A Referendum On Trump


From top: US Democrat Presidential candidate Joe Biden (left), US President Donald Trump; Derek Mooney

The future of Donald Trump should be answered by Friday, if not sooner. Three weeks ago I predicted Biden would win. Nothing I have heard since has convinced me otherwise.

According to Professor Michael McDonald’s excellent @ElectProject, at least 93 million Americans had already voted by Sunday November 1. In 2016 just over 136 million votes were cast.

In mid-October Prof McDonald predicted that early voting would hit 85 million and that the overall 2020 turnout would exceed 150 million. As his early voting turnout has already been surpassed, it is not unreasonable to expect his turnout prediction will be too.

Doubtless this will include many who did not vote for Trump in 2016. Republicans have been busy registering more Trump supporters in rural areas, but does anyone imagine that 20–25 million extra voters are turning out because they think President Donald Trump is doing such a great job?

The US presidential was always going to be a referendum on Trump. His handling of Covid19 has made it even more so. He is pleased this is all about him, but that is the big flaw in his campaign strategy: his ego. It is not just a risky strategy; it is a bad one when so many likely voters do not like or respect you.

Two stark sets of figures make this point.

Asked to rate the candidates, likely voters give Trump a score of 41% favourable and 57% unfavourable and Biden 55% favourable: 42% unfavourable. That is a 15% gap in favour of Biden. Biden’s unfavourable rating today is 10pts better than Hillary Clinton’s 52% rating – a rating that cost her: Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan.

Trump has bet the house, by which I mean other people’s money, on him getting the minority who like him to turn out disproportionately. Early polling figures point to that strategy failing. Trump’s future now depends on a huge polling day turn-out of Trump voters.

Bizarrely, Trump could manage to get more votes than he won in 2016. The GOP’s registration and get out the vote operation could bring out extra Trump votes, but with 20+ million additional voters they simply cannot catch up with, never mind, out poll Biden.

Biden will win the popular vote by a much bigger margin than Clinton did in 2016, the question is how his vote is distributed across the battleground states.

Trump won almost 3 million fewer votes than Clinton. His win was due to where he secured several hundred thousand of them, particularly Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.
Trump must now win in every State he won in 2016.

That is a big ask for an unpopular President. Trump cannot afford to lose states – and right now he is likely to lose two or more.

So here are a few of the key states I’ll be watching on Tuesday night/Wednesday morning.

First is Florida. It is counting early votes now and expects to have a result on election night. If Trump loses Florida, it is over all for him. He is losing the support of seniors and suburban voters across and only held Florida by 113,000 votes last time (1.2%). I think he may just hold Florida, but the margin could be ultra slim.

Watch Georgia and North Carolina too. Both are showing early turnouts equal to 90% plus of their 2016 turnouts and both expect to count most votes on the night. Trump won these two states in 2016 and took their combined 31 electoral college votes. This time, both could swing to Biden.

Looking at Georgia first, the latest polls show Biden ahead. Trump beat Clinton here by 211,000 votes (5%). There are also two tough Senate races here with the Trump supporting Senator Perdue under big pressure from his young Democrat rival Jon Ossoff and also a special Senate election with the Democrat facing a split republican ticket.

Turning to North Carolina, polls here have Biden ahead by between 3 and 6%. This compares with Trump’s 2016 winning margin of 173,315 votes (3.7%). There is a big Senate race here too with polls favouring the Democrat challenger over the pro Trump Senator, Thom Tillis.

Trump’s 2016 winning trio of States: Pennsylvania Wisconsin and Michigan are obviously ones to watch, but none are expected to declare a result on the night, indeed Pennsylvanian electoral law says that it may not count postal ballots until the following day.

Biden is well ahead in all the polls in Wisconsin and Michigan. As I pointed out three weeks ago Trump won the suburban and rural districts in Pennsylvania in 2016 giving him a narrow 45,000 vote margin over Clinton across the State. Biden is still ahead here, but the race is tightening.

This is why Pennsylvania is now seeing so much big-name campaigning with both Trump and Biden holding several last-minute events here.

After you look out for the results in these States, as well as Texas, Arizona and perhaps Iowa and Ohio then the focus can move to an even more critical question: what happens after the election?

A UMass Amherst poll shows that 80% of likely voters are concerned about the possibility of election-related violence. On Wednesday I retweeted posts from Dutch and Spanish journalists based in Washington.

Both reported that a week before polling day stores and businesses surrounding the White House were preparing for Election Day by closing and boarding up their windows in fear of violence and looting.

