Sunday, September 6, 2020


The calendar says September, signaling an end of what little frivolity the summer of pandemic offered and a start of a traditional political campaign season that looks to be anything but typical. During the next two months, Americans face a contest between an incumbent president who campaigns like the underdog he is and a favored challenger who prefers to stump from his basement. Like a football game won on a trick play as time expires, the presidency may go to the man who squeezes a last-minute rating bounce from a blip.

In the wake of the major parties’ virtual conventions, Republican Donald Trump looked for a spike in support, but the “big league” sort the president hoped to see was not to be. Democrat Joe Biden didn’t receive one, either. Antsy over nursing a lead from the bottom of the stairs, Uncle Joe has climbed and out of the house, looking to match The Donald’s whirlwind campaign style.

Pollsters from the election analysis blog FiveThirtyEight had Mr. Biden leading President Trump by 8.4 points at the start of the Democratic National Convention last month, drooping to 8.6 points when it ended. The former vice president’s lead grew to 9.3 points by the time Republicans kicked off their convention a week later, before dipping slightly to 9.1 as the final farewells faded. Since then, Mr. Trump has managed to trim his deficit to 7.3 points.

RealClearPolitics measures a similar result. Its average of seven polls gave the Democrat a 7.7-point lead as his party’s gathering commenced and measured it at 7.6 points as viewers logged off. When Republicans rallied the following week, the Biden lead stood at 7.8 and dropped to 6.9 points as the president’s acceptance speech ended. Since then, Mr. Trump has slipped further behind, with a 7.2-point gap.

Historically, convention bounces have varied between sky-high, as in Bill Clinton’s 16-point jump in 1992, and subterranean, like Mitt Romney’s 1-point backslide in 2012. With immediate gains of less than a point, the 2020 presidential competitors felt more of a gentle jostle than a bounce. With no strong push from party pageantry, the crucial consequences of coronavirus and urban violence will likely impact the standings as Election Day nears.

It would be a mistake to predict the outcome based on the current standings. In the battleground states of Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Florida, North Carolina and Arizona, the president is scoring better against Mr. Biden than he did at the same point in his 2016 race against Hillary Clinton. Mr. Trump scored his upset by winning them all. With a late bounce in the polls, he could do so again, but it might only take a blip.

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