Biden won — so why did Trump’s popularity hit its highest point ever?
A solid majority of the country — 65 percent — believes Joe Biden won the election, according to a post-election survey from Harvard CAPS/Harris poll. They also believe the election overall was fair and the counting of the ballots was fair. In short, while President Trump may have convinced about a third of the country that the election was stolen, and as many as 40 to 45 percent that there were some irregularities such as ballot harvesting, most Americans believe it was won by the Democrats, and that belief is unlikely to change.
At the same time, continued economic improvement and the announcement of a vaccine sent Trump’s approval rating over 50 percent for the first time in years of polling — indicating that Trump’s electoral legal challenges are not seen as the burning of the Reichstag or the ruination of our democracy but, instead, as the expected protestations of losing political campaigns these days.
The post-election poll sends some other clear messages. The biggest issue was, unsurprisingly, the coronavirus. Biden overwhelmingly won over those voters most concerned with the virus, which suggests that, on Day 1, the new president should focus entirely on the measures that will bring it to an end — organizing a strong task force, getting economic stimulus done if this Congress fails to act, and distributing vaccines. Forty percent of those polled said the first thing they want Biden to do is to pass economic stimulus, and 33 percent said to get the vaccine out. Nothing else reached double-digits as a concern. There is support for rejoining the Paris Climate Accord, for example, but that’s not the Day 1 message that voters are seeking.
Predictably, Trump won, by almost equal numbers, those voters concerned mostly with the economy and those concerned with civil disorder, terrorism or taxes. Biden, in addition to the virus voters, won over those concerned about health care, race relations or the environment. But the twin concerns of the economy and the virus tower over all others.
Our final Harris Poll had the race closing to 4 points, about where it ended up. The post-election poll reveals a rather simple reason Trump lost: Democrats got their voters to use the mails, the easiest voting system ever, and Trump told his voters not to trust the mails but to show up on Election Day. The polling shows stark differences, with Democrats gaining massive margins in the mail-in balloting and Trump getting nearly two-thirds of the smaller group of Election Day voters. It’s kind of like the difference today between telling consumers to go to the mall or to shop online: Going to the mall takes time and requires parking, while buying on Amazon is just a few clicks away. No wonder Amazon keeps gaining customers, especially during a pandemic. Trump decided he was brick-and-mortar, and Democrats became Amazon — and for every voter who might have gone to the polls, some could not find the time, get off work or had a cold that day. Meanwhile, the Democratic mail-in machine worked phenomenally well.
Republicans in Congress did better because House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) held up the much-wanted stimulus bill rather than accept a $1.8 trillion compromise, because of Democrats’ association with ideas like “defund the police,” and because House and Senate Republicans were not associated with the president’s weak virus strategy.
Trump did close up the election in the final weeks with his phrenetic campaigning; he did bring out a huge vote in his favor. But Democrats this time were not asleep at the switch, as they were four years earlier — they knew exactly where he was going and put forth huge sums of money to stop him.
Trump, as Hillary Clinton before him, likely genuinely believes the election was stolen from him. What was done after the last election was egregious; although Clinton conceded, even as late as last month she was out complaining that Trump was an illegitimate president, and a resistance was built inside the government to oppose the Trump administration from the start. Democrat Stacey Abrams has never conceded her 2018 gubernatorial race in Georgia; she even drove it into a movement to increase voter turnout.
Despite spending $45 million, the Mueller investigation found no evidence of any Trump-Russia collusion; subsequent disclosures reveal those theories were cooked up by a Democratic-paid oppo research operation that influenced the FBI and the CIA. The Hunter Biden laptop detailing the money split on potential Chinese-backed business deals and the transfer to him of millions of dollars from Russian and Ukrainian interests were real, according to the New York Post reporting. Although the Hunter Biden story was dismissed as “Russian disinformation” by the Biden campaign, it has never been thoroughly probed — and 57 percent of those polled would like to see it investigated further and basic questions answered about it.
However, the idea that vote totals with programmed algorithms designed to cheat the public of duly cast votes has neither credible evidence to support it nor enough evidence to even suspect that it occurred. Every day that Trump and his team hold out theories like this is a day that he undermines what he was right about. And while his protests are not a political Armageddon, they are not likely to go anywhere, either. He was outfoxed on mail-in votes, lost the biggest issue, and made the election all about himself with no second-term agenda. He lost.
The public would like to see some election reforms going forward. Only 29 percent want another election run like this one. They want much tighter procedures on mail-in ballots, and to have ballots tabulated within three days of the election; they oppose allowing open-ended periods for mailed ballots to arrive.
In one of my favorite movies, “Citizen Kane,” the zillionaire candidate for governor had two newspaper front pages prepared for publication after the votes were tabulated — “Kane wins” and “Fraud at Polls.” Seems like there are a lot of Charles Foster Kanes out there these days.
Mark Penn is a managing partner of the Stagwell Group, a global organization of digital-first marketing companies, as well as chairman of the Harris Poll and author of “Microtrends Squared.” He also is CEO of MDC Partners, an advertising and marketing firm. He served as pollster and adviser to former President Clinton from 1995 to 2000, including during Clinton’s impeachment. You can follow him on Twitter @Mark_Penn.
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