The fears are well founded, especially when the President gleefully cheers the intimidation of Democrats in Texas and the Trump cavalcades blocking highways in New Jersey and New York.

This is the short-term impact. What about the long-term impact? America is divided. Deeply so. The only hope of uniting lies with the losing side accepting the legitimacy of the winner, but outside of a massive Biden landslide, that looks unlikely. Trump signalled on Sunday that he is ready to go to the Courts on Tuesday night to force an early declaration.

A Biden win that takes days to declare fuels Trump conspiracists to claim the election was stolen. The converse is also true. If Trump is to have a second term then it must be seen to be the will of the people, not the vindication of voter suppression or court interventions. There have been over 300 legal challenges in recent days.

The winner will face the challenge of leading a nation that is deeply divided by geography and demographics. That division will not just have its expression in raw political gridlock in D.C. but could, if handled badly, even see greater regional disconnection, even secession. #Calexit anyone?

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

Earlier: Derek Mooney: Best Practice

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70 thoughts on “A Referendum On Trump

  1. GiggidyGoo

    Well, we’ve have 4 years of the Media, Politicians, etc. etc. non stop, every day trying their utmost to put a spanner in the works of Trump getting a second term. RTE survived on Trump these past 4 years for their news headlines, and an excuse to have a correspondent based in the US for no other reason.

    If he gets elected, that’s another 4 years. But he can’t get a further extension. So what will be the goal of the media + Politicians then (if he does get elected)

    1. Bodger

      With great respect to Derek, I am still predicting an historic landslide for Trump (and a mini-revolution in the way polls are conducted).

      1. FirstTimeCaller

        What are you basing that on? Biden’s got his work cut out but the current data suggests he’ll take it. If he takes Pennsylvania and Minnesota (+5% ahead in both), Trump could win all the-toss up States and still lose the election.

        Brexit and Trump 1.0 doesn’t fill me with confidence though

        1. Bodger

          I don’t follow the polls at all and I guessed Brexit and Trump 1.0. Nothing can stop what is coming. FIGHT!

          1. Charger Salmons

            It’s amazing how many people predicted Brexit but kept quiet about it at the time.
            Almost like they didn’t want to court ridicule.
            Any chance of the winning lotto numbers for June 28th 2004 ?

          2. Bodger

            I was soundly roasted on here for predicting Brexit. Like Fergus Gibson I obviously have a gift for prophesy but it’s also a curse.

          3. SOQ

            One point I have read is that Trump supporters are notoriously secretive about their intentions so their numbers are always underestimated in the polls.

          4. Charger Salmons

            How much did I lump on Trump ?
            About as much as I’d normally wager on an outside bet but just enough to make it interesting.
            Somewhere between a very good lunch with some excellent claret and a dirty weekend in Berlin.

      2. bisted

        …Brexit and the last US Presidential Election showed the power of polling in preventing people from actually voting when they were convinced that their preferred outcome was comfortably ahead…most polls are conducted scientifically can be analysed independently based on sampling to provide a margin of error…the most accurate and trusted polls in recent years have been exit polls…

          1. bisted

            …if a polling company do a poll commissioned by a National Newspaper they can do it two ways…firstly, what is the budget and we will use a suitable methodology within an independently verified margin of error to produce a result accurate at the time of polling…secondly, the client decides what margin of error is permissable and the polling company proceed to carry out an accurate survey agreed with the client beforehand…they dedicate pages to analysing the outcome…

          2. bisted

            …far be it from me to presume what you mean Nigel but turnout in the US seems to rely on holding your nose and voting for the least obnoxious candidate…who knew last time that crooked Hillary was the less obnoxious but the buggers didn’t bother showing up at the polls…barstools…

          3. Pat Mustard

            But it is like your Russian interference conspiracy theory. You’ve yet to state how this interference was performed and who performed it. All presumption and no substance..

            You can put me in my place by just outlining how it was done and by whom, than id just stop..

    2. Cian

      What? RTÉ’ have always had a Washington correspondent, even before Trump, since 1995:
      – Brian O’Donovan 2018-
      – Caitríona Perry 2013-2018
      – Richard Downes 2010-2013.
      – Charlie Bird 2009-2010
      – Robert Shortt 2005-2008
      – Carole Coleman 2001-2004
      – Mark Little 1995-2001

      1. GiggidyGoo

        I’d have thought that cutbacks would have ended the waste, roundabout Catriona Perry’s time.

