The political conventions have come and gone and little has changed in the 2020 presidential election. Before the conventions, Joe Biden led Donald Trump by an average of 8.0 percentage points; after the conventions, Biden led Trump by an average of 7.6 points. (https://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/polls/president-general/national/ )
Trump continues to be unpopular; his latest ratings are 53.1 percent disapprove and 42.7 percent approve. (https://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/trump-approval-ratings/ )
For Trump to win, external factors will have to intervene. Let’s consider ten possible game changers.
1.The Presidential Debates: There will be three presidential debates: September 29 (Cleveland), October 15 (Miami), and October 22 (Nashville). (There will be a Vice-Presidential debate on October 7 (Salt Lake City).)
A recent USA Today poll found that 47 percent of respondents expected Trump to prevail, versus 41 percent who thought Biden would win. (http://poll trump expected to win debates) This is a curious result. In 2016 Hillary Clinton bested Trump in every debate. (https://www.newsweek.com/fact-check-trump-debate-win-hillary-1447108) In 2012, Joe Biden defeated Paul Ryan in a Vice-Presidential debate. (https://www.businessinsider.com/ryan-beats-biden-debate-cnn-poll-2012-10 )
The debates should be fascinating. I expect Biden to prevail.
2. Russian Intervention: Many believe that Donald Trump’s 2016 electoral college edge was the direct consequence of Russian intervention: Millions of Russian-oligarch funds funneled into the Trump campaign via the NRA; Russian hackers providing key Clinton campaign emails to Wikileaks (Julian Assange); and Russians trolls manipulating social-media feeds to favor Trump in Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.
The Russians are at it again, but there’s more energy directed to protecting the vote. Specifically, there is more focus on social-media companies, such as Facebook, taking action to circumvent malignant Russian actions.
Recent New Yorker article observed that the impact of Russian disinformation is over stated: “Russian-produced disinformation certainly exists…. But compared with, say, Fox News pundits like Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity, let alone Trump himself, the perceived menace of Russian trolls far outweighs their actual reach.” (https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2020/09/14/is-russian-meddling-as-dangerous-as-we-think? )
(By the way: Reuters reports that the White House has systematically downplayed the possibility of Russian interference in the election (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-election-whistleblower/former-u-s-official-told-to-halt-russia-intelligence-assessments-whistleblower-complaint-idUSKBN26032Q?).)
I expect the Russians to screw up counting the vote in at least one swing state.
3. Money: Six months ago, when Joe Biden secured the Democratic presidential nomination, it was assumed Donald Trump would have a huge financial advantage, going into the campaign homestretch. Now it appears that Biden has the money edge.
Recent New York Times (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/07/us/politics/trump-election-campaign-fundraising.html? ) revelations indicate that Trump’s campaign team mismanaged their multi-million dollar financial advantage and now they are scrambling for funds. Biden is running ads in all the swing states and Trump in only a couple. (By the way, the Trump campaign appears to have conceded Arizona to Biden.)
For the remaining 7 weeks before the election, I expect Biden to have more money.
4. Enthusiasm: For months, the Trump campaign has boasted of their “secret” advantage: Trump supporters are more enthusiastic about Donald than Democratic voters are about Joe. (Of course “MAGA” voters are crazy about Donald; they are cult members.)
A recent Reuters poll ( https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-election-turnout-analysis/supporters-who-helped-trump-win-presidency-lagging-in-motivation-this-year-idUSKBN25Z1ID?) suggests the Republican narrative is false. “President Donald Trump’s supporters are less motivated this election cycle than they were in 2016. Although non-college-educated whites comprise 44 percent of the electorate and were pivotal to Trump’s 2016 victory, less of them support him this time around… his 12-point advantage in August is down from a 21-point lead in May, and well below the 34-point advantage he had over [Hillary] Clinton.”
Early voting numbers are out ( https://www.politico.com/news/2020/09/10/democrats-early-voting-lead-412106) and they favor Democrats. Advantage to Biden.
5. Trump health: For months, there have been rumors that Donald Trump is in poor health; that he cannot walk a ramp without assistance, that he has trouble operating one of his hands, that he has more than his share of memory lapses… There’s speculation that Trump, aged 74, has contracted the Alzheimer’s disease that felled his father, Fred.
What’s clear is that Trump is overweight (estimate 250 pounds), has an awful diet, and gets almost no exercise — he plays golf relying on a cart. He has, to say the least, a high-pressure job. My doctor friends tell me Trump is a prime candidate for a stroke.
On the campaign trail, Trump mocks Joe Biden’s health and age. (Really!) Advantage to Biden.
6. COVID-19 Pandemic: Trump has treated the pandemic as if it is a crisis that has been solved. Unfortunately, It hasn’t been solved and is likely to get worse when flu season starts in October. By November 3rd, 250,000 Americans will have died from the virus. Trump can’t wish this away and most voters blame him for the crisis. (The latest ABC News/Ipsos poll found: “A clear majority of Americans (63%) disapprove of Trump’s oversight of the public health crisis — a steady trend since early July.”)
As this was written, Bob Woodward’s book, “Rage,” was published. Woodward taped Trump admissions of intentionally downplaying the seriousness of the pandemic. (During a period where Trump was telling supporters the Coronavirus was a “hoax” and suggesting it was less dangerous than the flu.) ( https://www.motherjones.com/coronavirus-updates/2020/09/trump-admits-that-he-lied-about-the-coronavirus/?)
The pandemic will rage on and voters will blame Trump.
7. Economy: Trump acts as if the economy is growing but last quarter it shrank at a rate of 32.9 percent. Trump pretends we are in a V-shaped recovery but it’s actually a K-shaped recovery where only the richest 1 percent are benefitting. 0 As the weeks go by, and Trump presents no plan to deal with the recession, increasing numbers of voters will be angry. (Voters are split on Trump’s handling of the economy (https://www.realclearpolitics.com/epolls/other/president_trump_job_approval_economy-6182.html ).)
(At this writing, the Senate failed to approve a Republican-backed “skinny” stimulus bill (https://www.npr.org/2020/09/10/911414284/senate-gop-covid-relief-bill-fails-prospects-of-bipartisan-deal-before-election-?).)
8. Climate Change: As we head into the final days of the presidential campaign, Trump refuses to acknowledge climate change. Meanwhile, the west is beset by wildfires and the southeast by hurricanes.
This week Trump went to Florida and declared himself, “the No. 1 environmental president since Teddy Roosevelt.”
9. Law and Order: Coming out of the Republican convention, Donald Trump tried to brand himself “the law and order President.” He predicts dire consequences if Joe Biden is elected President.
A recent CNN poll found, “Biden ahead of Trump by a 7-point margin on who [respondents] thought, if elected, would do a better job on the criminal justice system in the United States. Biden was favored by a 6-point margin on who would keep Americans safe from harm.”
10. Trump Scandals: As this is written, Trump is dealing with (at least) three scandals: the revelations about his attitude towards the American military (“suckers,” “losers”); the insider information from Trump’s one-time attorney, Michael Cohen; and, the publication of Bob Woodward’s book, “Rage.”
There are seven weeks left until the presidential election. It’s reasonable to assume that every week will see some new revelation about Trump’s conduct. Trump’s base will be eroded to the hardcore — below 40 percent of voters.
Summary: Most potential game changers favor Biden. The notable exception is Russian interference in the election. Next time I’ll take a closer look at election interference, in general.