Democrats are elated at recent polling that pit Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden against the incumbent, Republican Donald Trump. After months of close polling, Biden appears to have pulled ahead to a double-digit lead, with most polls showing he built an 8-13% advantage. The Economist is giving Joe Biden a 97% chance of beating Trump in the all-important electoral college after projecting a 50-50 chance in early March.
Yet GOP officials on the Trump campaign told Politico they predict a “landslide” victory. “The more bad things happen in the country, it just solidifies support for Trump,” GOP chair for North Carolina’s Robeson County, Phillip Stephens said. It appears that Republican campaign officials are counting on a potential economic revival as the country gradually reopens, which would bring a flurry of good news for Trump to report.
Strangely, both campaigns appear highly confident of victory.“The campaign is Joe Biden’s to lose,” political commentator and former congressional candidate Cenk Uygur told the hosts of popular YouTube-broadcast show “The Young Turks.” But Uygur warned: “Never underestimate an establishment Democrat’s ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.”
As one of the most unpopular presidents in US history, Trump received his highest approval rating so far in April when 45% approved of his job performance, with 51% disapproving. But as the COVID-19 crisis unraveled business-as-usual, his polling numbers started to steadily decline. A Rasmussen poll on June 15 showed 58% of participants disapproving of the president’s performance, with 41% approving.
In head-to-head national polling, Abacus Data is showing Biden leading Trump 51% to 41%, while a June 10 YouGov poll showed Biden up 9%. In encouraging news for the Democrats, Biden is apparently less unpopular than Hillary Clinton, with 37% of voters seeing him positively in a June 2020 NBC News/WSJ poll.
While Biden is also gaining in battleground states, the United States’ intertwined crises in health and inequality, and the uncertain future of the coming months, leave much unclear.
Impact of COVID-19
The coronavirus epidemic has so far claimed more lives in the country than the US lost in World War I, with no sign of stopping anytime soon. Yet the extremely divided American media landscape means citizens remain divided on whether the country took the right measures to halt the epidemic.
Trump supporters have held protests to demand the “reopening” of their states and right-wing outlets have seen any criticism of the Trump administration’s approach, including from scientists, as political attacks against the Republican president.
Meanwhile, the country is reopening in the midst of what many consider to still be the first wave of infections. The GOP appears to be prioritizing the economy in order to recover some of the job losses before the election, but ever-increasing infection rates are already influencing markets and oil prices.
It is possible that continued COVID-19 infections leading up to November could mean radical changes to how Americans vote. Primaries held in the last months have seen an increase in voting by mail, which Republicans are now working hard to discredit.
While the protests following the death of George Floyd have now decreased when in terms of violence, the streets of large cities across the US continue to see passionate demonstrations. Following their eagerness to repeatedly publicize images of burning buildings, the media appears to have lost interest. Still, most Americans appear to trust their media and an untold amount of people will have perceived the protests incorrectly.
Whether the protests will energize Democratic voters or spur Republicans towards the polls remains to be seen. The Democrats have not presented any proposals that make the coming election an outright referendum on the rights of American minorities, instead opting for photo ops and symbolic messaging.
Furthermore, Biden’s problematic past remarks on Black Americans received little attention during the primaries, while the Trump campaign is sure to repeat them ad nauseam. The Democratic strategy of presenting Biden as the “anti-Trump” is nearly identical to Hillary Clinton’s strategy. Like Biden, Clinton also consistently polled higher than Trump in the lead up to the 2016 elections.
In any other political system, the opposition would blame the incumbent for orchestrating the largest wealth transfer from the poor to the rich. The bailouts that followed the 2008 crash caused a political bloodbath among Republicans, but Democrats are complicit in the unanimous passing of the 2020 stimulus bill.
Democrats could highlight systemic inequality, but as the 2020 primaries revealed, many would rather not vote at all than even consider overhauling American economics by electing Sanders. The reason for Biden’s primary victory comes down to political maneuvering. Some candidates who secured more delegates than Biden in specific states suspended their campaigns and united behind him in order to prevent a Sanders candidacy.
The Democrats will be hard-pressed to make any strong arguments except for those to which the American public has already been desensitized, including his racism, cruelty, minimal intelligence, and vanity. Biden has chosen to remain quiet during the pandemic response in an effort to allow Trump to self-destruct, but in turn has not shown any substantial leadership himself.
In the end, American politics are not about convincing enough of the other parties’ voters. They are all about energizing the party’s pre-existing base. The reality is that Democrats have used much of their political ammunition during their “resistance” while Trump’s campaign has many yet-to-be-revealed details on Biden that could depress Democratic enthusiasm.
Even if Biden wins the most votes, that is no guarantee of victory, as Hillary Clinton learned in 2016. Beyond that threat, Trump still has the option to give the “green light” for Israeli annexation of the West Bank, which could upend the race.
While Biden’s polling currently looks good, there is no reason for Democrats to cheer just yet. Lessons from 2016 are still relevant, and Democrats appear to have very little beyond growing youth involvement that could help them this year. With Trump providing a perfect channel for his supporters’ rage, it is still unclear whether Democrats can similarly enthuse their traditional base.
The fact that Democrats are not in a clear lead against a candidate — one who has caused thousands of deaths and millions of unemployed people — reveals the need for deep reform in their party. It appears impossible to lose to Trump, but if anyone can do it, it is the Democrats.