Four More Years?

I watched the train wreck that was called a debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden last evening. It was an absolute disgrace. Americans must feel so embarrassed and ashamed of the man that serves as their president. Trump interrupted – not once in awhile, but throughout the first hour of the debate. He talked over Joe. He insulted. He lied – over and over again, repeatedly and aggressively. It was not just watching a bull destroy a china shop, but one with a very sour frown. He never once smiled.

Last evening in the first of three scheduled debates, this one at Cleveland’s Case Western Reserve University and the Cleveland Health Center, Joe Biden confronted and clashed with President Donald Trump for election as President of the USA, a vote that was only five weeks away, though in many places, advance voting has already begun. The so-called debate was moderated by Chris Wallace of Fox News. He had excellent questions. However, during most of the debate he lost control to Trump’s bullying. Often Trump turned his tongue lashing on Wallace rather than Biden.

Wallace had divided the debate into six 15-minute segments with 2 minutes allocated to each candidate at the beginning followed by an 11-minute free-flowing discussion in each segment: the economy; the Covid-19 pandemic; race, law and order; the Supreme Court; the candidates’ records and promised programs; the climate; and the integrity of the election. Instead of floating down the river as alternative views were presented, the audience was taken down a rushing river of rapids. Shooting the rapids rather than watching a debate serves as a better description.

The man who occupies the highest office in the land that is America, their commander-in-chief, broke every norm of decorum, decency and civility that I have ever been taught. As the blows kept coming, Biden could not help himself from periodically slipping down to the same level of that angry self-pitying and resentful clown. To call the display akin to two kindergarten children fighting is an insult both to five-year-olds and to Joe Biden who largely allowed the verbal blows to lash across his back. But sometimes, he turned to fight back.

The surprise is that the 48% who believed that Donald Trump would win before the debate only went down to 28% who actually thought he had won. Given the nature of the shit-fest, the expectation that Joe Biden would win only went from 48% or 58% to 60%. I know the audience was somewhat skewed towards Democrats – I assume because many Republicans knew their leader and were too distressed and ashamed to watch such a shameless display from their leader. On every measure imaginable, Joe Biden “won” the “debate”. Though the theatre was stomach churning, it did succeed in putting the stark view of each candidate on display.

There in front of the whole world was the so-called leader of the free world but, at the least, the head of the strongest country in the world, refusing to condemn white supremacists and asking the fascist neo-Nazi Proud Boys to stand back and stand by. For what? For the election he declared would be fraudulent in advance and without any evidence – there is no evidence – because many states, including Republican ones, send out ballots to the all the citizens of their state even when they are not solicited? This was an existing president who could not utter the words that he would concede if he lost.

Why then are so many American Democrats so frightened by the possibility of four more years of a Trump presidency? Should they not be optimistic rather than pessimistic even in the aftermath of polarization that appears unprecedented, when equal rights are at stake and Black lives matter, when the very foundations of democracy – voting – is being trampled upon, and when even a peaceful transfer of power is threatened?

The reasons for optimism are not only the horrors that have accompanied the Trump presidency. Not just the devastating death rates from the COVID-19 pandemic which are among the highest per capita in the world. Nor is it because the economy has tanked in tandem with the pandemic. Nor is it because people have taken to the streets to protest against systemic racism and police killing Blacks. And it is not even the fears that there will not be a peaceful transition. Finally, it is also not because Ruth Bader Ginsburg (RBG) died in September just before the election, and the Republicans proved that they were outright hypocrites when, in the last year of Obama’s term, they opposed appointing anyone to the Supreme Court during the final year of a presidency yet were ready to approve a candidate within two months of an election when a Republican was president.

All of these reasons can be used to add to the pessimism rather than the optimism pile. For support for Trump has not shifted significantly before last night, in spite of all these factors. Yet there would seem to be little reason for anticipations of dread since the evidence is overwhelming that Trump will go down to defeat in the 3 November election. And the evidence is not just recent; it has been reasonably consistent all year. There is only a tiny percentage of voters who remain undecided – perhaps 7%.

According to a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll, the Biden/Harris team lead the Trump/Pence team by 10 points – 53% to 43%. When Trump was at a peak of popularity in January 2020, up even from three months earlier, Americans saw “Trump as a slight favorite for re-election, with 49 percent expecting him to win and 43 percent predicting that his Democratic challenger would prevail. But those expectations are highly partisan, with 87 percent of Republicans saying they believe Trump will win re-election while a somewhat smaller 78 percent majority of Democrats say they believe their party’s nominee will win.”

