Democrats will not breathe easy until Donald Trump has officially conceded. The New York Times’ election needle has been taken offline — and the computers that generated it, ritually burned — so that nothing resembling the events of November 8, 2016, will ever happen again.
Blue America has spent the past week wringing its hands and chewing its benzos. Liberals couldn’t refresh their social-media feeds without glimpsing new portents of electoral ruin. A riot in Wisconsin, a Republican National Convention featuring actual nonwhite people, a communist who wrote a bad book — all looked like proof of the inevitability of Biden’s defeat (and/or the advisability of googling “canadian immigration law”).
But reports of “Dems in disarray” have been greatly exaggerated.
A lot can go wrong between now and Election Day. The president’s coalition is heavily overrepresented in Electoral College battlegrounds. The Democratic nominee is a 77-year-old man traversing the country in the middle of a pandemic. This has been a banner year for Murphy’s law. But, contrary to the progressive punditocracy’s perpetual pessimism, Joe Biden’s odds of entering the Oval Office next year look better today than ever before. Here are five reasons why America probably isn’t about to reelect a lawless cable-news addict who responded to a pandemic by advising voters to inject bleach into their lungs:
1) Trump has used up his free, weeklong infomercial — and Biden is still leading national polls by a margin too large for the Electoral College to close.
The Republican National Convention provided the president with four nights of free network airtime, and thus, a unique opportunity to change the shape of the presidential race. Post-RNC polling suggests that he failed to do so.
Before the Democrats kicked off convention season on August 16, Biden led Trump by 7.7 points in RealClearPolitics polling average and by 8 in FiveThirtyEight’s; now, those figures are 7.2 and 7.3 respectively. This represents an improvement on Trump’s part, but one small enough to be mere statistical noise. Given that Trump likely needs to get Biden’s national lead down beneath 3 points in order to have a 50-50 shot of winning the Electoral College, a convention bounce that leaves the Democratic nominee ahead by more than seven is bad news for the commander-in-chief.
2) Post-Kenosha polling indicates rising crime isn’t actually a “win” for the sitting president.
On August 23, a police officer shot an unarmed Black man in the back seven times in Kenosha, Wisconsin. A mix of nonviolent protests, riots, and looting ensued. Days later, a 17-year-old Donald Trump enthusiast traveled to Kenosha from Illinois with an AR-15 rifle (that he had no legal right to possess) with the avowed aim of upholding “law and order.” He ended up shooting two people to death. Trump then defended the teenage vigilante.
And, for whatever reason, many Democrats concluded that all this would redound to the benefit of a president who had vowed in 2016, “When I take the oath of office next year, I will restore law and order to our country. Believe me.”
To be fair, when your party is leading by a comfortable margin, any potentially transformative media event is undesirable. And historically, the Republican Party has boasted an advantage on the issue of public safety. If anything could plausibly displace the pandemic from the front of marginal Wisconsin voters’ minds, it might be a sudden increase in crime and urban unrest. And unlike in the recent past, rising murder rates are a genuine policy problem in 2020 across many metro areas.
Still, the notion that a sitting president could mount a comeback by arguing that America is descending into anarchy on his watch was always a bit counterintuitive. And surveys taken since the unrest in Kenosha indicate that “if Joe Biden is elected, things will be as bad as they are now” isn’t actually a winner for Mr. Trump.
Morning Consult’s most recent poll finds that voters trust Biden over Trump on the issue of public safety by a 47 to 39 percent margin, while giving the Democrat an even larger edge on “race relations.”
YouGov, meanwhile, finds that 56 percent of voters believe that “violence happening at protests will get worse” if Trump is reelected. By contrast, only 23 percent say that will happen if Biden is elected, while 43 percent expect the Democrat’s victory to reduce such violence. Finally, Quinnipiac’s latest survey shows that Trump makes 50 percent of voters “feel less safe,” and only 35 percent feel “more safe”; for Biden, those figures are 40 and 42 percent respectively.
3) It will be hard for Trump to make new attacks on Biden stick when the electorate trusts the Democrat’s word over his.
Like Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden is a familiar figure to the American public. Unlike his party’s last standard-bearer, Biden has not been subject to a quarter-century of character assassination at the hands of right-wing media.
That presents a significant challenge to the Trump campaign. Sure, they can call the author of the 1994 Crime Bill and patron saint of neoliberal triangulation a radical socialist with a soft spot for rioters. But then, Biden can simply reply:
Meanwhile, any attempt to persuade the public to drastically revise their conception of Uncle Joe faces a fundamental obstacle: In a he said, he said between Trump and Biden, most voters will assume it’s the president who’s full of malarkey.
4) Biden is outspending Trump 10-to-1 on television ads — and has the war chest to keep the aerial bombardment going indefinitely.
In August 2016, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton collectively raised $233 million in campaign funds. In August of this year, Joe Biden raised more than $300 million all by himself.
That total shatters the $193 million monthly fundraising record that Barack Obama set in September 2008. And Biden’s historic haul provides his campaign with an effectively unlimited ad budget during the election’s homestretch. In the last week of August, the Democratic nominee was already outspending Trump 10-to-1 on the airwaves, inundating voters with his plans to end the COVID pandemic, prosecute looters, and thwart Trump’s nefarious plot to defund Social Security. The precise efficacy of television ads in presidential races is a point of contention among political scientists. But suffice it to say, having your opponent’s message ring out ten times louder than your own probably isn’t an optimal way of mounting a historic comeback.
5) Absent further fiscal aid, the economy is likely to get worse between now and Election Day.
More than 800,000 Americans filed for first-time unemployment benefits this week. Meanwhile, following congressional Republicans’ refusal to extend the CARES Act’s relief provisions, small businesses across the country are collapsing into bankruptcy. As Politico’s Ben White reports:
Homebase found that the recovery that began in April essentially flat-lined in August with more than 20 percent of small businesses across the nation remaining shuttered.
Even worse, local business site Yelp found that 55 percent of the firms that closed during the worst of the pandemic beginning in March are now permanently shuttered.
According to figures maintained by Drexel University’s Andre Kurmann, very small businesses — those with 50 employees or less — lost nearly 18 million jobs between mid-February and mid-April, a 60 percent decline. Close to half of these jobs returned as states began to re-open — but then the recovery stalled out in mid-June.
… The slowdown in the jobs recovery among smaller businesses is already reflected in some of the first emerging national data for August. Payroll processing firm ADP on Wednesday reported that employers added only 428,000 jobs in August, well below the 1 million that economists expected.
As the return of cold weather threatens to chill demand for outdoor dining, and COVID-19 case counts rise throughout the Midwest, it is easier to see how America’s already beleaguered economy gets significantly worse before Election Day than it is to see how it comes to resemble the triumphant recovery that Trump’s been touting. All else being equal, mass unemployment and rolling bankruptcies are unlikely to aid the “Keep America Great” candidate’s cause.
So there you have it. Ironclad proof that America is probably not about to reelect an authoritarian kleptocrat. And when I say Donald Trump probably is not going to win an election, you can take that to the bank (where the teller probably won’t accept it).