Trump on course for reelection, even if he loses the popular vote
The ongoing chaotic mismanagement of the coronavirus crisis would seem to jeopardize President Trump’s reelection prospects; however, an analysis of the Electoral College vote puts Trump in a favorable reelection position.
My projection gives Trump 249 and Joe Biden 248 electoral votes. Three states — Arizona (11 electoral votes), Pennsylvania (20 electoral votes), and Wisconsin (10 Electoral votes) — are toss-up states. Trump won all three in 2016, and he has a good chance to win these states again in 2020.
Several factors work in Trump’s favor. First, former Vice President Joe Biden’s debating and campaigning performances have ranged from inarticulate to incoherent. Also, his expressions and tone of speech focus on the past and do not resonate with younger voters.
Second, despite an endorsement from Bernie Sanders, the especially fervent Sanders supporters will not vote for Biden. They are driven by issues and ideology, not loyalty to Sanders personally. They see Biden as no different from Trump — another part of a corrupt establishment that has fought change and fostered inequality. In fact, Sanders, by pushing Biden to embrace his leftist/Socialist agenda, drives moderate voters away from the Biden camp.
Third, the actions of the vice president’s son, Hunter Biden, will continue to haunt the Biden campaign. His acceptance of a lucrative Board of Directors position at a Ukrainian utility company, without any evident qualification, and various business relationships with China while his father was vice president was a gross ethical lapse and miscalculation.
It is apparent even to the most loyal Biden supporters that the main reason for Hunter’s selection was an attempt to curry favor with the vice president. There is no evidence that this ever occurred. But the impropriety of Hunter’s behavior is clear. The Trump campaign has already and will continue to hammer away at the Hunter Biden issue.
Fourth, Trump maintains the loyalty of his base — the white working class and non-college-educated Evangelical Christians and social and cultural conservatives. His support among white voters is especially strong in Mid-Western, Southwestern, Western, and Southern battleground and competitive states, such as Florida, Iowa, Ohio, North Carolina, Nevada, Minnesota, and Michigan.
Further, polling shows a consistently high level of support among traditional Republicans. Most of his supporters see criticism of Trump’s handling of the virus crisis as part of a continuing media and partisan effort to hurt the president.
Polling that shows Biden ahead in the popular vote does not provide a nuanced analysis of the electorate. Trump can again win the Electoral College while not winning the popular vote. Further, polls rarely distinguish between registered and likely voters. Trump consistently does better among likely voters and among the high-turnout 45- to 65-year-old voters.
What can Biden do to reverse this rather bleak, but realistic electoral picture?
He and the Democratic Party need to appeal to working class and non-college educated voters with a jobs and economic development program rooted in reestablishing our manufacturing base. This is especially important in the wake of the pandemic when so many families have lost one or both wage earners.
The pandemic is a perfect illustration of how a globalized economic system, with China as the world’s manufacturing floor, has left us tragically unable to obtain the medical equipment, testing materials, masks, protective garments, and pharmaceuticals that we desperately need.
This is not only an impediment to fighting the virus but also a national security problem that calls for us to rethink our dependence on China and other nations. Biden should be able to use this situation to wean working class voters in key and heartland battleground states away from President Trump and back into the Democratic camp.
But first, Democrats need to acknowledge their role in promoting a globalization process that cost millions of American workers their livable wage jobs. They need to stop offering demeaning lectures to the working class about being life-long learners, preparing for the digital and gig economy or getting a STEM education or a community college technology degree. Working class voters do not need condescending lectures. They need jobs that pay a livable wage and provide benefits like health insurance. Trump promised this, but he did not deliver.
Magical thinking about ascending voters coming to the rescue of Biden in key competitive states is just that — magical thinking. Biden needs to reconnect with the working class. These are the voters who in the past were essential to Democratic coalitions and ensured victory. Lessons learned from the pandemic could change the election outcome if Biden can capitalize on them.
Joshua Sandman is a professor of political science at the University of New Haven. He has studied the American presidency for five decades.