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The case for betting on a Trump victory in November

June 7th, 2020

A guest slot from Mr. Ed on Why he thinks the President will be re-elected

If you don’t want Trump to win in November (which I think is most people on this site), then there is plenty of data out there to give you hope. The RCP national polling average has Biden’s lead over Trump at +7.1%. In key swing states, the RCP average also shows Biden leading in all 5 (FL, PA, WI, NC, AZ) and polls have suggested Biden is now competitive in states such as Ohio and Texas. Trump’s approval ratings continue to fall, with the RCP average showing a net disapproval of c. 11%. 

However, I think these hopes are overdone. I have skin in the game as I have a £5 bet with Kinablu that Trump will win. More than that, I think the data and evidence is pointing to his re-election. 

First, two points. First, all the polls will have been conducted before Friday’s (positive) shock job numbers (caveat: I am writing this on a Saturday afternoon before any new polls are out). The beat versus expectations was simply staggering. To repeat: consensus had expected a 19.5 % unemployment rate vs the actual 13.3% expected, and 2.5m jobs were added vs a 20.7m fall in May. It was truly a surprise of the first order. Back to this later.

Second, the question of whether the polls can be trusted. For many reasons, I think they cannot and there are wide variances. To use one example, if the RCP national average of a 7 point lead for Biden is correct, then Trump should not be having a 4 point lead in Pennsylvania, which the latest poll says he does. The two latest polls out of Michigan have Biden’s lead at +2 or +12 depending on the poll also shows the variance. 

However, this is not a post about polling. I would argue, at this stage, there are four reasons why a Trump victory is more likely.

First, evidence from actual results suggests Republican enthusiasm is extremely high. Democrats might have “reduced” Trump’s 20 point margin in 2016 in the Wisconsin 7th special election to 14 points but there was no sign of an anti-Trump surge. But the special election result in CA-25 shouldn’t have happened if Trump is in trouble. The Republicans won a district by nearly 10 points that Clinton won in 2016 and against a candidate whose state district covered a majority of the area. And note the Republicans flipping the solid Democratic council of Staunton in Virginia. Yes, a City council but step back and think about this: the turnout surged to a level seen more for Governor elections (votes cast more than doubled). In Pennsylvania, the New York Post reported 861,000 Republicans cast votes for Trump in this week’s primaries vs. 734,000 Democrats. That is despite Democrats have an 800,000 advantage in registrations (in PA, you can only vote in your registered party’s vote) and Donald Trump a shoo-in for the nomination. What these actual results suggest is that the Republicans are fired up to vote, which will be crucial for November. 

Second, jobs. It is no wonder Trump was, ahem, trumpeting Friday’s job numbers but the surprise was stunning and it boosts his argument America can bounce back quickly. More importantly, it boosts the Republican argument that lockdowns need to be reversed as quickly as possible. It was a serious mistake for the Democrats to allow themselves to be portrayed as the party of lockdown. As each day goes by, and there is no surge in cases, Florida’s and Georgia’s Republican Governors look right and Democrat Governors like Gretchen Whitmer wrong. And recent endorsements of demonstrations by these same Democrat Governors have shot to pieces arguments against opening too soon (and will lead to a muddying of who is to blame if there is a surge in cases). Claiming “systemic racism” is more of a public health threat than CV-19 and justifies the demonstrations might sound good on Twitter but it is unlikely to cut it with a significant body of voters, who might rightly say the economic problems have caused significantly more deaths.

Thirdly, several Democrat wins in 2016 look vulnerable in November. Minnesota and New Hampshire are two obvious ones (I think the Republicans will flip the former at least this November – the Minneapolis riots are likely to play badly in the suburbs and Biden has said he will rip up the Keystone XL pipeline which will go down badly in a resource-dependent state). I would highlight three more; (1) Nevada. Clinton won it by 2.5% in 2016, smaller than the combined Libertarian / none of the above vote of just under 6%. There is an argument that Trump should win a chunk of that 6% this time round; Biden also didn’t do well amongst Hispanics in the primaries; and Nevada relies on tourism, which needs the easing of restrictions, which helps the Republicans. (2) Virginia, which I think could be the shock of the night. Clinton won it by over 5% in 2016. This is not much more than the 4.3% combined vote of the Libertarians and Evan McMullin, a lot of which again could go to Trump. And what is happening in Virginian politics – with conservative voters riled up over gun and abortion rights – should fire up Republican turnout as demonstrated by the Staunton result; (3) Colorado. Clinton won it by less than 5% and less than the Libertarian vote of 5.2%. Again, a chunk of that vote could go to Trump. Last week’s unanimous censure of the Democrat’s Senate candidate, John Hicklenhooper, by the state’s Independent Ethics Commission also did not help. I suspect Biden will repeat Clinton’s mistake in 2016 and think that several states are “safe” which, in fact, might be vulnerable. 

Finally, and perhaps the most pertinent point, increasingly elections are about underlying themes. Work out the theme, you can work out the result. In the US, 2016 was about many voters feeling left behind and deciding to roll the dice with Trump as they did – irony of ironies – with Obama in 2008 (who beat a far more experienced opponent). For 2020, I believe there will be three underlying themes (1) who will be best to get the economy back on track? (2) who will deal best with China? And (3) who will sort out the problems as seen with the recent riots? I would argue that Trump has a distinct advantage over Biden on (1) and (2), especially given the jobs data for (1) and all that he can point to with Hunter Biden and Biden’s own comments on (2). The third theme really has two parts – a law and order part, with voters scared about criminality, which is likely to play well for Trump; and a police reform issue, which may help Biden for Black turnout but where Trump has not made given his opponent so much in the way to persuade independents that Trump is viscerally anti-reform. SO, on the themes, Trump has a clear advantage. 

These are not the only problems for the Democrats. Biden is a weak candidate, in that he doesn’t enthuse and the risks of a major gaffe (or several) are high. Because there is a concern over his health, mental and physical, there will be more focus on the VP candidate. A white female VP candidate is virtually impossible now but the Black ones have issues of their own (Harris and Demmings because of their previous roles in the justice system; Stacey Abrams is too inexperienced; and Keisha Lance Bottoms hasn’t been helped by the Atlanta rights). My own view is that Biden should go for a Hispanic female (I have recommended Michelle Lujan on here as an outside bet) which ticks both the “woman of colour” box and helps cement a voting bloc where there are signs of drift. But he may need to go with a Black candidate because of recent events.   

So, sorry (nearly) everyone. I think you have four more years of Trump to enjoy.

Mr. Ed