State of the Race – 6 Months until Election Day!

“True, it’s not over till it’s over. And even when it’s over, it just begins again.”

Kate McGahan

Yesterday, Sunday 3rd May, marked the true countdown of the US General Election for many. 6 months until voters go to the ballet box (or post in their votes Covid 19 depending) and America decides do they want Donald Trump to have another term in office or do they want to elect Joe Biden to become the 46th President of the United States. (Yes 46, Grover Cleveland while serving twice had a 4 year break in between.) It therefore felt right to examine the state of the race and work out if the election was held today who’d be sitting in the White House.

Before examining the meat of the issue, a few things to consider. First, as Harold Wilson once said “A week is a long time in politics.”, this is certainly true, the election is still 6 months away and a lot can happen between now and for anyone who studies American elections remember we still have October where a surprise could find itself appearing. Second, Covid 19 will shape this election not just in terms of a health crisis or an economic crisis but as a voting challenge that will need to be answered. The waves of the virus will likely heavily play with what happens. Third, I am very much an election pundit while I have my degree and spend a lot of time examining polls and election history, any and all primary evidence I have is very much anecdotal and should be treated as such.

Realclearpolitics is a goldmine of a resource for anyone with an interest in the election, it shows an average of polling nationally and in key battleground states as well as various Senate, House and Gubernatorial (elections to elect state Governors) elections. I’d recommend it for anyone who has an interest and wants to keep up on the day to day shape of the race rather than awaiting my infrequent posting here. Realclearpolitics also provides betting odds as for who the bookies currently believe will win the White House, I point this out as some readers I know trust the betting odds as opposed to poll numbers.

At the time of writing the polls and the betting odds find themselves opposed to each other with the betting odds in favour of Donald Trump (50.3) compared with Joe Biden (41.8) while the polls have Joe Biden leading nationally by 5.3% and winning in all battleground states excluding North Carolina (although Trump is only winning by 0.3% so they are what pollsters called statistically tied).

I will explain the likely difference between the poll numbers and the betting odds, the former is speaking with voters and asking how they will vote if they election was today or how are they intending to vote in November. Betting odds are looking at trends that history has set, no President since Bush 41 (the older George Bush) has lost re-election and that was in 1992, 28 years ago (apologies to anyone who now feels old). The sitting President has a phenomenon called the incumbency factor, voters know exactly what they are getting and there isn’t the risk of the unknown which the challenger holds.

Out of the two if you were to ask me which I trust, has it not been for Covid 19, I would have trusted anything that put Donald Trump ahead but Covid 19 has blown everything wide open (it is something I will address further later.) I can already hear the thoughts of you reader when you tell me the polls were wrong in 2016, Hillary Clinton is not the President right now. You are indeed correct, I remember election night very well and with my fellow university course mates watched the shock unfold, a lot of whiskey was consumed and most of us had gone home by 3am (10pm Eastern Standard Time) as the result was clear.

I trust the polls this election cycle however for the perhaps counterintuitive reason of that the pollsters were wrong last time. Pollsters had a lot of egg on their face last time around and rightly so, but they will do everything that they can to ensure that won’t happen again, they have spent the last three years making sure these mistakes won’t be repeated and they will be back with a vengeance. That at least to me gives me far more confidence of their credibility and if the polls turn out to be wrong again, I will be shocked and rather annoyed.

Before I address the Donald Trump and Joe Biden to see how they have been doing in the race, I will comment on former Republican now Independent Congressman Justin Amash forming a exploratory committee to see if entry into the race seeking a third party nomination with the Libertarian Party would be possible. Firstly, if he was truly serious about running for President he should not have left it to April of election year to jump into the race. That is not how the electoral cycle in the United States works. The first candidate for the Democrat primary (Elizabeth Warren) announced in December 2018 with most candidates having put themselves forward by May 2019. Second, much like Mike Bloomberg found jumping into the race so late, with a lot of contests already held will be a waste of money. What I suspect he is trying to do is make a name for himself as his political life is coming to a close, he would not be re-elected to his seat now he has left the Republican Party and he would never stand as a Democrat (nor would the Democrats likely let him.) Should his candidacy end up anywhere and he actually win the nomination, he will likely end up helping Donald Trump win a second term as the moderate Republicans who cannot tolerate Trump and were going to hold their noses and vote for Biden would have an acceptable ideological candidate in Amash. But I will make one thing crystal clear, Amash will not be President in 2021.

As this election began after the 2018 midterms were over and as we moved through 2019 it was clear Donald Trump was going to win in 2020. The economy was doing well and there had not been any negative scandal that had seriously damaged him, not even his impeachment by the House of Representatives. Everything that Donald Trump could want was there for his re-election, he had the incumbency factor in his favour and Allan Lichtman and his 13 key method only had Trump at 4 of 6 keys lost, with it being unlikely the last two would fall all he had to do was coast to victory and have nothing go wrong, or if something did solve it in a Presidential manner.

