The Memo

The Memo: Five reasons why Trump could upset the odds

President Trump is up against the odds heading toward Election Day, but he is not out of hope.

Trump has lagged Democratic nominee Joe Biden in polling throughout the campaign, and his last obvious opportunity to change the shape of the race — Thursday’s debate in Nashville, Tenn. — passed by without great drama.

The president’s backers cite some factors that could deliver another shock upset like the victory over Hillary Clinton in 2016. Democrats, traumatized by the 2016 result, are not counting Trump out, either.

If Trump emerges the surprise winner once again this year, these reasons will likely be cited to explain his victory.

Trump’s ground game

The Trump campaign is betting that traditional door-to-door campaigning will pay big dividends. The campaign has claimed it has more than 2.5 million volunteers. As Newsweek has pointed out, this would be a greater number than the 2.2 million who backed then-candidate Barack Obama during his dramatic 2008 run for the White House.

In conference calls with members of the media, Trump campaign aides frequently cite data that they believe displays their superiority. The Trump campaign claimed its volunteers knocked on more than 500,000 doors in swing states in a single week in September, for example.

“We’re actually running a real campaign,” Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien told reporters on Monday.

The Biden campaign has pushed back, noting that it too has built a strong ground infrastructure. But no one disputes that Biden’s side has been much slower to move to door knocking, in particular — a reluctance largely rooted in caution about the coronavirus.

Biden’s approach may be validated in the end. Some strategists question the efficacy of door-to-door campaigning at a time when most voters can more easily and safely be contacted by phone, email or social media.

But if Trump wins, expect plenty of credit to be given to his ground game.

Black turnout

A fall-off in Black turnout was one of the key reasons Clinton lost in 2016. 

It was expected that turnout among the African American community would fall once Obama, the nation’s first Black president, was no longer on the ballot. But weaker Black enthusiasm for Clinton in cities in the Upper Midwest such as Detroit and Milwaukee may have made all the difference.

Trump has focused on Black voters to an unusual degree for a GOP presidential candidate. His campaign has advertised extensively on Black-oriented radio, and the Republican National Convention included a number of high-profile African American supporters such as former NFL star Herschel Walker.

There is considerable skepticism as to whether Team Trump really believes it can ramp up its numbers from the 8 percent of Black voters who supported him in 2016. But a dampening of enthusiasm for Biden could be just as meaningful.

Another wild card is the quixotic candidacy of rap star Kanye West, who will be on the ballot in at least 12 states.

In terms of the big picture of the Black vote, there are some promising signs for Trump at the margins. 

According to data site FiveThirtyEight, older African Americans remain firmly in the Democratic camp, but younger voters are less so. Polling from UCLA Nationscape showed support for Trump among Black voters between the ages of 18 and 44 rising from 10 percent in 2016 to 21 percent this year.

The ‘shy’ Trump voter

One of the most popular theories among the president’s allies is that he suffers from an unusual problem — a “social desirability” bias whereby voters who support him hide their views from pollsters.

By its nature, this is a difficult thesis to prove or disprove — though skeptics note that, if it were true, online polling might be expected to show higher support for Trump than polls in which respondents are interviewed. This does not appear to be the case.

A related theory — one favored by Stepien, among others — is that Trump’s 2016 victory was built on big turnout in the least populous parts of some crucial states. 

It seems somewhat plausible that those voters are not being picked up in polls or broader media narratives.

Trump has seen his support tick up in some areas based on public polling, though Biden has enjoyed a lead in virtually all national surveys and in several key battleground states.

Voter registration

Voter registration numbers in battleground states are a particular source of bullishness in the Trump camp.

A Trump campaign source focused on the shift from 2016, noting that in the last four full months of each election cycle “Democrats consistently out-registered Republicans in 2016, but now we are consistently out -registering them.”

According to the campaign’s figures, Democrats out-registered Republicans by more than 78,000 people in Florida between August and November 2016. From August of this year until now, the GOP has a registration edge of roughly 104,000 in the state.

The same pattern is seen in Pennsylvania, where a small Democratic advantage during those last four months in 2016 has shifted to a GOP gain of about 72,000 this year.

There are other theories in Trump World about specific states. Nevada is cited as a possible pickup opportunity by some Trump allies who argue that the electoral muscle of the state’s labor unions has atrophied because of the hit suffered by the tourism and gaming industry during the pandemic. 

The Democratic registration edge overall in Nevada has dropped by about 10,000, according to the Trump campaign. Such a relatively small number is important in a state Clinton carried by just 27,000 votes.

The Latino vote

Trump will almost certainly lose the Latino vote nationwide. But crucially, there is little sign that his standing with Latinos has declined since 2016, despite the controversies that have flared around his immigration policies.

According to exit polls in 2016, Trump won 28 percent of the Latino vote — a surprise to some since it was a slightly better showing than 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney, who hewed to a more centrist position on immigration.

Trump continues to poll at around the same level with Hispanic voters, even as his popularity with other key demographic groups has eroded.

The situation is especially intriguing in Florida, the largest and most important battleground state. 

Two major polls in September, from NBC News-Marist and Quinnipiac University, showed Trump with a small lead among Florida Latinos. Trump won the Sunshine State in 2016 even while losing Latinos to Clinton by 27 points.

Cuban Americans are especially vital in Florida. There is some anecdotal evidence suggesting the community’s traditional hostility to socialism might be weighing Democrats down as left-wing voices such as those of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) have become more prominent.

In Thursday’s debate, when Trump brought up Sanders, Biden responded that the president “thinks he’s running against someone else. He’s running against Joe Biden. I beat all those people because I disagreed with them.”

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump’s presidency. 

Tags Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Barack Obama Bernie Sanders Bill Stepien Donald Trump Hillary Clinton Joe Biden Kanye West Mitt Romney

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