That poll was one on optimism and pessimism, not on preferences. Democrats are simply more insecure than Republicans. In January, the Democrats had not chosen their candidate while Trump was merely waiting to be crowned. Even then, before any Democratic candidate had a chance to consolidate his party behind him, Biden held a 4-point lead over Trump, 50 to 46%. A year ago, Biden held a double-digit lead over Trump when Trump’s approval rating was at 38%. Further, just before Democrats and Republicans held their conventions in August, Democrats had a 12-point margin over the Republicans.

What then were the reasons for pessimism? One is that Biden’s lead shrinks as soon as you measure likely versus registered voters. And by a significant drop – 10-points to 6-points. If votes lost to the Green Party are deducted, the margin shrinks further. But even here, Democrats should be cheered by the fact that the Green Party candidate will not be on many state ballots while the Libertarian party candidate will be on all of them. Clearly, a lot will depend on the actual turnout of voters.

But Biden’s lead among various groups of voters seems so great. Women prefer Biden by 65% to 34%, 50% greater than the lead Hilary Clinton held over Trump in this voting sector. After last night’s debacle, that spread will be even greater this morning. Trump’s support comes from male likely voters, but only 55-42%, not enough to make up for Trump’s poor support among women. And Biden now leads in support for voters aged 65+. They were probably most distressed by Trump’s horrific display last evening. Expect Biden to increase his margin among this group even more.

However, Hilary Clinton lost the Electoral College, in spite of a lead of over two million votes in the overall campaign. The real worry is not the popular vote but the vote in tight state races. This time, Arizona, Florida, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin are very much in contention, and Biden had a small lead in the latter three before last night, a lead that is now bound to grow. And in another battleground state, Pennsylvania, Biden is already significantly in the lead. So why the pessimism?

The first is the enthusiasm factor. 65% of Trump supporters declare their enthusiasm for their candidate. Only 47% of those who favour Biden are enthusiastic. After last night, is that likely to continue to be the case? I am convinced the enthusiasm will switch. On the other side, 70% of Biden supporters are terrorized about a second Trump victory while only 59% of Trump supporters would consider Biden a disaster. Now I believe even more Democrats will be terrified of a Trump victory and a majority of Republicans may now be even more frightened of the anticipated outcome – both that Biden is likely to win and, God-forbid, Trump could possibly win and embarrass them and threaten democracy for four more years. The problem is not simply which candidate is favoured but the enthusiasm behind their favoured candidate. Joe Biden’s most effective moment was when he stared directly into the camera and asked Americans to vote. Vote early. Vote in any manner you choose that is available and with which you are comfortable. But Vote. Vote. Vote.

None of this takes into consideration that the polls still depend on telephone surveys while young people more often communicate by text messaging and other uses of social media. It is believed that polls are still not accurate enough. If they favoured Clinton in 2016, surely they would favour Biden in 2020. Given that qualification. Biden’s lead should be discounted further. Add these other factors;

  • Approval of economic performance is going up, not down, and has reached 40%, an almost 25% improvement; there is an insignificant lead by Biden on the economy
  • 40% approve of how Trump handled the pandemic; given Trump’s horrific record, only 53% yesterday believed that Biden would have done a better job
  • The support for peaceful protests compared to support for a law and order candidate is about even
  • Up until last evening, Trump had a 6-point lead among White voters, offset by the enormous lead Biden has among Black voters, but the latter are a much smaller proportion of the population.

However, Trump’s support among White voters has been dropping significantly, particularly among White women. Biden yesterday was supported equally by White women without college degrees and today surely has a majority of their support. (Hilary had a 23-point deficit here.) Biden has already also increased his lead among all college-educated voters. Further, he now will certainly hold majority support among voters over 65, a reversal of 2016, and older citizens vote in higher percentages. Biden even lead among suburban men before Trump tanked last night.

The bottom line is that: a) turnout is very important, especially given the coordinated effort among Republicans to suppress the vote; b) voting splits in key states in contention is critical; c) given the confidence in 2016, the shift to pessimism is justified as a tactic to ensure Democratic supporters turn out. After last night, the worries that Biden might stumble in the debates that might be devastating to his support can be put to rest.

May the best man win. Surely there can no longer be any doubt on that score; the (far) better man will win.

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