Could the Polls be Hiding a Trump Landslide?
There seems to be a belief that if Joe Biden continues to campaign from the basement, demur from the debates entirely, he will be in a better position to beat Trump in the fall. This is a dangerous strategy to follow. Though it appears to be tempting. In an arresting column, New York Post’s Michael Goodwin explains the quandary that confronts Joe Biden and his handlers. For Biden, “these are the best of days.” He is “riding high in the polls, he has a long list of Democrats scrambling to be his running mate, while others offer themselves for plum cabinet posts.”
Perhaps even more important, he enjoys a “comfortable lead over Trump” and is “almost exactly where Hillary Clinton was four years ago.” While Clinton at this point in her campaign commanded a seven-point lead, according to the same pollsters at Real Clear Politics, Biden is 7.4 points ahead of Trump. Despite these advantages, according to Goodwin, Biden faces three tough ninety-minute debates. Unfortunately for Joe, he has never been a verbally adept speaker who thinks quickly on his feet: “Recall that his best debate performances were mediocre and he did so badly in the first primaries that going into South Carolina the smart money said he had to win big or go home.”
Now Biden’s rhetorical problems and history of unsettling gaffes are complicated by the widespread idea that he “is cognitively unfit to be president.” If he debates Trump, the thought goes, he may therefore be unmasked as a senile candidate. It would then become obvious that “the Biden campaign and the entire establishment of the Democratic Party are prepared to foist a seriously impaired man into the Oval Office.” This may be the reason, explains Goodwin, that Biden’s “media Praetorian Guard,” starting with Tom Friedman at the New York Times, are floating the idea that Biden should not debate Trump. Since the former Vice President has held a steady lead while remaining in his basement and taking softball questions from friendly journalists, why expose him to a dangerous situation for which he is unprepared? Unfortunately, as Goodwin notes, the public expects presidential debates to take place, if only “to establish a baseline test of readiness and competence” for candidates. What this means is that if Biden’s handlers and the over solicitous media induce him to back out, “the impact would be all the more dramatic.”
Although Goodwin underlines the painful choices facing Biden’s ‘advisers,’ he may be understating the extent of this dilemma. There is no reason to think that Biden even now is “riding high” or enjoying a “comfortable lead.” While Biden may be leading according to Real Clear Politics or Fox News polls, as Joseph Cotto has argued in Chronicles, these poll results are not without potential flaws. Rasmussen, Axios, and Democracy Institute show trends that should disturb the Biden campaign.
Trump is already close on Biden’s heels, enjoys a majority approval rating, and his staff are registering new voters in battleground states at a much more rapid clip than the Democrats. Cotto indicates that many polls have under-sampled Republican voters or don’t confine themselves to likely ones. In a similar trend to the 2016 election, Trump voters are reluctant to tell pollsters whom they plan to vote for; and election analysts have started to speculate on the “hidden Trump vote.”
Major polling companies also employ researchers who are openly anti-Trump or outright Democrats. In any case major polling companies employ few workers who are sympathetic to the president, which may allow for a bias in the results of their polling. Although the polls cited by Goodwin may be on target, there is more than a slight chance that they are not. And if that is the case, then Biden’s handlers are dealing with bigger problems than even Goodwin lays out.
Biden’s staffers assure us that even if voters are generally unenthusiastic about Biden, the widespread disapproval of Trump will carry them across the finish line. But if Rasmussen is right and Trump’s approval rating is now at 51 percent, a recent prediction in the British Economist that Biden will run away with the electoral college as well as the popular vote seems wildly premature. We may wonder whether the Dems can count on a tidal wave of anti-Trump feeling or Trump’s verbal impulsiveness to bring their side victory.
Moreover, the public has been treated to endless conspiracy stories about Trump for the last four years, and these attacks may be wearing. When black Democratic Congressman James Clyburn recently hammered Trump for ruling like the Gestapo and compared him to Hitler, Clyburn’s tirades hardly registered. The public has heard this stuff multiple times before, and whatever passions anti-Trump rants have produced do not seem likely to become greater between now and the first week in November.
Biden enters the debates as an aging, inarticulate presidential candidate who carries the baggage of being a Washington politician for fifty years, and who has taken multiple favors from foreign governments. It also seems he was knee-deep in surveillance operations against the staff of incoming President Trump by the outgoing Obama administration. Such unsettling matters are likely to come up in debates.
Finally, it is doubtful that Biden in a public debate will be able to get away with giving answers by snarling at unwanted questions. This might be working in his basement campaign but won’t work in a national debate, especially when there are questions about his mental capacities.
Paul Gottfried is the editor-in-chief of Chronicles. He is also Raffensperger Professor of Humanities Emeritus at Elizabethtown College, where he taught for 25 years, a Guggenheim recipient, and a Yale Ph.D. He is the author of 13 books, most recently Fascism: Career of a Concept and Revisions and Dissents.