Then came Covid 19. American GDP shrank by 5% in the first quarter of 2020, the number of Americans unemployed has reached 30 million (and counting), more dead in 3 months than in the entire Vietnam War and an absence of Federal Government leadership meaning that the States had to handle the crisis. Worst of all and extremely worrying, the suggestion by Donald Trump to inject disinfectant into people and to somehow insert lights into the body to fight off the infection. I will repeat the advice of everyone else in the world: DO NOT INJECT DISINFECTANT INTO YOURSELF.

Polling done since the Covid 19 virus hit the United States has not been good for Donald Trump (I’ll address those figures in Biden’s section.) The most worrying poll has Americans at a ratio of 2:1 believing their Governor over how to tackle Covid 19 than their President. For a President in the middle of a crisis these are not encouraging signs, far more alarming is that the rally around the effect for Donald Trump has already been blown through. It was however the smallest effect in recent history, Bush 43 after 9/11 had his favourable ratings soar to the 90% range, Donald Trump managed just over 50%. An extremely weak response in one of the worst crisis to face the United States in decades.

It is difficult to find much that speaks in favour of Trump beyond the incumbency factor, which this time due to his mismanagement of the Covid 19 crisis I believe will work against him. The only positive I can draw from all of this negative is that the base of supporters that support Donald Trump remains strong.

This is the era of a very heavily divided electorate and one which political academics and commentators are still adapting to. How much of the base will stay? How much could be lost and won again? The truth is, right now we don’t know. All we know is that, right now, Donald Trump’s political life is in a lot of danger.

Now to look at Joe Biden and how he is doing. Before I start I will address the sexual assault allegation made by Tara Reade a former staffer to him in the 1990s. I won’t go into the allegation nor will I comment on if I find the allegation credible. What matters is that these allegations are out there and the American public will have to respond to this, as they did with Donald Trump when he had allegations made against him. On Friday, he addressed the allegation head on in an uncomfortable interview on Morning Joe the MSNBC breakfast news show. After this and further developments over the weekend with Reade cancelling a television interview and her speaking with the Associated Press, I spoke with some American friends on mine ranging from a self described die hard Bernie supporter to a Republican intending on voting for Donald Trump in November. All of them did not believe Tara Reade was credible nor did they believe the allegation would matter in the election come November, Covid 19 and how that was being handled would dominate.

There is a quote attributed to Napoleon: “Never Interfere With an Enemy While He’s in the Process of Destroying Himself”. While I don’t think this is the tactic Joe Biden’s campaign is pursuing, it is the tactic in play due to a struggle to get network time. It has been as Donald Trump’s failure to handle this crisis grows that Joe Biden’s poll numbers grow meaning more and more states come into play for the Biden campaign and more states slip away from the Trump campaign. The 3 states that gave Donald Trump victory over Hillary Clinton in 2016 (Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin) are showing polling which holds Joe Biden ahead by a minimum 6% with Realclearpolitics showing Wisconsin considered by every pundit to be the bellwether state Biden ahead by a very conservative figure of 2.6% (I have seen other polling that places Biden 6% ahead with the other states above.)

It gets better for the Biden campaign with Florida now having polls showing Biden leading from 2-6%, Arizona 2-7%, with Georgia and the symbolic heartland for the Republican Party of Texas tied. I’ve seen polling out of Iowa where Biden is only behind by 2%. Why are these states important? Excluding Florida, Trump carried all of these states extremely comfortably in 2016 and Hillary Clinton was never at play in some of these states. I am not saying that in November that Biden will take all of these states, but to look at how well his campaign is doing right now these numbers prove that and then some. Internal polling by the Trump campaign has been so poor that Trump threatened to sue his campaign manager.

Add to this a very early consolidation of the Democrats behind Joe Biden (those that are being vocal about not supporting him are proving to be increasingly in the minority) and that he and his biggest rival Bernie Sanders are working hand in hand for the policy platform has done a lot to build the bridges the primaries seemingly burned. A well placed Vice Presidential pick will go a long way to helping Joe Biden take the White House in November.

Further good news for Joe Biden comes from the modelling of Rachel Bitecofer, until recently she was unknown to me however I came across her modelling and predictions. I found them extremely interesting in how she models but what was more stunning was the accuracy of it, for the 2018 midterms she predicted every seat that would flip and the only mistakes she made were made by her not trusting her model. For anyone who is a politics nerd like I am, I’d suggest giving it a read in the link I’ve embedded above. To summarise her prediction into a single sentence, Joe Biden wins and will seemingly win somewhat comfortably.

I would urge caution to any Democrat reading this and assuming the election in November is a homerun, it isn’t and it won’t be. It will take a lot of work and the lack of Biden appearing on television and being stuck to campaigning from his basement puts him at a distinct disadvantage, there is also the Republican war chest which is extremely full compared with the Democrats. A lot of fund raising needs to be done and Michael Bloomberg needs to unlock that war chest he had promised to the Democrat nominee for the election.

I will remind readers however that this election is still 6 months away and much can and will change. While some are becoming confident to predict a Biden win, I am not. I believe it is now more likely that Biden will win, but I won’t put anything in stone until at most the week before the election itself. However if they election was held today, Joe Biden would be elected.

182 days to go and counting. The 2020 race is really starting and it is one that will certainly be remembered.

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