On November 3, 2020, tens of millions of Americans likely will have already voted, while tens of millions more will be standing on lines to cast their ballots for federal, state, and local races. Elections in the United States House of Representatives and the United States Senate are vital, and it is impossible to deny that predicting the results of the elections is possible. Right now, for example, conventional wisdom dictates that the House will likely remain under Democratic control, while the Senate is a tossup and could go in either direction. These predictions are possible based on several factors, including the state of the economy, and more recently the two issues dominating the American discourse. These issues are the COVID-19 Pandemic/Great Lockdown, and the reckoning on the issue of race, which has dominated the news cycle with hundreds of inspiring protests and reforms put in place at a local level, as well as horrific instances of violence that will no doubt help to decide the election.
This conventional wisdom, while never certain, can in this case be backed up by facts and polling numbers, especially concerning the most important election of the year, that for President of the United States. Had these two issues not developed, it is likely that the election would remain close, but the advantage would have been the incumbent’s. President Donald Trump would have had a relatively successful economy to campaign on, and while he would have policy missteps, it would have meant a shot at a second term in the White House. However, like everything, 2020 has turned the election upside down.
The economic recovery and growth of the Obama administration that extended into the Trump administration have all but vanished, while nearly 200,000 American lives have been lost in the fourth-deadliest event in American history. Finally, the issue of police brutality and systematic racism have emerged from the darkness and created some of the largest protests since the days of the Civil Rights Movement. With this development, Donald Trump’s chances of being elected to a second term have diminished greatly. His fragile approval rating has been decimated by this crisis, with his handling of these issues widely criticized and the public’s support for him during the national emergency wiped out after months of poor management. Although in any other election he would have benefitted from his incumbency, now, those advantages are all but gone. In simple terms, it is far more likely at this point that Donald Trump will join the ranks of one-term presidents, and there is significant evidence to back that fact up.
The greatest argument against the re-election of Donald Trump is his polling numbers against former Vice President Joe Biden. Although credibility in polling after the shock of the 2016 Presidential election cast some level of doubt on the accuracy of the polls, the 2020 Presidential election is surrounded by a completely different set of circumstances. For example, despite Hillary Clinton’s consistent lead over Donald Trump up to November 8, 2016, Trump was at this point in that election never further than three or four points behind and before that nearly tied with her after the Republican National Convention in July 2016. Although experts believed her victory was guaranteed by her consistency in leading the polls, all it took was Trump surging upwards by several points in the last week of the election to claim victory. The same cannot be said about the 2020 elections. Whereas 2016 was characterized by a close race where both candidates bobbed up and down, 2020 simply sees a consistent and extensive lead for former Vice President Joe Biden. While Clinton never polled above 50% in the polls before the election, Biden’s lead has remained consistent at 52% since the Democratic National Convention. Trump’s numbers, meanwhile have been stuck at 45% for the last month, a decline from the 46% he enjoyed before the Republican National Convention, this all according to Nate Silver’s 538, which aggregates national polling.
Although the national popular vote is not the key to victory, statewide polling is direr for President Trump. In Pennsylvania, Biden leads with 50% against Trump’s 45% according to another aggregate, ElectoralVote, while Michigan shows Biden with a 50% lead against Trump’s 43%, and Wisconsin shows Biden at 50% against Trump’s 44%. These three states, which all went for Donald Trump by less than one percent each, all count up to forty-six electoral votes. This is enough electoral votes for Biden to win the election. Further complicating matters for Trump is polling in Arizona, which according to the aggregate shows Biden with a 48% lead against Trump’s 43%, while Florida and Georgia, both holding a large amount of electoral votes, have Biden ahead by two points and one point, respectively. Even in Ohio, a state that had been trending to the right in recent elections, Biden has been polling at 51% against Trump’s 47%. What’s more, traditionally Republican states such as Iowa, North Carolina, and Texas are all within the margin of error, while Kansas, Montana, and Tennessee are seeing a loss in support for Trump. While polling is likely to shift in the final two months of the election, Biden has been polling at greater margins than Clinton ever did in the 2016 elections.
The issue of incumbency, meanwhile, benefited past presidents. In 1996 President Bill Clinton coasted to victory with successful handling of the budget, economy, and the Bosnian War, and his reputation had yet to be tarnished by his sex scandals. Assisting him in re-election was the lackluster candidate Bob Dole. President George W. Bush in 2004 likewise was praised for his handling of the 9/11 attacks, while the two-front War on Terror had yet to become extremely unpopular. At the same point in Bush’s term, he enjoyed a 52% approval rating. Finally, President Barack Obama in 2012, while criticized for the slow economic recovery, had a 50% approval rating at the same point in his term and was still credited with bringing the economy back from the brink during the Great Recession. Unless a miracle occurs between now and the election, Donald Trump’s chances of re-election are shrinking. It is very easy to tear down the popularity of a president, and at the same time very difficult to repair it. Ultimately, short of a hastened economic recover by November 3, 2020, coupled with the COVID-19 Pandemic disappearing or well on the way out for the entire country, re-election for Trump is unlikely.
Elections ultimately are never a sure thing. Scandals can destroy a candidate’s chances, or a crisis outside of their control can emerge out of nowhere to devastate their chances. The last election had Donald Trump’s Access Hollywood tapes which for a time made it seem like his chances of victory had completely vanished, but weeks later, FBI Director James Comey informed Congress of a new investigation into Hillary Clinton less than two weeks before the election likely saved the election for the New York businessman. It appears that 2020 could likely see several events like this that could completely change the dynamics of the election. The events of the last week, with Bob Woodward having recorded eighteen interviews with President Trump where he admitted he knew the severity of the COVID-19 Pandemic and deliberately downplayed it would be devastating to any other candidate.
With close to 200,000 Americans dead from this national crisis and that number likely to continue going up, a scandal such as that goes beyond poor character or legal issues, and instead enters the territory of poor decisionmaking while on the job, and in this case on a massive scale. It is to soon to determine what the impact of this scandal means for the election, but at a time where Donald Trump needs a massive victory to recover his polling numbers, this is likely to dig the hole he is in much deeper. Whereas in 2016 he had the advantage of being an outsider and a non-politician with no record to defend, now in 2020 the opposite is true. With the national unemployment rate at 8.4% and the economy shrunk by 32.9%, and the COVID-19 Pandemic now the fourth-deadliest event in American history, behind only the Second World War, American Civil War, and the Spanish Flu Pandemic, Trump’s record is at best poor. Although he still has two months to argue for being re-elected, those chances are quickly diminishing.