Matthew Yglesias can explain things. He’s that careful political analyst who went to high school at the Dalton School in Manhattan when the headmaster was Attorney General Barr’s father, who had just hired the totally unqualified Jeffery Epstein to teach math and science. Epstein hit on the teenage girls. Yglesias shrugged and went on to Harvard and got his degree in philosophy. But his real love was political science and statistics. Now he combines all three in his analyses. And he explains what’s happening to Donald Trump at the moment:
On Wednesday morning, the New York Times released its latest national poll conducted in connection with Sienna College and it showed presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden with a massive 50-36 lead over Trump. As Nate Cohn, the Times’s polling guru, noted in discussion of the poll on Twitter, that lead is so large it’s essentially invulnerable to assumptions about the demographic composition of turnout. Trump in the Times poll has an extremely narrow 1-point lead with white voters, wins the 50-64 age bracket by 1 point, and is actually losing those over 64 by 2 points. With numbers like that, basically any level of youth and nonwhite turnout where Biden enjoys huge advantages would be good enough to put him over the top.
The Times poll is particularly bleak for Trump, and even more worrisome for him, its underlying methodology, which involves “weighting” the sample to party registration and not just demographic factors, is a relatively Trump-friendly approach.
Biden will win easily if this keeps up:
There are different ways you can average polls together, and at the moment, they give similar answers.
The RealClearPolitics average says Biden is up by 10.1 percentage points. The FiveThirtyEight polling average says Biden is up by 9.8 points. The Economist popular vote model says Biden is up by “only” 8.4 points.
Of course, the real election is decided in the Electoral College, but with numbers like these, the Electoral College can’t save you.
FiveThirtyEight has the most detailed state-by-state breakdowns, and they show Biden comfortably ahead in Arizona, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Florida, augmented by narrow leads in North Carolina, Georgia, and Ohio, and all tied up in Iowa.
This might mean that this is over, because this is not 2016:
Consider current polling that says Biden is narrowly favored in North Carolina, Georgia, and Ohio while tied in Iowa. If you treat these as four independent contests, it starts to look extremely unlikely that Trump could sweep all four states. If you toss a fair coin four times, it will only come up tails four consecutive times 6.25 percent of the time. And since Trump’s odds in three of those four states are worse than a coin-flip, that translates into even worse odds for Trump.
But another way of thinking about it is that if polls are generally overestimating Biden by a bit, then he is probably being overestimated everywhere. So the real question is, “Just how likely is it that Biden is being slightly overestimated?”
No one overestimates Biden. He’s pleasant, not formidable, so Trump may be toast:
The bad news for Trump is that winning North Carolina, Georgia, Ohio, and Iowa wouldn’t be nearly good enough for him. He needs to win Florida, Arizona, and Pennsylvania to carry the day. And right now, Biden’s leads in those states are big enough that it would take a very large and genuinely rare scale of polling error for that to happen.
What’s happening? The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent offers this:
President Trump loves to tweet about his “SILENT MAJORITY!” Of course, he never has commanded a majority: He lost the popular vote in 2016 and hasn’t once cracked 50 percent approval. What he really means by this is that only his supporters constitute the true American people.
This idea – a typical authoritarian populist trope – also surfaces when Trump claims a majority of women backed him in 2016, while only a majority of white women did, or when his propagandists tweet that a stadium in Alabama cheering Trump constitutes “Real America.”
But it looks increasingly like there’s a very real anti-Trump majority in this country.
Yes, it’s that new polling:
A big story in the new Times poll is growing multiracial opposition to Trump. White voters are turning on him: Biden leads by 28 points among college-educated whites, and Trump leads by only 19 points among non-college-educated whites, having won them in 2016 by 36 points.
The result: Trump and Biden are almost exactly even among white voters (whom Trump won by 15 points in 2016), even as Biden holds enormous leads among African Americans (74 points) and Latinos (39 points).
All this, combined with Biden’s slight lead among seniors (whom Trump won by nine points last time) suggests Trump continues to lose the educated whites he has alienated and that his base among less educated whites is eroding…
Majorities or pluralities of white voters and seniors hold the same position, as do (unsurprisingly) much larger majorities of nonwhites and younger voters.
So, Trump is “flattening the curve” in his own way. There’s no “spike” in his support now:
What’s really striking here is the wide and deep disapproval for Trump on the seismic events rocking the country – the worst public health emergency in modern times and the most pronounced civil unrest in half a century. And again, this disapproval is broadly multiracial and cuts across lines of age.
