Trump faces sinking polls but has enthusiasm and the economy on his side

The left is gleeful. The liberal media has slammed President TrumpDonald John TrumpJoe Arpaio loses bid for his old position as sheriff Trump brushes off view that Russia denigrating Biden: 'Nobody's been tougher on Russia than I have' Trump tees up executive orders on economy but won't sign yet MORE’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. They say his response to the cruel killing of George Floyd lacked empathy. The economy, his major campaign issue, is in shambles.

It is almost impossible to imagine a more catastrophic scenario for an incumbent running for reelection.  

CNN summed it up as it rolled out its latest poll: “Trump Losing Ground to Biden amid Chaotic Week.” That survey showed, CNN suggested, that the president is in deep trouble only five months before the election.

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Is that what the poll shows? Let’s investigate.

The top-line numbers on CNN’s survey certainly look bad for President Trump. The incumbent trails presumed Democrat nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenDemocratic convention lineup to include Ocasio-Cortez, Clinton, Warren: reports Whitmer met with Biden days before VP announcement: report Maxine Waters says Biden 'can't go home without a Black woman being VP' MORE by 14 points. That’s the widest spread ever; in the past year, Biden has at most led by 10 points.

Another headline-maker was that Trump’s approval number dropped to 38 percent from 45 percent over the past month, while those disapproving climbed to 57 percent from 51 percent.

But two equally critical features of the CNN poll did not receive much notice.

The first is that voters are really, really unexcited about Biden.

Registered voters who indicated that they would vote for Uncle Joe were asked, “Is that more a vote FOR Joe Biden or more a vote AGAINST Donald Trump?” A remarkable 60 percent said they were voting against Trump, compared to only 37 percent who said they were voting for Biden.

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Among the group saying they would pull the lever for Donald Trump, 70 percent said they were voting for the president; only 27 percent said they were voting against Biden.

That tells me that the enthusiasm gap is alive and well, and could tip the balance for Trump come November. Democrats have emphasized repeatedly that they will need a huge turnout to beat Trump; an unexciting candidate will not get them there.

Note that the candidate who has led on enthusiasm has won every presidential election since 1988, including in 2016.

Yes, much of the country does not like the president’s personal style, his tweets and the hard line he took during the recent protests. But how many will it motivate to turn out on Election Day to pull the lever for Biden? We shall see.

The other critical finding is that 77 percent of the country (and even 73 percent of Democrats) considers the economy “extremely” or “very” important to how they will vote, trailed by health care (69 percent), race relations (68 percent) and coronavirus (54 percent.)

 According to the survey, Trump wins on who can better handle the economy, 51 percent to 46 percent.

Biden wins on other issues, and in particular on race. But on the number one issue to voters, Trump rules.

Democrats know this, which is why some have speculated that progressive governors such as Michigan’s Gretchen Whitmer and New York’s Andrew CuomoAndrew CuomoOvernight Health Care: Trump to take executive action after coronavirus talks collapse | Vaccine official says he'd resign if pressured politically Cuomo says New York schools can reopen in-person this fall Cuomo calls on wealthy to return to New York City: 'You got to come back!' MORE have slow-walked reopening their state’s economies. The more sluggish the start-up, the less time the economy has to gain speed as we approach November.

Unhappily for Democrats, Americans from coast to coast wearied of the stay-at-home orders, and began to challenge some of the mandates in court, prodding officials to loosen the reins. In Michigan, where Gov. Whitmer has become the poster child for executive overreach, a court recently ruled her imposition of coronavirus safety measures as a prerequisite to opening a business “null and void,” cheering those who opposed her draconian micro-managing of the state and her 115 executive orders.  

Also bad news for Democrats is that the country is springing back to life faster than expected, defying their purposefully gloomy narrative. The stock market has lifted the nation’s mood and wealth, defying expectations by approaching prior highs. The University of Michigan's consumer-sentiment index surprised economists by climbing to 73.7 in May from 71.8 in April, while the latest jobs report showed that the U.S. added 2.5 million jobs in May, against an expected downturn, blowing estimates out of the water.

More good news is to be found in the just-released National Federation of Independent Businesses’ report on small business optimism, which rebounded to 94.4 in May, a “strong improvement from April” and the biggest jump since 2017. The NFIB reported that “Owners are optimistic about future business conditions and expect the recession to be short-lived.”

It seems you can’t keep a good economy down. As restrictions have lifted state by state, consumers have ventured out, cautiously at first, and then with enthusiasm. Are we out of the woods? Not necessarily, but the panic and fear that engendered our self-imposed recession have receded. Americans want life to get back to normal, and it is gradually getting there.

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Could there be a second wave of infections this fall? Of course, but there is little chance the government will respond by again mandating that Americans stay at home. We know who the most vulnerable are; those will be the people we protect going forward. Also, it appears that we are better able to treat those stricken with the virus; fatality rates seem to be declining.

Also, after weeks of allowing thousands to gather and protest, ignoring social distancing guidelines, Democrats have squandered their moral authority to shut down our society. Locking the doors on churches, schools, businesses and restaurants may have served a valid purpose in March, when we did not know the extent of COVID-19 or how to treat it; now such restrictions look overdone and politically tainted.

Joe Biden will soon have to emerge from his basement and confront the rigors of the campaign trail. So far, even at his “virtual” fund-raisers, we hear the former vice president rarely speaks for more than a few moments. His handlers know that, unleashed, Biden can undermine his own cause faster than a popsicle melts in August. They cannot protect him forever.

Meanwhile, President Trump will in the next few weeks begin to host the kinds of large rallies that energize him and his supporters; his ratings will likely rise with the economy.

Let’s see how the polls move then.

Liz Peek is a former partner of major bracket Wall Street firm Wertheim & Company. Follow her on Twitter @lizpeek.