By Theo Burman
Despite Joe Biden’s healthy lead in the polls, there’s still a sense that Trump might be able to turn the 2020 election around. The upset of 2016 and general distrust of media narratives that has developed since then means that there’s dispute over how large the gap is between Trump and Biden. This has translated into a public dismissal of his current lead. After all, Clinton was ahead in the polls last time round, and look where she ended up.
This is a false equivalency. While it’s true that some swing state polling overestimated Clinton’s lead, the national polling in 2016 was actually fairly accurate, coming within a few points of the real result. Biden’s lead is significantly larger than Clinton’s four years ago, in both the national polls and the key swing states that broke for Trump last time round.
Florida, Arizona, Michigan, and Pennsylvania are all reporting polls heavily in Biden’s favour. When combined with the safe blue states, they total 272 electoral college votes; enough to take Biden over the line. Once the even heats like Iowa and North Carolina are factored in, Trump has some major catching up to do in all parts of the US, and that’s before the Biden campaign’s secret weapon is taken into consideration: Texas.
Texas was previously the crown jewel in Republican safe states, but now it’s a bitter battleground, with polls showing it to be an even race. Changes in voting behaviour and Biden’s blue dog appeal to moderates means that Trump can’t take Texas and it’s 38 college votes for granted. Even Senator Ted Cruz has warned that “if the Democrats take Texas, it’s over”. If it swings blue, the election is a done deal. There’s no coming back from losing the two biggest states.
What this means is that the Trump campaign has been forced to sink time, effort, and most importantly money into a state that they previously could have left alone. They don’t have that luxury this time round, and every dollar that gets spent trying to maintain Trump’s hold over Texas is a dollar that doesn’t get spent in the swing states that he desperately needs to up his game in.
At the end of the day, Texas will most likely go to Trump again, but the resources his campaign have to spend in order to make sure that happens means it will be even harder for him to catch up where the race really matters.
Biden’s lead is down to the change in narratives from 2016. In the last election the focus was on Clinton. While Trump caused a fair bit of outrage, in the end the swing voters broke for him in a rejection of Clinton’s neoliberal establishment credentials. Now those same voters are breaking for Biden because the focus is on Trump and his mishandling of the COVID-19 crisis.
Americans don’t feel threatened by Biden in the same way they felt threatened by Clinton, and why would they? Biden is inoffensive, unintimidating, and lacks the performance ability to take the spotlight away from Trump. Where Clinton represented the stagnant status quo, Biden now represents a return to normalcy after four tumultuous years under Trump, who no longer has the outsider status that made him such a force. Biden’s almost invisible presence means Trump stays exactly where the Democrats want him: in the limelight, because if the election continues to be a referendum on Trump rather than an interview for Biden, Biden wins.
Obviously, the election isn’t a foregone conclusion, and there’s still many things that could go wrong for the Biden campaign, such as poor debate performance or one of his infamous gaffes. However, it’s important to recognise that this is an extremely different situation from 2016. Biden has the electoral maths that Clinton didn’t, and Trump is no longer a dark horse.
There’s a difference between healthy scepticism and irrational fearmongering, and if you need to know which way the winds are blowing, watch conservative commentators discuss 2020. They know the situation Trump is in, and it’s scaring them.
Image: Presidencia de la República Mexicana via Flickr and Creative Commons