I recently kicked-off my absurdly early coverage of the 2020 Democratic primary, necessitated by the absurdly large field. (It reached 22 candidates as of yesterday!) Since today is officially 18 months until 11/3/20, it seemed absurdly early/fair to give the other side its share. Don’t worry, this will be quick!
What I primarily want to touch base on is the perception/paralyzing fear that Trump will be reelected. I hear this among Left/Progressive friends even from people I consider to be very politically savvy. This puzzles me. Because, while we definitely shouldn’t lull ourselves into a false sense that beating him will be easy, or a sure thing, the alternate idea that he’s an inevitable victor is BAL-DER-DASH!!!!!!
Exhibit one, Trump’s approval rating compared to other recent Presidents at the same point in their first term (courtesy of 538):
He’s below Obama and Clinton, who were popularly thought to be in potential trouble at this point. He’s much more like Carter and Ford, who were in fact going on to lose. He’s the ONLY President in 70 years who’s NEVER been above 50% approval. About his only glimmer of hope above is Reagan, but Reagan was mired in a recession at the time, and rebounded sharply when the economy improved. Trump has these numbers in a (however shallowly spread the gains are) expansion.
Somewhere right now someone is starting in with the “Oh yeah, the polls were so accurate in 2016, weren’t they?” Stop. Because they actually were, as much as one could expect them to be. RCP’s final average was Clinton +3, actual was Clinton +2:
They polls, en-mass were nowhere near off enough to make one think that two years-plus of multiple polling firms consistently showing Trump having the worst approval ratings of any postwar President is wrong. It isn’t. He does.
Also consider that the real problem in 2016 was not that polls everywhere were off. It was polls in the Midwest being off. And even there, we see this:
The entire difference was 77,744 votes in three states. Put another way, if 38,873 voters out of 13.9 million total in those states (also know as 0.56%) had changed their minds, it would have gone differently. Now consider. Everything was this close with:
- A massive, and largely unknown, counterintelligence operation by a hostile foreign power.
- A Democratic candidate who had historically unprecedented net unfavorability numbers. Yes, largely as a result of decades of bullshit targeting by the Right, but still.
- A massive news story 11 days before the election that reactivated all the worst narratives/concerns about the Democratic candidate. (That James Comey. What a rascal!)
It’s not too hard to imagine that, being on the lookout for the election interference this time, and if the Democratic nominee is someone who hasn’t had literal decades of Right Wing negative messaging directed against them, and isn’t in the midst of a current FBI investigation, Trump’s extremely narrow 2016 margin is in trouble. Especially considering his approval has never been above 43%, 3% lower than the 46% he “won” 2016 with.
If you assume just a 1.5% difference in 2020 through whatever combination of means (a few more disgruntled Republicans sit it out, a few more energized Democrats show up, a few more now thoroughly disgusted Independents break the other way) the map looks like this:
So, for those who imagine an easy victory for Democrats in 2020, I scream, “No! Did you learn nothing from last time? Start organizing now! Organize like your lives are on the line!” But to those who are convinced we’re doomed before we start, I again say: