Opinion | White House

Did Donald Trump deliver to voters with that last debate performance?

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the view of The Hill

The final debate was a much less raucous and more coherent discussion than the first debate. Yet this will likely not alter the race between Donald Trump and Joe Biden, as over 50 million Americans have voted early, then so few Americans who remain undecided. The performance by Trump was measured and focused on his narrative. He likely reassured any remaining undecided voters plus moderate voters who may have been discouraged by his chaos with the first debate that he is still in the race.

But with the election just over a week away, Biden is ahead of Trump both across the country and in swing states. The window of Trump to shake up the race in his favor was closing even before the final debate. Biden held his ground and delivered a steady but average performance. That was all he needed to maintain his position. Yet victory for Biden is not a forgone conclusion. There remains a chance that Trump could stage a comeback that is reminiscent of his upset over Hillary Clinton in 2016.

While Biden is ahead at the moment, polls show the race could be closer than many suggested. The national lead of Biden is stronger than that of Clinton at this stage in 2016. It is double what Clinton had 10 days before the election, according to Real Clear Politics. Biden is now about 8 points ahead of Trump, while Clinton was 4 points ahead of Trump. Further, this national lead of Biden throughout the campaign has been consistent and robust, whereas the polls were much more volatile in 2016.

Biden also holds margins among critical constituencies that Trump won in 2016, including seniors, white voters, and suburban voters, that are much stronger than Clinton had. With far fewer undecided voters this year, and millions of Americans who have voted early, there is less of a chance that undecided voters will decide on Trump at the last minute.

Further, Clinton faced a very uncertain road to the White House. She was unpopular and ran as an extension of Barack Obama at a time when many Americans wanted a change. Clinton also faced criticism over her private email server and the Benghazi attacks. She had an October surprise when James Comey announced that he had resumed that investigation into her private email server just over a week before the election.

Yet Biden does not have most of these hurdles. His personal ratings are positive as he runs as the change agent against an incumbent president who many Americans believe has failed to manage the coronavirus that has upended all our lives. The recent October surprise stories about the foreign business deals of Hunter Biden also do not appear as if they will play a vital role in the race as voters look to other issues.

Despite this advantage of Biden, polls for swing states suggest the race could be tighter than is evident. Biden has been slightly behind in swing states compared to Clinton at this stage in 2016, according to Real Clear Politics. Biden has ranged from the same position as Clinton for this time to about 1 point behind her in the polls for the last week.

In his miscue in the final debate, Biden made one comment about closing down the oil industry that can turn away undecided voters for competitive races this year, notably in Texas and Pennsylvania. Biden tried to clarify his comment later that night, when he said he would "get rid of subsidies" for fossil fuels but would not "get rid of fossil fuels" entirely.

It is unclear whether this comment could alter the race. Biden is aligned with public opinion on climate change, as a recent Pew Research Center survey found 68 percent of voters said climate change is a critical factor in their decision for the race. While most signs point to victory for Biden, another upset by Trump is within the realm of possibility.

Douglas Schoen is a consultant who served as an adviser to President Bill Clinton and to the campaign of Mayor Michael Bloomberg. His latest book was "Collapse: A World in Crisis and the Urgency of American Leadership."

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