The only presidential poll that counts is the one Americans vote in. That being the case, are there ways (other than opinion polling) to evaluate whether Biden will win? In the run-up to Election Day, I’m thinking of the odds of his victory in terms of all that has happened since 2016, when Donald Trump scored an electoral-college victory despite Hillary Clinton’s greater popularity. About 137 million people participated in that election. How will roughly the same electorate behave in the matchup between Trump and Biden?
Of the 65 million people who voted for Clinton, few are going to switch over to Trump this time. Clinton voters remain firmly opposed to Trump–to people who identify as liberals or Democrats, he is completely anathema. Knowing that they constitute a numerical majority, they are highly motivated to defeat him this time. Clinton voters want to see someone of their kind in the White House.
In the past four years, I have never met or heard of a Clinton voter believes Trump is a good guy. So I can’t imagine there will be many defections from that solid Democratic column. At a minimum, Biden can count on capturing at least as many popular votes as Clinton.
In addition, he will enjoy the support of many Americans who did not turn out for Clinton in 2016. Many male voters will turn out for Biden who either went for Trump or refrained from voting in 2016. Some voters perceived Clinton to have character issues; others harbored intense animus toward her, dating from her husband Bill’s presidency. For some, Clinton’s sex was itself disqualifying. Biden is not a better candidate or person than Hillary, but he is male. He lacks the tangential but still consequential negatives that turned off some of the Democratic voting base.
Biden will also likely do better with supporters of Bernie Sanders than Clinton could. Sanders voters shunned Clinton in 2016. This time around, they are somewhat more likely to vote for Biden because of the urgency of defeating Trump, because of Sanders’s urging, and because it’s evident that the progressive agenda is gaining ground within the Democratic Party. Young voters are mobilizing themselves to save the world. They are more likely to cast a vote this time around than to sit it out. And for those who mind Biden’s age and moderation, Kamala Harris represents a conditional promise that the White House will be occupied by a fairly progressive woman of color should Biden die.
Finally, Biden will get the vote of every Trump “resistor.” Notably, black Americans hate Trump for turning a blind eye to racism and police brutality, threatening military action against protestors (whom he branded as terrorists), and encouraging white supremacy. Tens of thousands of blacks who didn’t care about the last election and/or don’t particularly care for Biden will nonetheless turn out for him. It appears they are already vote at higher rates and with more enthusiasm than they did in 2016.
So that is it for Biden’s positive voting base. Now, when we look at Trump’s support what do we see?
Trump’s margin of victory in 2016 was narrow–very narrow. The percentage of Americans who approve of him has remained below 50 percent for throughout his presidency. This verdict on Trump has remained remarkably stable: Trump was marginally more popular when he was inaugurated than he’s ever since. Today, he has the good opinion of only 43 percent, and those fans are not necessarily distributed advantageously across the country. As president, Trump has done nothing to “make friends” or broaden his appeal. On the contrary, he has gone out of his way to alienate many Americans, specifically by treating everyone who opposes him as an enemy. Now, the majority who dislike Trump have a chance to act. This majority comprises not just Democrats but infrequent and independent voters who are likely to go for Biden this time around.
Meanwhile, cadres of Republican voters and officials have repudiated Trump in favor of Biden. The open defection of elder statesmen, leading scientists and intellectuals, distinguished civil servants, military brass, and former Republican officials (including a number of former governors) is one of the more extraordinary aspects of the 2020 race. It is a sign of the Republican party’s general decrepitude.
For, while Trump has dishonored the Republican party, the Republican-controlled Senate has shocked and disappointed Americans of all stripes in failing to check Trump or to stand up for the Constitution or the rule of law. Senate Republicans have instead executed the president’s evil will, siding with him and enabling him to prevail in ways that are contrary to our values and the national interest. So Trump will suffer because the entire Republican brand is poisoned. Voting Republican has become synonymous with being provincial, hateful, and anti-modern.
In addition, Trump’s full-bore attacks on the press and journalists (many of them women); reports of his nasty remarks about fallen soldiers and those who have served in the military; his lack of concern for the poor, the ill, and elderly; and his obvious inability to deal with smart women have cost him many votes and sent many once-loyal Republicans to the other side. His explicit attacks on Governor Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan and discriminatory approach to COVID relief, which has prompted him to withhold vitally needed aid from Democratic-leaning parts of the polity, are insults and injuries fresh in voters’s minds as they go to the polls.
In the end, how many Americans will decide that their best interest lies in allowing Trump to continue to lead the US? What will they get out of his being in charge for another four years? The social and cultural landscape of the US is withering away, along with its vibrant economy, because Trump has no definite economic or social vision. His lack of executive ability and essentially corrupt mentality have been especially evident since the coronavirus epidemic hit. Biden is more open, more compassionate and fair. He can lead a suffering nation; Trump can’t.
Early voting augurs a historically high turnout for this election. The high volume makes it more likely that Biden will sufficiently improve on Clinton’s margins to prevail in states like Michigan, Wisconsin, and Arizona, where Trump won largely as a result of apathy. The spread of COVID-19 in rural and red portions of the US will likely dampen enthusiasm and turnout for Trump among Republicans, who are said to prefer voting in person on Election Day.
The 2020 election is a critical one. I believe that most Americans are good, that most accept and want to live by a time-tested political creed of fairness and toleration. I believe that most want the US to be governed by the rule of law. Sadly, millions of Americans support Trump because they do not care about these values enough to embrace social changes they bring. I believe that Americans want to step into the future, that they want to become a fully multiracial and forward-looking country.
It’s hard to know what will happen if voters elect Biden, but if the US doesn’t move forward it’s going to go down.