Majorities of registered voters disapprove of Trump’s handling of the protests (62 percent) and of race relations more broadly (61 percent), and agree that George Floyd’s killing represents a larger problem of police violence toward African Americans (59 percent).
Meanwhile, on the coronavirus, majorities disapprove of Trump’s handling of the disease (58 percent) and believe the federal government should prioritize containing it over restarting the economy (55 percent.)
So the only thing left for Trump now is to tell himself stories:
The idea that Trump still commands a “silent majority” that manifests itself when Real Americans make themselves heard at college football stadiums in the South rests on a deeper foundation of Trumpist mythology.
In the context of the pandemic and civil unrest, this mythology holds that Trump is mystically whispering to the true values, aspirations and fears that these great upheavals have unleashed among that Real American majority.
Thus it was that Trump vowed to protect his parts of the country from a virus ravaging urban America. He harnessed the supposed populist rage of Real American workers against Democratic elites locking down economies. He revived the race-baiting “law and order” playbook to transform Biden into a facilitator of crime and urban chaos.
That was and is the plan, tell THAT story, but that seems to be falling flat:
On every one of these fronts, the old wedge-politics appears to be failing. This is partly because it isn’t working against Biden, a white, Christian male who has an aura of middle-class cred and does his own cultural signaling to working-class whites.
It’s also because the protesters appear to be changing the country and appear to be driving other cultural changes that are producing a real shift in white America toward support for demonstrators and their underlying grievances, as other polling shows.
And it’s because coronavirus cases really are spiking in two dozen states, many in the South and West – which further study may reveal to be tied to premature re-openings. Trump’s shock over empty seats in Tulsa revealed a deeper terror that his magical ability to make this vanish in time for reelection is deserting him.
But there’s other magic that might not work now:
The even uglier subtext to this mythology, of course, is that Trump isn’t actually trying to appeal to a popular majority. He’s trying to activate just enough of his largely white Midwestern base to pull another electoral college inside straight.
These voters are still presumed in much political coverage to represent a latent majority. In fact, Trump is hoping to exploit a structural advantage that proceeds under cover of being populist even as its true nature is fundamentally and unabashedly counter-majoritarian.
Trump may still succeed at this. There’s a long way to go. The polls will almost certainly tighten. Trump still retains an advantage on the economy.
But in the new Times poll, Trump’s economic edge is negligible, and it’s all he’s got. If the crisis grinds on – and Biden rolls out a robust economic plan – it could erode further, even as coronavirus cases could keep spiking.
Then it really is over for him, and Biden didn’t have to do a thing. Biden does seem to be doing nothing much and that hardly seems fair, but Jonathan Chait disputes that. Biden is not “stumbling through the basement-confined general election” but may be running a brilliant campaign:
Normally, the media’s coverage of campaign tactics magnifies the results of the polls. The winning presidential campaign is rewarded with glowing coverage of its strategic acumen, while the losing campaign is pummeled, as reporters scrutinize every choice from logo design to ad placement for more evidence of ineptitude. There has been plenty of the latter, mostly focused on Donald Trump’s comical lack of discipline as a candidate, though tempered with some favorable coverage of Brad Parscale’s digital operation.
Biden’s strategy has attracted shockingly little of the normal adulation a winning candidate receives.
No one thinks he has a strategy at all, but perhaps he is rather clever:
The polls primarily reflect a massive public repudiation of Donald Trump’s presidency. But Biden is also doing some things right.
For all the derision that has surrounded Biden’s generally low profile, it is the broadly correct move. Trump is and always has been deeply unpopular. He managed to overcome this handicap in 2016 because Hillary Clinton was also deeply unpopular, though somewhat less so, and turning the election into a choice allowed anti-Clinton sentiment to overpower anti-Trump sentiment. The fact that Biden has attracted less attention than Trump is not (as many Democrats have fretted) a failure. It is a strategic choice, and a broadly correct one.
Second, Biden’s isn’t just hiding out. He is doing some things. He has delivered speeches, given interviews, and met with protesters. These forums have tended to display his more attractive qualities, especially his empathy…
And third, Biden has managed to communicate a coherent campaign theme. This is often a challenge for Democrats, who usually want to change a whole bunch of policies (health care! environment! progressive taxation!) that resist a simple unifying slogan. But Biden has been able to carry forward the message he used to start his campaign, which he built around Trump’s shocking embrace of racist supporters at Charlottesville, into a promise of healing racist divisions.
