TRUMP-BIDEN 2020: An Important Election
By Joaquín Perez
A serious problem that affects political election analysts is their tendency to assume that they can accurately predict the future results of an electoral event, but in reality, it is not uncommon that events and the numeric results of polls are misinterpreted resulting in unexpected electoral results.
A case in point is the 2016 United States presidential election. All polls suggested that Hillary Clinton would be the winner and, in fact, she was the winner of the popular vote, that is, the actual votes cast by the totality of citizens. Nevertheless, because the U.S, federal electoral system is a system based on indirect voting the prediction of the analysts were upset and Donald Trump turned out to be the winner of the election.
In the U.S. electoral system, the citizens don't vote directly for the candidates. Their vote, referred to as the “popular vote”, goes towards electing a number of delegates(electors) from each state that constitute the so-called Electoral College, and it is this Electoral College which in turn elects the president. A candidate may collect the highest number of popular votes (as it was the case in the 2000 presidential election that gave Governor George W. Bush the presidency against Vice-President Al Gore; and again in the 2016 election that gave the presidency to Donald Trump against Secretary Hillary Clinton), but the votes that really count for the election of the president are the ones cast by the electors in the Electoral College independently of the results of the original “popular” vote.
In this upcoming election, President Donald Trump, the candidate for re-election from the Republican party, will face Vice-President Joseph (Joe) Biden, who is the challenger from the Democratic party.
When a strategist runs a campaign for a candidate, the most important he wants for his candidate is that he be well known and known to be good. And it is these two factors that the polls would be showing from time to time. So, let's take a look at what the polls and the economic numbers are telling us about the current electoral landscape. Donald Trump is very well known, but his image is not good. Of the last five presidents, he has been the worst rated by citizens in the third year of his first term in office, as you can see in this chart:
In a recent poll in April of 2020 an agency of the Quinnipiac University, well known in the electoral world, tells us that 41% of the voters like him, but 52% don’t. This measure, often a predictor of the election result, tells us that a majority of potential voters dislike him. - In other words, the poll suggests that, as of the day of the poll, there was an 11 points margin of votes against him, and that could have been the election result if the election had been held today.
But why, you may ask, are these numbers so bad? - I'll try to list some of the causes.
- Polarization in the country. Trump has divided this country into two groups: those who support him and those who are not with him. This is easily demonstrated from the results of a Gallup's survey from March 18, that shows that 91% of Republicans support him, whereas 93% of the Democrats, reject him. There are almost no undecided persons in these matches. This result indicates that there is a strong political divide, because both support and rejection are very high. In addition, an it also indicates something worse, a tremendous polarization without any bridges of communication between parties or within supporters of the political world.
- His inability to surround himself with the best. Trump has surrounded himself with, according with their resumes, inefficient and questionable people. The turnover among the main members of his government has been exceptionally high, as we see in this chart.
IN THREE YEARS
JOB DESCRIPTION APOINTEES
Chief of Staff 4
Sub Chief of Staff 5
Communications Director 6
Press Secretary 4
National Security Agency Assistant 4
National Security Agency Sub-Assistant 5
Out of his original group of presidential campaign officers, Roger Stone, Michael Cohen, Paul Manafort, Rick Gates, Michael Flynn, George Papadopoulos, Alex van der Zwaan, Richard Pinedo and Sam Patten, are either in prison or about to get to prison.
- His unfulfilled campaign promises. One of the key promises of his campaign was that he would grow the economy at a rate of 4% a year. He also promised that he would create more jobs than anyone else, that he would solve North Korea's problem as a nuclear power, and that he would solve the problem of immigrants by building, among other things, a large wall on the Mexican border that would be paid for by Mexicans.
