Democrats have nothing to fear, but themselves
When Mr. Trump completed his hostile takeover of the Republican Party and claimed the 2016 nomination, it became Mrs. Clinton’s election to lose. Her senior aides had secretly been hoping she would face Mr. Trump because they were convinced that “a race against Trump would be a dream for Clinton”. A few months before the election it became clear to me that Mrs. Clinton’s hubris might cost her the election. She did not feel the need to make a case for why voters should choose her, and instead came across more like a Queen expecting a political coronation.
Fast forward to the 2020 Democratic primary, once again my views were out of sync with the majority media, political pundits and progressive party base. From the outset it was clear to me that Joe Biden would win the nomination. Not because I believed Mr. Biden was the strongest or most qualified candidate, but reading between the lines of a fractured and deeply divided party it was evident that of the frontrunners, he was the only one who had support among Black voters; without whom no Democrat can win the White House.
In February this year, I would have put Mr. Trump’s chances of re-election at about 90% because the economy was going great guns, and Democrats seemed too divided to form a cohesive front. Covid-19 changed everything. With the economy in freefall, small businesses shuttering in record numbers and the highest unemployment rate since the Great Depression, the picture now is very different.
In addition, the President’s handling of the crisis has been nothing short of a disaster and his repeated refusal to follow the guidance of his top scientists or develop a coordinated federal response has led to a patchwork of disparate actions at the state level, leading to a dangerous resurgence of coronavirus cases and deaths all over the US.
As a result, polls show Mr. Biden’s lead growing to double digits nationally. He is widening the gap in swing states and even leading in states that Mr. Trump won with double digits in 2016. There is growing consensus in the media and within the Republican ranks that Mr. Trump is hurtling toward a massive defeat, one that could see Democrats win not just the White House, but also gain majorities in both chambers of congress.
Like 2016, it would seem that the 2020 election is fast becoming Mr. Biden’s to lose. Especially since Mr. Trump continues to administer self-inflicted wounds almost daily. His latest approval has dipped below 40%. Other than Harry Truman no incumbent President has won reelection with such an abysmal job rating. However, if there is one thing Democrats excel at, it is snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. There are six things I would caution them about:
Don’t take Black (and Latino) voters for granted: Since 1968 no Republican presidential candidate has received more than 13% of the Black vote, so it is no surprise that Democrats have come to take the Black vote for granted. In 2020 they do so at their own peril. A recent survey by BlackPAC of registered African American voters found that a significant number are disillusioned with the Democratic Party and more than half feel that the party is not paying close enough attention to the black community.
The Democratic Party’s overly simplistic view of African Americans as a monolithic voting bloc is out of touch with the reality. Blacks in America comprise multiple ethnicities and nationalities, with immigrants representing almost 10% and 24% of Latinos also identify as Black. Similarly, Black voters do not hold the same views across the board. As the Bernie wing of the party pushes the party farther leftwards, they are in danger of disillusioning 25% of Black Democrats who called themselves conservative and 43% who called themselves moderate.
Worryingly, polls show that Mr. Biden’s support among young Black voters, who are leading movements like Black Lives Matter and spearheading calls for systemic change, significantly trails the levels of support he enjoys among older Black voters. Also, Mr. Trump’s support among Black and Latino voters has increased in the past year from 8 to 10 percent and 28 to 30 percent, respectively, this despite his best efforts to the contrary. What should worry Democrats is not the level of support Mr. Trump has, which remains low, but that displeasure with the President has not translated into more support for them.
It’s (still) the economy, stupid: In the second quarter US GDP shrank 32.9% on an annualized basis, making it the worst contraction since record-keeping began in 1947. If the current trajectory continues then Mr. Trump will lose the only arrow in his tiny quiver. But we are still almost 100 days away from the election, and we have seen that the moment the country begins re-opening, as it did in May, there is an economic rebound. In May and June alone a record-breaking 7.5 million jobs were added and there was evidence of pent-up consumer demand with retail brick and mortar salesrising 7.5% in June, following a record jump of 18.5% in May.
If we are able to get the current coronavirus surge under control and start re-opening businesses once again across the country, it is possible that we might see the start of an economic recovery just in time for the election. This would unquestionably be a boost for Mr. Trump because the economy is the only issue he is still trusted on, more than Mr. Biden. In fact, a sizable majority of swing state voters approves of Mr. Trump’s handling of the economy, and trusts him more than Mr. Biden to lead America out of this economic crisis.
Biden’s enthusiasm gap: A recent national survey conducted by SSRS for CNN finds that there is a gap in enthusiasm among Biden versus Trump’s supporters. 70% of Trump voters say they support the President and are voting to reelect him, with only 27% stating they are voting against Biden. On the flipside Biden voters claim the opposite with 60% saying they are voting against Trump, and only 37% casting a vote in support of Biden.
