Victory in November?

Lately, I have read and watched a surprising number of Democratic elites – politicians, pollsters, pundits and media folk – confidently promise victory.      

The narrative goes something like this.   

November marks the end of Donald Trump’s four-year reign.  Joe Biden needs only to select a running mate, receive formal nomination, and run a modest campaign.  After all, President Trump is historically unpopular, deeply divisive, an utter failure at managing the coronavirus epidemic, the economy, and incapable of understanding the significance of the racial unrest sweeping the nation.  Democrats are poised to win back the White House and take the Senate.       

In election years, expressions of confidence are typical – the phenomenon is not specific to Democrats.  Yet, many of these same Democratic pollsters, pundits, politicians and media personalities swung and missed big in 2016.  Now might be a good time for modesty and restraint.         

Ask Hillary Clinton.  Four year ago, June surveys showed Clinton holding a comfortable 12 point lead over Trump.              

Why are Democrat elites confident?

  • The coronavirus shattered a strong U.S. economy.  The key variable in election prediction models is the condition of the national economy.  Great Depression levels of unemployment, and an uncertain financial future for millions of Americans, signal a resounding Biden victory.      
  • In most national polls, and nearly every battle-ground state survey, Biden enjoys a sizeable lead.  Even the betting odds strongly favor the Democrat.    
  • Majorities of several important voting blocs support Biden, including women, the educated, high income, Blacks, Hispanics, and registered voters. 
  • For the second consecutive month, Biden raised more campaign contributions than Trump. 
  • The accumulated evidence portends a Blue wave in November – The Cook Political Report anticipates a rather easy Electoral College win for Biden.

Reasons for doubt

  • Nearly every poll shows a majority of voters approve of Trump’s handling of the economy.  And, when people are asked who they think would do a better job of handling the economy, voters consistently choose Trump over Biden.     
  • Americans almost always give incumbents a second term.  Since 1930s, only Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton were able to defeat an incumbent president. 
  • Democrats are not unified.  A recent article noted 12% of moderate to conservative Democrats intended to vote for Trump.  An additional 7% are uncertain.  Not a single liberal Democrat expressed a Trump preference.  This fact makes the VP decision even more crucial.  Does Biden select a running mate favored by Liberal Democrats or Moderate and Conservative ones?  Recall, voters in the battleground states are typically moderate and conservative – and they will decide this election.              
  • Biden consistently trails Trump among Independents.  Neither candidate can attract a majority of Independents, but  2 to 7% more Independents intend to vote for Trump.  Approximately 15% are still undecided.     
  • In a summer of racial unrest, non-White voters are not excited about Biden.  Presently, 3 in 4 African Americans intend to vote for Biden, 9% for Trump and 16% are not sure.   In 2016, Hillary Clinton received 90% of the Black vote.  Biden’s performance among Latinos is lagging as well.  Fifty-six percent intend to vote Biden, 29% for Trump and 7% are not sure.  Clinton won Latinos by a vote margin of nearly 40%, approximately 13% higher than Biden’s current advantage.                     
  • Biden is not a particularly strong candidate.  The 2020 campaign marks his third time seeking the presidency.  This year’s debate performances were generally poor, and he faltered badly in Iowa and New Hampshire – unable to achieve top three status.      
  • Finally, the only political scientist – Helmut Norpoth – to predict Trump’s win in 2016 now anticipates another victory.  His Primary Model accurately predicted 25 of the 27 elections since 1912 – the exceptions 1960 and 2000.              

Implications          

Whether you support Joe Biden or Donald Trump, do not assume victory.  Sure, you can find plenty of evidence to support your desired outcome.  But let’s be honest.  A presidential election during a raging pandemic, an unprecedented economic crisis, and severe racial unrest, cannot be predicted with confidence.  These stressful and tragic events rarely happen, and never do they occur simultaneously.    

Finally, consider this.  Most people are not paying much attention to the election.  Just over a third of Americans say they are paying “a lot” of attention to the 2020 campaign for president.  Thirty percent say they are paying “some” attention, 23% “only a little” and 12% “none at all”. 

A large majority of Americans may, on occasion, monitor election news or read an article or two about the Biden or Trump campaign.  Given the recent turmoil and tragedy, this is probably a good thing.  Come October, more will invest in the democratic process, and at that time we will have a much better understanding of who will in fact win.         

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