From top: Joe Biden in Dublin Castle during a visit to ireland as US Vice-President in 2016; Derek Mooney
When trying to forecast an election result a few weeks out from polling day political pundits protect themselves by saying well, this would be the result if people were voting tomorrow, but there are still a few weeks to go and anything could happen.
But, when it comes to this American presidential election, people are voting tomorrow, just as they were voting today, yesterday, last week and even back to mid-September.
According to Vote.org, 27 States are already voting in person and/or have totally mail-in ballots. 9 out of the 50 States have been open for early voting from six weeks before the November 3 polling date, including Pennsylvania, Illinois, Virginia and New Jersey. Early voting started in California a week ago.
Over 9 million Americans have already voted, this is 8-10 times as many as voted this early in 2016. In five states the number of ballots already returned is more than 20% of the 2016 turnout.
This suggests that many people have long made up their minds. This is confirmed by data from those early voting states that also provide party registration information, with twice as many registered Democrats turning out to vote as registered Republicans.
It is why forecasting the result of the election now is not a big problem. Joe Biden is going to win and win big. Biden may even be on the cusp of winning a Nixon or LBJ style clean sweep…. making Trump the McGovern or Goldwater of this political age.
It has been clear for some months that Trump was on his way to defeat and may even be about to take much of the GOP/Republican party with him. It is very likely that the Republicans will lose control of the Senate and maybe even of the House of Representatives such is the scale of the swing against Trump, exacerbated by his handling of the covid-19 pandemic.
As David Frum, a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush and a senior adviser to the Rudy Giuliani presidential campaign, commented a month ago:
“The anti-Trump ceiling has been as hard and unyielding as the pro-Trump floor – and a lot bigger. And that was before Trump drove US society and the US economy into the worst catastrophe since the Great Depression.”
So while Trump firmly holds the support of the vast majority of those who identify as Republican, there are fewer of these than there were 4 years ago and Trump support among independents is low.
Biden’s support among independents is high, especially among women. This includes many of the soccer Mom’s and suburban women who backed Trump in 2016, but now abandon him not out of any great love of Biden or the Democrats but because they disapprove of how Trump has conducted his Presidency, a sentiment aggravated by his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
Now, before I proceed any further let me point out that I got the 2016 election wrong. I thought Hillary Clinton would win and she clearly didn’t. I thought that Hillary Clinton get about 2 million more votes than Donald Trump. She did.
I did not underestimate Trump. I predicted that he would win Florida and Ohio but was confident Clinton would win traditional Democrat (blue wall) states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin. I got that badly wrong.
This is precisely where Trump won the Presidency, getting less than a hundred thousand people who voted Obama in 2012 to swing to him in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin. It was a targeted operation.
The point to bear in mind now is that Trump lost to Clinton in the popular vote in 2016 and today Trump is far behind the levels of support he was getting at this point in 2016.
I know the dangers of complacency or of summarily dismissing Trump. While he has lost a lot of ground, his campaign has the capacity to whip up conservative white males, the religious right and assorted other disaffected Americans from those who justifiably still feel let down and left behind to those who believe with near religious zeal that Trump is all that stands between them and a deep state, QAnon, pizzagate day of reckoning.
But while Trump is many things, a master self-marketer, a dime store despot he is not a political genius. He is a one trick pony, as his business career has shown.
Tony Schwartz, the man ghost wrote Trump’s The Art of the Deal book that helped create the Trump legend reckons Trump knows he is already beaten and is therefore determined to create maximum chaos and destruction as he watches his world crumble.
Schwartz says Trump is going full authoritarian, becoming a blend of Brazil’s Jair Bolsinaro and Jim Jones. Schwartz repeated the Jim Jones line on CNN a few nights ago adding:
“he’s feeling a sense of terror “I believe that he believes, he’s going to lose this election. And that’s making him crazy… he’s fearful of being seen as a loser.”
The one trick that Trump might try to pull is to challenge the election result. Small wonder Trump wants another pro Trump judge on the Supreme Court as soon as possible. He hopes the Supreme Court could decide the election outcome, not the voters.
This is what people outside the US should start to focus on now.
It may take several days to finally count all the votes given the volume of mail-in ballots, social distancing and other restrictions. For this reason it seems unlikely that the networks will be able to definitively project a winner on the night of the count – unless Biden is winning in a landslide.
This gives Trump a further opportunity to question the result. It is a racing certainty he will do this as he has spent months framing a public argument that the election is both unfair or improperly conducted. He and his Attorney General have spent weeks fuelling baseless claims on voter fraud.
Trump is preparing his last-ditch attempt to steal the election in the classic Trumpist move of accusing his opponents of doing precisely what he plans to do himself. Over recent days we have heard him call on his supporters to go out in strength, and for many of them that means armed, and watch the polling stations.
It has already happened in some places with the cohort of Trump supporters that Hillary Clinton rightly labelled the deplorables back in 2016 out on the streets attempting to impede and prevent voting in areas were Trump will do badly, particularly urban centres. While Trump won the state of Pennsylvania by 0.7%, (Trump 48.2% Clinton 47.5%) Hillary Clinton beat Trump in the biggest city, Philadelphia, by 67% (Clinton 82.3% : Trump 15.3%).
So, while I confidently predict Biden win, there will be much political upheaval between now and Biden’s inauguration on January 20th, 2021. There is a distinct risk that this will pour out on to the streets as Trump’s desperation to evade the thing he fears most: public humiliation and defeat, tests the US constitution to its limits. Nonetheless, I still think sanity will prevail and any attempt to steal the election will fail.
As happy as I am to predict a Biden win, I fully expect a Biden presidency will soon begin to disappoint his supporters. While most Americans and almost all Europeans will welcome the return of a normalised, measured and courteous presidency, expectations about Biden are so high that he cannot match them.
Turning briefly to the domestic front, the next 2-3 weeks will be critical. Tomorrow we have the budget which, despite the difficulties facing the country, should be quite straightforward – well relatively straightforward when compared to next year’s budget – assuming this government gets to producing a second budget.
The Covid-19 infection rates are the real test. Yesterday’s statement by Taoiseach, Micheál Martin on sticking with level 3 for a few more weeks, is probably the right course of action. They also contrast with Tánaiste Varadkar’s flip-flopping on a circuit break lockdown as he attempts to undo the damage of his attack on Nphet on last Monday’s RTÉ Claire Byrne tirade.
If we are going to go for a circuit breaker, and the Taoiseach sensibly attempts to dampen expectations on this front, then it must be a consistent circuit breaker across the entire island with the same rules applying across the 32 counties.
Meanwhile there are indicators that the level three restrictions in Dublin are working with the city’s 7-day average falling from 188.9 to 144.5.
The situation can be brought back under control by our actions and other people’s choices. We need both, one alone will not do it. So keep well, keep safe and see you next week.
Derek Mooney is a communications and public affairs consultant. He previously served as a Ministerial Adviser to the Fianna Fáil-led government 2004 – 2010. His column appears here every Monday.Follow Derek on Twitter: @dsmooney