        1. Nigel

          Journalism has become so succesfully corporatised and share-value driven that having correspondents in the places where news is happening is now seen as frivolous, often by people deploring the state of modern journalism. Save money by retyping or reprinting PR press releases about popular electronic consumer goods!

          1. Pat Mustard

            Pizza gate was rejected by the press, was in the news for about a summer, Russia gate went on for 4 years and was pumped feverishly by news organisations.

            In terms of a farrago of blithering half baked nonsense, nothing quite compares to Russia gate.

    3. MME

      Bless – GiggidyGoo stans the big Don!

      Well, he does allegedly survive on less than 4 hours sleep and lives on social media, so I guess these two are made for each other.

      Whether Trump is made for America is the real question. Needless to say, I won’t be putting a brass farthing on the eventual winner. Bodge’ s wish might indeed even come true. Gulp.

      1. GiggidyGoo

        And today’s lesson for MME/Charlie.
        When the big hand is at 12 and the small hand is at 6, it’s six o clock. It’ll soon be that. Time for the news soon. There there there. Be good and you can stay up until 9. There there there.

        1. Charlie

          Aw bless. I can assure you it’s not me Gigsy. I happen to know that the last time you were off social media and Broadsheet for 4 hrs, you were under a general anaesthetic for that surgical removal from the flat.

        2. MME

          When the big hand is at…FFS, what am I saying, you’ll be up all night GiggidyGoo trawling through the online fora like a proper adult!


          I am Charlie, I am Wong, I am all your “enemies”.

  2. Vanessanelle

    Not a landslide
    But a healthier winning margin from 2016

    The Dems are still running the 2016 campaign
    and with a 2012 Candidate

    For them their 2020 tickets were selected and backed by Democratic Party HQ based on the candidate’s ability to fund raise and attract funds
    and out fundraise their respective Republican party opposition

    The Democratic Party is tooty pooty

    When they go low we go high From the White House?!?!?!
    The Deplorables
    The Dems telling the American Voter that they don’t consider everyone as equal in ‘Merica
    since 2016
    They didn’t even bother coming up with something new for 2020

    Campaign Finance pros will always win, even when they lose

    1. Tinytim

      I think you said some time ago – ‘ the dems have had 4 years to come up with a candidate and this is the best they could do’ (better written at the time!)

      Spot on; even if it’s their victory it rings hollow; after the last election they really needed to step outside and have a long talk with themselves.

      Polls notwithstanding; our own speculations from outside of USofA or simply that. Every time i have visited there I’ve had to recalibrate to their reality which is, frankly, weird.

      1. Vanessanelle

        Say it every week pretty much
        on the telly too

        Did up a post ages ago
        Listed out all Merican born Oscar winners, Olympic Gold Medals, Nobel Winners, Patent Holders, Pulitzer and all those award Winners
        all the glamour gongs

        and all they could find was Biden and Trump

        1. Nigel

          Being succesful at those things does not make them suitable politicians. At the end of the day, all the other Dem candidates failed to beat Biden at the Primaries. If they couldn’t beat him at the Primaries, how the hell were going to stand a chance of getting the votes in the General?

  3. Nigel

    Of course, a crucial deciding factor in the election could be the Republican voter supression efforts, and the legal measures they’re taking to throw out legally-cast votes and the bizarre iidea that if the election isn’t declared on election night, before all the votes are counted, then there is massive cheating and election-stealing going on. Presumably this tune will change if Biden is ahead on election night, because why the hell not.

          1. Nigel

            Like that but deliberate, malicious, co-ordinated, national, and targeting minorities in particular.

  4. Micko

    Unfortunately I think Trump will probably win too.

    Trump is an absolute nightmare, but his followers love him.
    They believe he stands for America. I have a friend with family in middle America, and they still love him.

    Biden, well it’s hard to say what he stands for. His only selling point is that he’s NOT Trump.

    I don’t know if that’s enough for him to win. Maybe it is. Let’s hope it is.

    1. Rosette of Sirius

      Biden will absolutely smash the popular Vote. With probably a bigger margin to Hillary’s in 2016.

      Trump will carry the EC as I can’t see the swing states falling for Biden – not in the numbers he needs anyways.

      And typing that made me vom in my mouth just a little….

  5. ian-oh

    While I’m not a believer, if there is a God, they should really have a look at the US. Apparently its Gods country but it must be a God of chaos and hate because the place is going down the tubes.

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