And that turned out to be exactly the right choice:
Biden surely benefitted from good luck, in that he chose a theme more than a year ago that happened to anticipate the current massive social upheaval. But it wasn’t just luck to predict that Trump’s divisive racism would continue to flare up. Instead, pundits have repeatedly predicted that Trump would use Nixonian law-and-order themes to rally a silent majority against Black Lives Matter protests.
The reality is that the silent majority supports the protesters. Fifty-seven percent of respondents tell the New York Times they “support the demonstrations because they’re mainly peaceful protests with an important message,” while only 38 percent say they “oppose the demonstrations because too many have turned to violent rioting.” More revealingly, the public believes by an overwhelming margin that “George Floyd’s death is part of a broader pattern of excessive police violence toward African-Americans,” and not that it was “an isolated incident.”
The protesters deserve a great deal of credit for using Floyd’s tragic death to highlight broader injustice, and to do a good-enough job of limiting disorder and looting to allow their overwhelmingly peaceful message to come through.
But Biden has also done an effective job of using the most popular parts of the protesters’ message while distancing himself from its unpopular elements. Biden speaks for the transracial majority that supports systematic police reform and opposes defunding the cops. Trump is left to represent the minority that sees Floyd’s death as an outlier requiring no serious changes.
In short, Biden understood, early on, just what was going on, and what was likely to happen, and when it did happen he had his carefully thought-out positions in place. He’s not impulsive. He considers contingencies and prepares for all possible outcomes. Trump wings it – no planning, just angry reaction – and thinks that people love him for that. But fewer and fewer love him for that, and Chait notes this too:
Electability was a subject of bitter contention during the Democratic primary. Many progressive critics argued either that electability is inherently unknowable, or that the key electability dynamic was the ability to motivate left-wingers who might otherwise not vote. Instead, Biden’s campaign seems to be vindicating a more conventional theory of the case. He has appealed to progressives by adopting some of the most popular pieces of their program, while steering clear of its controversial aspects. And he is winning in the very conventional way: by stealing voters in the middle who are conflicted.
Those conflicted voters tend to give Trump high marks for his handling of the economy, but recoil at his ugly persona. A Democratic campaign premised on transformational economic change would have given Trump the chance to make those voters choose between style and (what they perceive as) substance. Biden from the beginning has tailored his message precisely for what they want: a president who will act like a president without scaring people about the pace and extent of social and economic change.
And now it’s all falling into place:
Biden is running on a progressive platform – more progressive than most people think, and almost certainly more progressive than even a fully Democratic Congress would pass into law. But his choice to avoid unpopular issues (Medicare for All, the Green New Deal) – which the left assailed not only on substantive terms but as a bad choice that would deflate his voters – is looking shrewder than ever.
Biden probably wouldn’t be fielding rapturous mass rallies even if there was no virus. Nor has he inspired armies of idealistic volunteers. But all the evidence we have suggests Biden actually knows what he’s doing.
And CNN reports the opposite on the Trump side of the world:
President Donald Trump is doubling down on a strategy he believes worked to his advantage four years ago: seizing on divisive culture wars and using race-baiting rhetoric as he seeks to fire up his base to give him a second term in office. His GOP allies on Capitol Hill are looking on with alarm.
Uncertain how to respond to a President who has long favored incendiary remarks and targets any Republican who shows even the slightest signs of disloyalty, many in his party are aghast as Trump’s poll numbers plummet and large numbers of Americans disapprove of his handling of the twin crises that have dominated this election year.
A number of top Republicans told CNN that Trump needs to change course quickly – even as they readily acknowledge he has never been prone to take such advice.
So, given that, they fantasize:
“He’s good with the base,” Senate Majority Whip John Thune, a South Dakota Republican, said Wednesday. “But all of the people who are going to decide in November are the people in the middle, and I think they want the President at a time like this… to strike a more empathetic tone.”
Thune later added: “It’ll probably require not only a message that deals with substantive policy, but I think a message that conveys perhaps a different tone.”
That’s not going to happen, and then there’s this:
Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican and close ally of Trump’s, said that the President’s reelection ultimately depends on how the economy is performing in October. But he added: “It’s been a couple bad weeks, and structurally we got to up our game.”
Graham added: “I just think sort of the cultural wars. The Democrats are on the wrong side of that. But at the end of the day, I think a little more message discipline would help.”
