On The Trail: The five factors that make Joe Biden the favorite
Former Vice President Joe Biden heads into Election Day with a clear lead over President Trump, buoyed by state and national trends that show Americans are on track to boot a first-term incumbent for the first time in 28 years.
Polling data and early voting totals give Democrats reason for optimism, though the legacy of the 2016 election Trump won still haunts the opposition party. Here are the five factors that have put Biden in position to win on Tuesday.
Voters like Biden
Four years ago, voters hated candidate Donald Trump, but they hated Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton just as much. Voters ultimately picked Trump, the outsider who promised to shake things up, rather than Clinton, the perceived insider who would continue business as usual.
Now Trump is the incumbent, and his favorable ratings have improved — polls conducted this week by Fox News and CNN both show his favorable ratings in the low 40s, compared with the mid-to-high 30s he registered just before Election Day 2016.
But Biden is seen far more favorably than Clinton — or Trump — ever has been. Both Fox News and CNN pegged Biden’s favorable rating at 55 percent, the result of what Biden insiders say has been a consistent strategy to keep those numbers high through positive advertising that is increasingly uncommon in modern politics.
Persuadable voters tend to ask two questions during a presidential campaign: Do they like the job the incumbent is doing, and if not, is the challenger an acceptable alternative? Biden has set himself up as the acceptable alternative to a deeply unpopular incumbent.
It’s easy to spread a message — positive or negative — when a campaign has more money than it knows what to do with. And Joseph Robinette Biden Jr., son of a used car salesman who struggled to find work in blue collar Scranton, Pa., and Wilmington, Del., has become the first presidential candidate in American history to raise $1 billion through his campaign account.
Biden’s largesse has allowed him to play across a broader battlefield than any candidate in recent memory. In just the last week, Biden and his outside allies are spending at least $11 million in Pennsylvania, Florida and Michigan and more than $5 million in North Carolina, Arizona and Wisconsin.
He is outspending Trump by 2-to-1 margins in many battleground states, including even states no Democrat has won since former President Clinton.
In the last week of the campaign, Biden and his allies will have spent about $77 million — compared with just $40 million for the Trump team. Trump’s campaign has insisted it has invested early in a ground game that could make the difference, but right now, the airwaves are dominated by the conversation Biden wants to have.
The coronavirus is top of mind
The coronavirus pandemic, more than any other issue, has come to define Trump’s first term in office. And a third wave of cases is peaking at exactly the wrong time for his efforts to change the subject.
It is possible that the United States records more than 100,000 new cases on a single day for the first time just before Election Day.
Trump’s own infection marked a low ebb for the campaign, when Republican poll numbers flatlined across the board. But he may have done more damage when he tweeted, while at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, that Americans shouldn’t let the virus “dominate your life.”
Voters cannot help but consider the virus and its devastating impacts on every facet of American life. Grandparents have not seen their grandchildren in months. Parents juggle their careers against maddening Zoom distance learning for their children. Almost half of Americans say they or someone in their household has lost income because of the pandemic, according to a Census Bureau study.
A new study released Saturday by The COVID-19 Consortium for Understanding the Public’s Policy Preferences Across States, a joint project of Northeastern, Harvard, Rutgers and Northwestern, found voters in 49 of the 50 states say the pandemic is the most important issue facing America today. Only Alaska voters said something else — climate change — was top of mind.
Trump is right: America has turned the corner on the virus. It’s just the corner that leads up, not down.
Seniors are breaking for Biden
For the last two decades, Democrats have had a problem winning over seniors. Trump carried those over the age of 65 with 52 percent of the vote in 2016. Former President Obama never cracked 45 percent among those voters. Former President George W. Bush carried them twice, by 5 points in 2004 and 4 points in 2000.
Today, older voters are backing Biden. The Fox News poll put Biden’s lead among those over 65 at 10 points; CNN had him up 11, 55 percent to 44 percent. Just 42 percent of those over 65 approve of the job Trump is doing, CNN found.
Older voters say Biden would be better at handling the response to the coronavirus by a whopping 22-point margin in a Quinnipiac poll conducted earlier this month. They give Biden a 20-point edge when asked which candidate would better handle health care. And while a slim plurality of all voters say Trump would do a better job handling the economy, seniors think Biden would be best for the economy by a 51 percent to 44 percent margin.
Younger voters favor Democrats in droves, but they are a smaller share of the electorate. Republicans need to make up for that gap with older Americans. This year, for the first time in a generation, the GOP doesn’t enjoy a silver edge.
Trump can’t pick a message
At a rally on Thursday in Tampa, Fla., Trump offered a telling example of a recurring theme that has bedeviled strategists in his own party for the last four years: He has little interest in sticking to a positive message that would make the case for a second term.
“They’re calling me up,” he said of former presidential candidates who offer him advice. “‘Sir, you shouldn’t be speaking about Hunter [Biden]. You shouldn’t be saying bad things about Biden because nobody cares.’ I disagree. Maybe that’s why I’m here and they’re not. But they say, ‘Talk about your economic success. Talk about 33.1 percent [GDP growth in the last quarter], the greatest in history.’ Now look, if I do, I mean, how many times can I say it? I’ll say it five or six times during the speech.”
“But you look at that, and you look at Tucker Carlson, what he did the other night. Great. Great,” he continued. “And followed up by Sean [Hannity] and followed up by Laura [Ingraham]. And the next day, nothing at all, right? Nothing. Nothing in The New York Times, the fake New York Times. Hey, how about Anonymous?”
Trump views politics as a head-to-head contest rather than a battle for hearts and minds. That view leads him to attack Hunter Biden instead of focusing on the economic comeback his advisers would prefer as a closing message.
Joe Biden’s closing message is much more straightforward. “Character is on the ballot, the character of the country, and this is our opportunity to leave the dark, angry politics of the last four years behind us,” Biden says in one of his final ads.
Biden’s main thesis has been consistent from the day he announced his candidacy until now. Trump’s changes by the minute.
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