This piece is the first in an ongoing DKODING series providing insight and analysis into the state of play in the US Presidential election.
At the moment, ahead in the national polls by nine percentage points, Joe Biden is faring well in his bid for the White House. Conducting his campaign largely from his Delaware home, he has been able to appear composed and disciplined, having his appearances well scripted and managed in advance, and conversing with sympathetic voters in ways that allow him to demonstrate competence and empathy.
Compelled by the pandemic into a subdued and limited campaign, the former Vice-President’s weaknesses have largely been obscured. He has historically been gaffe-prone; but in his tightly-scripted set-up, mostly reading from a teleprompter, and with little of the spontaneous interactions of the traditional campaign trail, situations have not arisen for him to misspeak or get into a heated confrontation with protestors or hecklers. Social distancing restrictions have made sessions with the media quite rare, further reducing the scope for error or controversy.
Thus far, there has been little need for him to account for expenditure for his proposals or go into much policy detail. All he has had to do is repeat the mantra of the CDC and other health professionals, react to the issues of the day, and let the President stir up controversies. With his communications team putting together common-sense talking points, he has been able to stick to the general themes he has maintained ever since entering the Democratic primaries half a year ago.
Biden’s lead, therefore, has much to do with the fact national politics remains overshadowed by the response to the pandemic, and he has benefited from a lack of consistent scrutiny. President Trump, who has generally had a talent for framing opponents, has been unable to craft a compelling line of attack against Biden, and this is due, in part, to the fact the former Vice-President has been largely out of the fray, and not especially compelled to take any bait or respond to criticism. In recent weeks Trump has experimented with framing Biden as a tool of the radical left; but this has landed with a thud thus far, given Biden’s moderate, centrist ethos and legislative record. Linking Biden, by association, to radical, intolerant ‘cancel culture’ and ‘cultural elites’ also seems a bit of a stretch, given Biden’s solid, straightforward working-class roots. Before that, trump attempted to develop a theme of Biden suffering cognitive decline, and ‘having lost a step;’ but this too has been only partially effective, given Biden’s competent and coherent appearances over the last few months. Most recently, Trump has attempted to allege that Biden’s policies will lead to the ‘destruction of the suburbs,’ a claim that is not only preposterously demagogic, but a dog-whistle to the reactionary right about enforced zoning and minorities. Trump, therefore, normally adept at finding a clinching attack and repeating it over and over, has been sampling then just as quickly discarding an array of attacks, none of which seem to be sticking – so far.
Watch: Can Joe Biden win the election from the comfort of his basement?
Biden has also been building a lead in the polls of the battleground states that decide the winner in the Electoral College. The election will ultimately be decided in half a dozen competitive states: three in the industrial mid-west, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin; regular battleground Florida, North Carolina, and Arizona out in the West. Right now, there is a sense of optimism among the Democratic base and amongst Democratic operatives that they are expanding the Electoral College map. Georgia and Texas have been polling within the margin of error. Crucially, Florida, Georgia, Texas and Arizona are bearing the brunt of the COVID resurgence, and this may be consequential for Trump, who is receiving poor marks for his response to the epidemic.
Biden may have a new, scaled-down version of the so-called Democratic ‘firewall,’ which collapsed in 2016. Two states, Maine and Kansas, allocate their Electoral college votes by the party winners in their Congressional districts. Biden’s likeliest pick-up states in the Electoral college on election night will be Pennsylvania, where he is polling best, and where he has strong personal roots, having grown up in the city of Scranton; and the adjoining state of Michigan. Were he to win just these two states, and either the Maine 2nd congressional district, or Kansas 2nd Congressional district, both highly competitive, then he would have 269 of the 270 Electoral college votes needed for victory. In this scenario, the outcome of the election would be decided in the House of representatives, almost certain to remain in the control of the Democrats. Winning just those two states, and either of those Congressional districts would be enough, by itself, to secure the Presidency – and that is before the outcomes in the other battleground states are decided.
At present, DKODING rates the likely victor in the Presidential race as 65% Biden, 35% Trump.
If Biden were to win the Presidency, the fate of his legislative agenda would be greatly determined by the race for the Senate, currently held by the Republicans, 53 to 47. Long considered a long-shot for the Democrats to regain the chamber, forecasters are now rating the contest as a toss-up, as the Democrats have recruited able candidates, well-liked within their states, and Trump’s deteriorating poll ratings are placing pressure on Republican candidates. Just like the Presidential contest, the battle for the Senate will be decided in six or so states: Montana, Arizona, North Carolina, Maine, Alabama and Colorado.
At present, DKODING rates the battle for the Senate as 50% – 50%
President Trump would probably lose the election in a landslide, were it held tomorrow. But for all his woes, there are still just under four months left until election day. DKODING will provide regular updates and analysis as the race unfolds.