-Let's look at the rate of economic growth. Instead of growing at 4% annually, as promised, the United States has grown at an average of 2.5%, and never anywhere close to 5%. Negro: verifica estas estadísticas
-As for jobs creation, during President Obama's last three years, 6.91 million new jobs were created, more than the 5.85 million created in Trump's first three years. (Figures taken from Pew Research Center)
-President Trump's average monthly job creation has been 182,000 jobs. Over the same months, the Obama administration created an average of 224,000 jobs, 42,000 more than Trump. (Figures taken from Pew Research Center)
-During his campaign, on the MSNBC's morning program, he promised that he would never go to North Korea and, during the eighth presidential debate, indicated that China would have to be the one dealing with the problem of North Korea as an atomic power nation. But, once in the presidency, he visited North Korea and excluded China from negotiations. Furthermore, North Korea has not given up its nuclear program and, on the contrary, it continues to execute projectile launches capable of carrying atomic charges.
-The promised immigration program has been developed with shades of racism, basically against Latinos, and against the economic reality of the country since by 2035, 15 years from now, we will need 38.5 million immigrants. This number, when added to the 24.6 million children of immigrants that we expect to have by then and the 120.1 million of American children of non-immigrant Americans, will complete the 183.2 million workers that the country will need for our Social Security program to remain viable as a source of income for the elderly.
- Finally, his fundamental promise was to build a wall on the southern border and that Mexico would pay for it. To this day, some parts of the old wall have been repaired, and the Americans are paying for it.
- And I must also mention the catastrophe that is scourging us and will affect the election results and which will affect us at all levels: the pandemic.
Trump is gambling with his re-election right now. He is forever appearing on television every day trying to appear as the great leader the country needs. But he is taking a big risk. If people's perception is that the situation is bad or that it has been mishandled, this will totally fall to him. There's a big difference between constantly appearing in public and disappearing from the scene. Generally speaking, a candidate who is always present has the advantage against a candidate who appears infrequently, especially at a time when voters are desperately seeking guidance and comfort. - If the one in that position succeeds in becoming the leader that is needed at the time, he will become invincible. On the other hand, the one that is not present will be diluted in public opinion.
But what has President Trump's actions been like during this crisis?
a) First, he dismantled the White House office dedicated to pandemics. And he hasn't been able to clearly explain why he did it. Rather his answers have been evasive or attacking the one who asks about this subject.
b) His first position was to classify the epidemic as a "hoax", despite the fact that he either knew or should have known precisely the catastrophe we were facing thanks to the information that many advisers had advanced to him since January, especially by Peter Navarro, his economic adviser.
c) His second reaction was to say that this pandemic was a small problem that would go away in a matter of days. The sad truth is that delaying action when the virus was already here condemned the country to a greater and unnecessary damage that could have been avoided. President Trump paid more attention to political prudence than to scientific urgency, and that resulted in precious time wasted and a corresponding increase of both infected people and deaths.
d) It has permanently raised the issue of aid to states as a process of political competition. Although it may have ultimately helped governors and states, the appearances are that the process either didn’t work or was not done right.
e) Ordered a sort of partial curfew, then called it away, and then suggested it again.
f) He has hinted, against the opinion of his own scientific advisers, that it is time to return to work.
g) On several occasions he has said that Hydroxychloroquine, a drug that has been used since 1955 to combat lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and some resistant strains of malaria, was able to cure coronavirus, which is not proven.
h) He also said that Google had a fabulous program to expedite the process of lab testing. The very next day, top Google executives refuted the news.
i) He has repeatedly said that tests to detect whether someone was infected or not would be available to any potential carrier, anytime, anywhere. This is critical, as lab tests are needed to establish whether the pandemic is starting, stable, increasing, or decreasing. This, however, hasn't been possible thus far.
j) The President has to make a fundamental decision, the most important in his life, as he said in a statement: To reopen the economy. This will slowly begin to help the economic crisis and will allow the country to, eventually, return to normal. But if that decision is made early, the infection rate will explode again even without people coming in the nation from other places, since the virus is already here, everywhere, in a dormant condition.
k) Apparently the President, for these and other reasons, is losing the battle of public opinion. Initially, poll numbers favored him. On March 24, 2020, a Gallup poll gave the President 60% approval for his handling of the crisis. Nearly 20 days later, an ABC/Ipsos poll showed a 16-point drop in that same question. According to that consultation, only 44% of voters approved of the president's crisis management.
In view of this reality, it's not surprising that 12 pollsters now give the Democratic party nominee a 6-point lead at this point.
