With the conventions out of the way, and a fast-moving media cycle, there are signs of volatility in the polls, but the race is still Joe Biden’s to lose. As part of our on-going series, here are the five key takeaways from the United States Presidential Campaign.
1. President Trump Seems to Have Achieved a Very Modest Bounce After the Republican Convention
Throughout June and July, President Trump’s approval rating subsided to a low of 40% in the average of the polls. This fall was not as significant as many in the media implied, as it was only two or three points below the consistent norm throughout his presidency. Post-convention, his numbers have ticked up to an average of 43%, comparable to where he was in March, before the pandemic had taken hold in the United States. Though the current percentage is still low by the conventional norms of the Presidency, stretching back generations to the emergence of polling methodologies in the post-war political and cultural landscape, the altered norms of politics in the Trump era mean the President is emerging back into contention.
It is worth highlighting that Trump won the Presidency in 2016 with only 46% of the popular vote, and now sits just under that, with tightening polls, an energized base, daily coronavirus cases coming down from the highs of the preceding months, and national attention diverted by culture-war issues to do with race-relations in Portland and Wisconsin. Despite these modest gains, it is still unclear whether Trump will advance upon them, or even sustain them – it is common for a post-convention bounce to subside relatively quickly.
2. Biden’s Lead is Holding Nationally, But has Tightened Slightly in the Swing States
The all-important swing-states that decide the electoral college, and the election, are showing signs of frothing around. There are a lot of low-to-middle quality polls, and few high-quality ones, and some of the latter seem to show improvement for the President, further muddying the picture. While Joe Biden’s averages haven’t dipped too considerably, there has been a recent spate of outlier polls that have caused jitters among strategists and observers on the left.
Watch: Which Swing States Matter? | 2020 Elections
It was, after-all, outlier polls in 2016, especially in the swing-states, that inferred a changing dynamic late in that race. Amidst the volatility, the once long-shot state of Arizona has appeared a more likely proposition for the Biden campaign, while once prospective map-expanding prizes, like Texas and Ohio, seem to be trending back to the incumbent. In addition, there is now speculation the traditionally blue-leaning state of Minnesota may be entering into contention, in part due to a core of disaffected white voters potentially open to President Trump’s brand of white alienation.
3. Identity Politics May Once Again be the Democrat’s Achilles Heel
A major factor in Hillary Clinton’s loss in 2016 was a sense of alienation among white voters in the industrial north-west, in the states of Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. Working class white men, struggling with piles of bills on their kitchen tables, and scraping the ice of their windshield to go to work in the morning, were receiving a constant stream of liberal, academic terms and ideology – trigger warnings, safe-spaces, political correctness, social justice warriors, cancel-culture – and were being constantly reminded to account for and atone for their white-privilege, cis-gender-privilege and male-privilege, whilst, at the same time, receiving constant messages that their gender was failing across the board in academic enrolments and graduation, and facing a mental health crisis in which three quarters of suicides were by middle-aged men.
The Democratic party had fore-fronted identity politics to a significant enough extent that many white, working-class voters in those states became jaded with the party and either sat out the election or decided to cast their vote for then-republican nominee, Donald Trump. Four years later, the cultural landscape, and the democratic Party’s affiliation with politically correct identity politics – and cancel-culture on social media in particular – may be rankling those same voters, at the very time the Democratic Party needs to secure their votes and re-take the states they ceded in 2016. The Democratic Party’s failure to heed this potential disconnect, and to repeat the same mistake, suggests a significant blind-spot in the party’s strategy.
4. Race has Rattled the Country, and Both Candidates are Trying Their Hardest to Capture the Narrative
On the same day, Former Vice President Biden, and Donald Trump, gave speeches in the upper mid-west, attempting to address and seize the narrative about racial tensions. Biden sought to answer criticisms, and push back against a narrative that he would be soft on crime if elected, while Trump sought to shift any blame he might have for presiding, as the incumbent, over inflamed racial tensions, by suggesting he was the only one who could deal with it, and ought to be given a second term to do so. Despite the glaring casuistry of this argument, it is possible he could convince troubled white suburban voters that his hard-line approach might be the best answer, and that the Democrats, under Biden, might be too sympathetic to protesters and civil disobedience – despite Biden addressing this several times, and with some consistency, in speeches. There are multiple aspects to these racial tensions, including vigilante groups, an assault rifle wielding teenager accused of murdering two protesters and would-be assailants, and severe property damage in the city of Portland and Kenosha, Wisconsin.
Watch: Joe Biden remarks on Protests
5. The Race is Still Biden’s to LoseYou will find more infographics at Statista
There is inevitable fretting and hand-wringing among Democrats, and there will be collective apprehension over the three debates – where Biden’s metal stamina and acuity will be tested for an hour-and-a-half each time – but beyond that, it seems increasingly unlikely Trump will be able to pull a straight across almost all the battleground states and secure a second term. Because of the trauma of four years ago, no democrat, or observer, will be convinced of a Democratic win until the last results have come in. And given the ructions over mail-in-voting, that ultimate outcome may not be decided for weeks after election day.