We know that the Democratic Party is deeply divided with various factions within it jockeying for position. Earlier this year an Emerson College poll found that 50% of Bernie voters would not support a candidate in November if Mr. Sanders was not the nominee. The vitriol and divisiveness was laid bare during the recent primaries, and while one has seen some degree of coalescing between the Bernie and Biden wings of the party, there is still more that divides them than unites.
More recently Nina Turner, a co-chair of Mr. Sander’s campaign, described the choice in November to a reporter at the Atlantic as, “It’s like saying to somebody, ‘You have a bowl of shit in front of you, and all you’ve got to do is eat half of it instead of the whole thing.’ It’s still shit.”
Harvard professor and Bernie supporter Cornell West added in the same article that, “We have to be true to ourselves and acknowledge that Biden is a mediocre, milquetoast, neoliberal centrist that we’ve been fighting against in the Democratic establishment.”
In polls we trust: In 2016 national pollsters consistently predicted that Mrs. Clinton’s likelihood of winning the presidency was around 90 percent. Two weeks before the 2016 general election multiple polls showed her leading in the key swing states of Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, with leads of anywhere from 4 to 9 points. Mr. Trump won all three states.
One big difference between 2016 and 2020 is that Mr. Biden’s lead has been larger and more consistent at both the national and state levels. Also, we should note that the issue is not so much accuracy of polling, because studies show that they have been historically accurate within the margins of error, but that the country has become so divided that the winning or losing can lie within these margins of error of +/- 4 points.
Also, remember that winning the popular vote does not mean winning the Electoral College. In 2016 Mr. Trump lost the popular vote by around 2.5 million votes, but won the Electoral College thanks to 79,646 voters in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
Democrats must not grow complacent based on current polling numbers. We know that Mr. Biden faces a serious gap in enthusiasm with his voters and he also must not repeat Mrs. Clinton’s mistake, and assume people will turn up simply because they dislike the sitting President. Mr. Biden must continue to outline his kinder and more inclusive vision for America, and contrast it with the President’s divisive one, giving voters a reason to come out for him.
Biden’s fitness for office: A Rasmussen poll conducted at the end of June found that nearly four out of 10 voters believe Joe Biden has dementia. It is true that a higher percentage of Republican voters (66%) think this, but 30% of independents and 20% of Democrats also believe it. The same poll finds that over fifty percent of Democrat voters feel it is an important issue, and one that Mr. Biden should publicly address. Another poll by Zogby found that 60% voters aged 18-29 thought it likely that Biden is suffering early-onset dementia, along with 61% of Hispanics and 43% of Blacks.
To be fair, unlike Obama’s birth certificate, this lingering doubt is not a figment of the fringe right-wing’s imagination. Through the primary debates Mr. Biden’s performance was viewed as uneven, with him often losing his train of thought, forgetting words and sometimes the question he was answering. He would routinely cede time back to the moderators, when every other candidate was fighting for more time to speak. Julian Castro brought up the issue of Mr. Biden’s memory lapses during one debate, and was backed up by Cory Booker, who said in a post-debate interview on CNN that it was a legitimate question based on Biden’s “fumbling”.
It is worth pointing out that there is a double standard in the mainstream media on this issue. They have openly debated and discussed President Trump’s cognitive faculties but seem to stay away from questioning Mr. Biden’s. In the end, it will likely come down to Mr. Biden’s debate performances against Mr. Trump, which will lead the American people to decide for themselves.
Covid-19 and vote by mail; fail: New York has a Democratic Governor and the party holds majorities in the state senate and assembly. The Mayor of New York City is a Democrat, and the city council has a super majority with only 3 Republicans serving in its 51 member body. For our local primary election on 23rd June this year, every official from the Governor down vowed to expand voting by mail and other options.
So far, around 100,000 absentee ballots have been invalidated, which is about one in five, and a number of races are still waiting for results at the end of July. To say it was an unmitigated disaster would be an understatement. What is scary is that, in a state committed to getting this right, and completely controlled by Democrats, the official preparations and infrastructure clearly was not capable of handling the influx of mail-in ballots.
Every facet of the system seems to have failed in New York. There were not enough ballots printed, the postal service faced delays in sending and receiving forms, people were unable to understand the mail-in ballot instructions and now officials are struggling to count them. Furious candidates are still waiting for results more than a month after the election and many are filing lawsuits claiming voter disenfranchisement.
Consider that a major factor in Biden’s ability to win rests with 65+ voters showing up to the polls, and Democrats are more fearful of contracting coronavirus than Republicans. So with Covid-19 at large, one could conjecture that older Democrats are more likely to opt for absentee ballots, than Republicans, which would give Mr. Trump a major advantage.
The bottom line is that if a solidly Blue state, one that made a concerted effort to expand voting rights, could not get any aspect of a small local election right, what will happen during a massive national election, and in far more contentious swing states?