Democrats have to get better than ever as Joe Biden leads in the polls
When Fox News and CNN agree, pay attention, then disregard as quickly as possible. Last week, Fox News revealed Joe Biden leading by 9 points above Donald Trump in battleground Wisconsin. In 2016, Trump won the critical state by less than 1 point. This week, CNN found Biden leading by 14 points among registered voters nationwide. These Fox News and CNN polls align with other live interview polls this month with Biden ahead by an average of 10 points. As I used to declare when my beloved New York Mets scored a run in the top of the first inning, game over.
But as we learned in 2016, this game is never over if Trump is playing. At this time four years ago, Hillary Clinton was leading Trump by 10 points in a Reuters poll, by 7 points in a Monmouth University poll, and by 4 points in a CNN poll. In Wisconsin, she was leading by 8 points in a Public Policy Polling survey. Then the bombshell of misogynist comments by Trump in the Access Hollywood tapes hit. Right after this, Clinton was up 11 points nationwide, 12 points in Michigan, 7 points in Wisconsin, and 5 points in Florida. Then one month later, Trump was elected president.
So it turns out that credible 2016 polls were not wrong. They consistently reflected a significant lead for Clinton with the popular vote and showed races too close to call for battleground states. The recent Fox News and CNN polls do signal trouble for Trump this year, but have we not learned about his abilities to wrestle or tweet his way out of anything?
Trump faces a perfect storm, although I must say he is the only politician I know who can turn a Category 1 storm into a Category 5 hurricane. His job approval has fallen due to his handling of the coronavirus and the George Floyd killing, along with anxiety over the economy. In the Fox News poll in Wisconsin, his support among Republican voters is declining, something I never imagined I would witness. In the CNN poll, Trump is trailing slightly with his base, while Biden is picking up quickly with his own.
In fact, the Trump base strategy is not working right now. As Harry Enten writes, “The candidate who is employing a base first strategy is actually finding it is that other candidate who is doing better with his own base.” Biden supporters can be heartened by one other dynamic, which is that the polling average holds him above 50 percent on a consistent basis, a number that Clinton never had at this stage in the campaign.
Will this Biden surge propel him to the Oval Office? It is as powerful as a stiff breeze, and we all know how quickly climates can change. There are reasons for cautious optimism that the economy will not fall into another deep depression. Like everything else, Trump will take full credit for that, even though it was Democrats in Congress who pushed for the effective financial relief bills for the middle class and working families.
We do not know what other national security or foreign policy crises, real or spun, may dominate the thinking of voters as we approach the election this fall. Then there is the most unpredictable but significant influence on the election. This is what David Axelrod calls the “feral instinct” of Trump. When his back is to the alley wall he turns rabid. We may believe that we have seen it all, but Trump always takes us below and beyond.
I am a strong and involved supporter of Biden. But I know that no matter where the polls are, we underestimate the capacity of the Trump team to do what it must in order to win, not just at the peril of Biden, but perhaps also to America. This is not the time for complacency or overconfidence for Democrats, no matter how much Fox News and CNN agree.
Steve Israel represented New York in Congress for 16 years and was the chairman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee from 2011 to 2015. He is now the director of the Institute of Politics and Global Affairs at Cornell University. You can find him on Twitter @RepSteveIsrael.