That’s a double fantasy – the economy will snap back and no one agrees with any of these protesters about anything – and there’s this:
Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, a member of the Senate GOP leadership, said: “It’s been a rough few weeks,” noting: “Sometimes he undermines himself.”
Asked if using such charged language, such as “kung flu,” was helpful to his effort to court middle-of-the-road voters, GOP Sen. Mike Braun of Indiana said: “I’m gonna say probably not; it wouldn’t be my choice of words.”
Braun said he expected the campaign to look at its internal poll numbers and make a decision about how to change tactics, saying: “It looks like something needs to be adjusted.”
But that seems unlikely:
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who faces voters in Kentucky this fall, has long preached GOP unity, particularly in difficult election years. And even as he’s asked to respond to Trump controversies, he often sidesteps the question.
“Maybe you ought to address that question to her,” McConnell said Tuesday when asked whether he or his wife, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, was comfortable with Trump’s use of “kung flu” (Chao’s spokesman didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment).
Elaine Chao is not Irish, but that’s a minor matter:
When protests broke out at the end of May following Floyd’s death, some of Trump’s advisers encouraged him to adopt a more unifying tone amid a national reckoning on race, even as the President pushed a hardline “law and order” stance he believed would play better with his voters.
Aides made various attempts to bring the issues facing Black Americans directly before Trump, including some advisers who relayed stories of racism they had heard from friends, roundtables with Black community leaders and a session with families who had lost loved ones to police violence.
Yet people close to the President say he hasn’t appeared to internalize or accept the descriptions of systemic racism that are now being examined and called out in a national racial reckoning.
That’s not the real world to him, but there is the real world that Stephen Collinson explains here:
It’s a “public health train wreck in slow motion,” in the words of one health expert, and the best President Donald Trump cares to offer the thousands more Americans projected to shortly die of Covid-19 is the unsubstantiated prospect of a “beautiful surprise.”
The US just hit its third highest ever peak of new coronavirus cases, multiple states are registering their own daily records and three are now taking the extraordinary step of imposing quarantines for citizens from pandemic hotspots. The world’s most powerful nation lacks a coherent national strategy to meet another cresting viral crisis, the capacity or even the willingness to take steps that might stop it.
It is also led by a man who is suggesting by his actions and attitudes that he doesn’t care that much about the unfolding tragedy.
Trump, who has previously predicted a “miracle” would occur or the virus would just disappear in the warmer weather, again declared falsely Wednesday that the danger had passed – even with the nation racing towards another deadly summit of infection.
It was just a visit from one more far-right white-nationalist world leader that prompted this:
In his latest misleading effort to create a picture of normality, Trump welcomed Polish President Andrzej Duda to the Oval Office.
“This is the first after Covid, after the start of the plague as I call it,” Trump told his visitor, who was happy to play along after being given a huge political gift of a visit a few days before a national election and approvingly noted “the end of the coronavirus.”
Trump grinned. He’d win in November on that premise:
Trump has long denied the worsening situation over his failed gamble of pushing for aggressive state openings to revive the economy on which his reelection hopes may depend. He has constantly flouted guidance on mask wearing and social distancing, insisted on being pretty much the only entity in the Western world holding indoor events that risk turning into deadly super-spreaders and has failed to hardly ever mention the victims of the pandemic.
His behavior has brought about the extraordinary spectacle of a President running for a second term ignoring a massive national crisis that has killed tens of thousands of Americans and has no end in sight.
Trump reached for his familiar tactics of distraction on Wednesday, all but accusing Democrats of supporting unidentified demonstrators who he said want to haul down statues of Jesus Christ, as he stepped up the culture war tactics he adopted during the nation’s national reckoning on race.
In a Wednesday news conference, Trump largely ignored the huge and worsening national crisis. But he delivered his latest evidence-free prediction of stunning medical advances on vaccines and therapeutics not yet supported by any evidence.
“I think you’re going to have a big surprise, a beautiful surprise, sooner than anybody would think.”
That’s the fantasy, and Nicholas Kristof sees this:
President Trump says the coronavirus is “fading away” and pats himself on the back for “a great job on CoronaVirus” that saved “millions of U.S. lives.”
“It’s going away,” Trump said Tuesday at a packed megachurch in Phoenix where few people wore masks.
That’s what delusion sounds like. We need a Churchill to lead our nation against a deadly challenge; instead, we have a president who helps an enemy virus infiltrate our churches and homes.
Churchill and Roosevelt worked to deceive the enemy; Trump is trying to deceive us.
But there are the new numbers. Who is deceiving whom?