Wednesday, October 21, 2020


We have yet to hear a single responsible adult come right out and say that Joseph R. Biden will be the next president. Why? Because even at this late date, there are several indications that President Trump still has a chance to win.

First, Mr. Trump seems to be narrowing the gap in Pennsylvania and Florida, and Mr. Biden has been unable to put the president away in Arizona and North Carolina. After being behind in Pennsylvania by 6.6% in the Real Clear Politics average of polls on July 21, Mr. Trump is now down only 3.7%. Similarly, on July 21, Mr. Biden sported a 6.4% lead in Florida. That has now shrunk to 1.6%. On July 20, Mr. Biden led in Arizona by 2.8%; on Oct. 20, that lead is a statistically similar 3.1%. In North Carolina, Mr. Biden leads by 2.3%, about the same as on July 21.

The situation in Arizona and Pennsylvania must be especially disconcerting to the Biden campaign, which believes that its most likely pathway to victory is winning Arizona and Pennsylvania, both of which went for Mr. Trump in 2016.

In addition to those numbers, the University of Southern California-Dornsife tracking survey presents a series of results that are not immediately obvious. That tracking poll has had results on the high side of average — on Oct. 20, it showed Mr. Biden ahead by 11%.

But when they asked about for whom the respondents’ social contacts intended to vote, Mr. Biden’s advantage shrank to 6.5%. When asked for whom their state was likely to vote, the advantage shrank even more, to just 2.2%.

The USC respondents seem to be trying to tell us that while they may have made up their minds, they think their friends and neighbors have not. It is equally possible that they are projecting their own uncertainties onto their friends and neighbors. Either way, it is not good news for the Biden camp.

One final set of numbers from USC is worth thinking about. When asked about voting in Senate races, respondents have bounced around the center line, tilting very slightly (1.16%) toward the Democrats as of Oct. 20.

Taken together, these numbers suggest that the Senate races are close (they are), and the presidential race is probably close as well. There is no way Mr. Trump is losing by 11% while the Senate races are that close.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, in a survey conducted toward the end of September, Gallup asked respondents whether they are better off than they were four years ago. More than half (56%) said they were. That same percentage — 56% — indicated that they expected Mr. Trump to win again in November.

If you are better off now than four years ago, under an administration featuring Mr. Biden, the question of why you would switch horses back begs itself.

Additionally, expectations about who is likely to win are traditional indicators of voting behavior. If you think your candidate is going to lose, why bother voting?

That leads to a final thought.

The rule of thumb among campaign operatives is that candidates who want to do something always beat candidates who think it’s their turn or their right to have the office in question.

Mr. Biden is running a campaign devoid of content, and it is almost nearly devoid of the candidate’s presence. Mr. Trump, on the other hand, is running a campaign based partially on some of his achievements in the first term. It is not much as far as content, but it is more than Mr. Biden has offered.

The lack of a campaign translates directly into voter enthusiasm. This campaign has devolved into a referendum on Mr. Trump. That’s unavoidable at this point. The problem for the Biden team is that voters are rarely energized by voting against something or someone.

In a close election, the energy of the Trump voters, combined with the campaign’s patient and careful cultivation of a ground game, might be the difference.

• Michael McKenna, a columnist for The Washington Times, is the president of MWR Strategies. He was most recently a deputy assistant to the president and deputy director of the Office of Legislative Affairs at the White House.

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