The case of Joe Biden as a Democratic candidate is also worthy of study. After the first three primaries held in the states of Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada Biden had placed fourth in two of them and second in the other. These results were to be expected because the winning candidates had been working those states for years. But campaign financiers don't believe in road stories. The one who doesn't win, doesn’t get the money. So, when Biden arrived in South Carolina he was in terrible condition. He had no cattle, no resources, no land structure, and was falling in the polls. - But that was when, what we can call a miracle, happened. The endorsement of Congressional Representative James Clyburn, the most important political player in that state, gave him a crushing victory. Then, some of the candidates that had been in the contest decided to quit and support him. The results of the later primaries only confirmed the avalanche, which as an electoral phenomenon, is the best thing that can happen to a candidate.
Before Napoleon appointed a Marshal of the French Army, the first thing he asked was: "Il a de la chance", which in English means "Is he lucky?" That happens in political campaigns, too. In the 1948 American elections Harry Truman ran as the Democratic nominee. He had in his favor the fact that he had ended the war with Japan, but in the South he was not well seen because of his position in favor of the civil rights of African-Americans so, in general, his image was not quite as good when compared to the image left by Roosevelt. Furthermore, the fact that his opponent was the governor of the state of New York did not help either. So obvious was that perception that the polls had him as a loser. Truman did not lose faith, and began to travel all over the country by train, in an almost clandestine campaign, from village to village. On Election Day the Chicago Tribune had prepared an extra edition ahead of time: "Dewey Beats Truman". When the votes counted, Truman won by two million votes.
Something similar can happen with Biden, a candidate who has extensive experience as a politician, as a senator and as Vice President of Barack Obama, and who currently enjoys a 60% liking in the main polls. Biden also embodies the center of the political spectrum, who gives peace of mind and comes from a working middle-class family from the northern states that almost always have voted for the Democrats, but voted mostly for Trump the last time around.
But it's not all rosy for Biden's candidacy. Trump is a wizard in media management. He's been on screen continuously for three years. Its anti-immigrant position and tax cut is accepted publicly or privately by many of the Northern and Southern white Americans, who are the majority of voters.
Biden was attacked by Trump and his supporters for nepotism. One of Biden’s sons achieved a very well-paid position in Ukraine. Although the investigations have exonerated him, and the Ukrainian government has not taken sides, the accusation is easy to understand and can be very effective in a campaign where the other candidate will have infinite resources to mount negative campaigns using this issue. However, the attack may have taken place too early, and all the events that happened in the country ever since may have diluted the impact that such an attack would have caused if it had seen the first light just two weeks before the election.
Another weakness Biden’s candidacy may have is the support of Catholics. In past elections, Catholic Latinos voted for Clinton at 67 percent, while white Catholics voted 60 percent in Trump's favor. Abortion is the central issue. Many Democrats say women should have full control over their body and the freedom to decide when to suspend a pregnancy. For us Catholics the decision is simple, life begins with conception and abortion is a crime. For Catholic politicians, the issue is not so simple. Traditionally they have expressed, Biden included, their opposition to abortion, but the need to respect the law as it exists. Biden has added that he cannot impose his beliefs on others. His Senate record indicates that he has always respected this principle and that many times he has voted against laws that support abortion or its funding. But that position is regarded as too soft by some Catholics and representatives of the clergy and hierarchy. Not long ago, a priest denied him communion. On the other hand, that position is sufficiently contrary to abortion that Democrats who support and defend women's right to choose may consider him unreliable.
Well, that is where we are. It will be a short campaign, because of the pandemic; and it will be conflictive. Voting by mail could help with the logistics associated with the “social separation” under the pandemic circumstances we encounter, but it could be quite a problem, since Trump does not like it, he makes sure that everyone knows he does not want it, and he knows that his audience likes the fight. And to make it more complex, the elections will take place in the midst of social and economic uncertainty.
Stay tuned. The polls will tell us and the media will keep us informed.
Director of Instituto Jesuita Pedro Arrupe.
Member of the Board of the Ignatian Spirituality Center.