There is a strange dichotomy prevailing between Democrats and the Democrat-leaning media these days. Normally not a streak of daylight can pass between the two, but on the question of whether the 2020 presidential elections is in the bag, while the Democrats are maintaining cautious optimism, the liberal media is getting ahead of itself. Again.
The question is why this dichotomy.
Let’s see the facts first. Till COVID-19 struck the US in late February, by all estimates, Donald Trump was sailing towards what everyone believed would be a well-contested victory if not an outright mauling of any Democrat nominee, barring Bernie Sanders. When the Party Establishment ramrodded Joe Biden, Trump was barely able to hide his glee. “Sleepy” Joe was exactly the kind of candidate Trump wanted. A gaffe machine with possible early-stage dementia, Biden enthused no one. The road to the White House appeared all but closed.
Then, like his ilk from history, Trump played a wrong hand in overconfidence and bungled big time. Battered by the mishandling of the Corona-crisis and even poorer handling of the race question fuelled by the cold-blooded murder of an African American citizen in the hands of a White cop, Trump’s approval ratings nosedived. And it coincided with the nosediving of the economy, the only issue on which American trusted Trump over any challenger.
A slew of polls has brought bad news for him. Let’s analyse a few. In polls variously conducted by The New York Times, CNN and even the conservative media has Trump trailing Bien by almost double-digit in the national polls. The most comprehensive among these is The New York Times/Siena College poll that places Biden a whopping 14 points ahead of Trump nationally. A similar MSNBC poll also has Trump trailing by 10 points.
It appears that while the core-Trump voters have galvanised around him, every other group—even those that voted for him in 2016—is coming out of the buyer’s remorse and splitting away. According to The New York Times/Siena College poll, Biden appears to be leading among female and male voters by 22 and three points respectively. In 2016, Trump had led among the male voters and had lost the female votes by a lesser margin. Among the independents, Biden is now leading by 21 percentage points. Hillary Clinton had polled fewer independent votes than Trump.
Looking at the preference race-wise, the numbers further betray Trump. Biden now leads with record points among Blacks and Hispanic voters. He even leads among the college-going Whites by a whopping 28 per cent, something not seen since a couple of decades. Trump barely holds on to White votes by 1 per cent, something within the margin of error for the particular polls. He leads among the non-College going Whites by a mammoth 19 per cent but even that number has shrunk. However, this last figure can prove to be a tad troublesome for Biden as it suggests that the working-class Whites have not warmed up to Democrats after the fissure of 2016 that sunk Hillary Clinton, and by that extension Democrats, in the Rust-Belt States.
But it appears now that what Democrats are losing with the working-class Whites, they are gaining among the Blacks and females. And they are doing so despite Biden not because of him. While Biden enthuses no one whether it is Blacks or females or youngsters, the very spectre of a second term by Trump is forcing them to galvanise around Biden. While Blacks appear to prefer the subtle racism of liberals than the vocal one coming from White-Thrash supporting Trump, the females dread a scenario where Joe vs Wade will either be repealed or grossly undermined.
If numbers are so rosy, why are Democrats still nervous? Well, for starters, they still suffer from the PTSD of 2016 when the combination of hubris and a dislikeable candidate sunk their boat. Switch off the Dictaphone and the Democrat strategists will tell you that how these numbers don’t matter and it is ultimately the Electoral College votes that matter and that Trump has managed to buck the trend in the past. This nervousness is palpable and necessary. Democrats are leaving no stone unturned and are focusing on all the six battleground states also known as the Swing States. Trump needs to win at least three out of these six to keep the White House.
However, according to almost all the polls, he is trailing Biden in all the six presently. According to The New York Times/Siena College poll, Biden is leading Michigan and Wisconsin by 11 points, Pennsylvania by 10, North Carolina by nine, Arizona by seven and Florida by six. Trump had won all in 2016 by around one per cent except for Arizona and North Carolina that he won by four percentage points.
In another poll by CNBC/Change, Biden not only leads Trump by eight points nationally, but he also leads in all the six Swing States. According to this poll, he leads Wisconsin by eight points, North Carolina and Arizona by seven points, Pennsylvania by six and Florida and Michigan by five each.
A poll of polls tracker maintained by The Economist magazine now gives Biden a nine in 10 chances of taking the Electoral College and a whopping 19 out of 20 in the popular vote.
However, it is important to understand here that there remain around four months to the actual poll and numbers can change. By all calculations, this is Trump probably at his worst. His numbers can only improve from here. The question however is will they improve enough to bridge the gap?
That would depend on what issues dominate the narrative closer to the polling day. Trump understands that his chances improve when the state of the economy is the dominant issue. After all, this is the only issue on which he leads the approval rating vis-à-vis, Biden. This fact was instrumental in him forcing the country to reopen even before the COVID-19 curve was flattened. Now that as many as 39 states are reporting a spike in numbers, it is a matter of only a few days when death toll again starts touching over a thousand a day. This will likely force the economic activities to once again stop or the cases might reach 80-90,000 per day from the current 50-65,000. The more time it takes to flatten this curve, the more the issue remains dominant. It is truly a Catch-22 situation for Trump, but one that appears to be difficult to resolve.
Other factors might help Trump later in the election cycle. Take for example the presidential debate. Biden has performed well in the polls till now primarily because he is absent as Trump commits hara-kiri. It is a widely-held belief now, even among the Democrats, that Trump will make a mincemeat out of a fumbling Biden in the debates. That is going to help Trump immensely among the independent voters who appear to be abandoning him. But the question remains, will any of these be enough to make him bridge the gap in six Swing States? Watch this space.