However, as Clinton learned enthusiasm for your campaign is not enough to win.
In the 2020 election, the motivation to defeat the other candidate may be a more deciding factor. While only 21 percent of those intending to vote for Trump say their motivation to vote is to defeat Biden, 67 percent of Biden supporters say it is most important to defeat the president. This approach is being taken by the Lincoln Project, started and run by dedicated anti-Trump Republicans, who are running stinging media ads attacking Trump’s dangerous personality. They hope to peel away independents and disenchanted Republicans to either sit out the election or even vote for Biden.
Biden’s possible selection of a Black female Vice President running mate would be a smart strategic decision to assure that the Black vote does not slip back to what Clinton received as opposed to what Obama did in his two successful campaigns. According to the Pew Research Center, of validated voters, 98% of Black women voted for Clinton, but their numbers were down from the prior two presidential elections. They not only have the potential to increase their own turnout but may also be able to increase the total Black turnout in November.
That leaves the economy as the issue which Trump must promote to counter Biden’s rise in the polls. Trump has repeatedly mentioned his accomplishments in that arena at every press conference he holds, regardless of the apparent lead issue that he was to address. Trump’s campaign is now being built around that mission.
The cross tabs of the most recent poll show that the majority of all voter’s support Trump over Biden in handling our economy, despite unemployment being at an historic high. When asked: Do you approve or disapprove of the way Trump is handling the economy? Those approving his handling was at 50%, not approving was at 47%. Even when pitted one-on-one with Biden, asking “Who do you trust more to handle the four critical areas of: the economy, race relations, crime and safety, and the coronavirus outbreak, Trump came out on top only on the economy, but only by a 2% margin.
Expect Trump and the Republican controlled Senate to push for something akin to Trump’s 2018 Tax Cut Act after labor-day, when the swing voters will finally focus on the election. His tax cut apparently did wonders for pumping up his support. An April 2018 analysis by Chris Cillizza, CNN Editor-at-large, found that Trump’s approval rating jumped from 35% to 42% nationally in one month. The uptick was particularly evident among key constituent groups: Men voters went up 8%, Young voters (age 18 to 34) increased from 20% to 30%, Middle-aged voters (35 to 49 years old) up 9 points, and College graduates swung up 10%. Cillizza concluded that the Trump tax cut was the most likely explanation.
That positive bump occurred despite the Democrats and liberal media hollering from the rooftops that most of the benefits went to the richest people. Unlike 2018, the Democrats now control the house and they will not likely approve any kind of Trump tax cut. However, even if they succeeded in stopping one, the Republicans would then blame the Democrats for not wanting to create jobs and save our economy.
Trump and his party must keep the focus on their efforts to bolster our economy. Their only hope to win in November is to distract the public from the devastating pandemic. They need to frame Trump’s refusal to embrace decisive federal rules limiting the pandemic’s spread as a strategy to open up our businesses again.
Trump’s play is to redouble his efforts to convince his white, blue color voter base, most importantly in the swing states he won last time, that only he can revive the economy. The problem Republican candidates face this November is that the polls show the public is barely accepting that message. If the polls continue on a pro-Biden trajectory, those candidates may find themselves dragged down with Trump — and the Republican Senate could be no more.
Nick Licata is author of Becoming A Citizen Activist, and
has served 5 terms on the Seattle City Council, named progressive municipal official of the year by The Nation, and is founding board chair of Local Progress, a national network of 1,000 progressive municipal officials.
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