How We Might Get This Wrong (Again)

Countdown Journal: 55 Days To Go

(Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

The state of the race, four years ago on Labor Day:

At the moment, the RealClearPolitics polling average has Clinton up 41/39 in four-way polls (with Johnson at 8% and Stein at 3%) and 46/43 in two-way polls. There is a distinct difference overall in results from live-interview polls, which tend (relatively speaking) to favor Clinton, and automated or online polls, which tend to favor Trump. (The very latest polls, however, contradict that generalization: a new CNN/ORC live-interview poll shows Trump now taking the lead over Clinton while a new NBC/Survey Monkey online tracking poll has HRC holding a steady four-point lead). 

At this point in 2016, Clinton was ahead in most of the states considered battlegrounds. She was up 8 points in Michigan and Virginia, 6 in Pennsylvania, 4 in Wisconsin, 3 in Florida and Ohio, and 2 in Nevada.

Welcome to the Daily Countdown. We have 55 days to go until the election; and then 78 days after that until Inauguration Day.

In contrast to 2016, Joe Biden has held a remarkably steady lead throughout the campaign. The latest polls show Biden with a solid national lead and smaller, but durable leads in key states, and suggest that Trump's emphasis on  "law and order" has, so far, not changed the fundamentals of the race.

But we will always have 2016 to keep us humble and on edge. I'll go over the state of the race in a bit, but thought I'd start with this: A conversation with my November 11 self.

By then, of course, we could find ourselves immersed in chaos, litigation, and recounts. But, for the moment, let's assume we have a pretty good idea of the outcome, and that Trump has once again defied expectations and is headed for a second term.

So in the interest of tempering any premature outbursts of optimism, I imagine this conversation.

Future me: How could you possibly have gotten this so wrong AGAIN?

Me: Well, the boat parades turned out to be a better leading indicator than we thought.

Future me: This is serious. What did you miss?

Me: Minnesota. I didn't take Trump's chances there seriously. And as Minnesota went, so went Wisconsin. There was one poll around Labor Day that showed Trump tied in Minnesota, but the Real Clear Politics average showed Biden up 3.7%. 

Future me: So what happened there?

Me: The same thing that happened in Wisconsin and Michigan. Trump managed to pull off small wins by running up the score in rural areas. It turns out that he did have hidden voters -- white working class supporters who didn't vote in 2016 but came out in 2020. 

We also underestimated the extent to which the pandemic and confusion over mail-in ballots disproportionately hurt Democrats.

And, again, African American and younger voters didn't turn out in the numbers Biden needed in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota.

Future me: What else did you miss?

Me: The violence and the economy. 

Inside the media/woke bubble, pundits underestimated the white backlash against urban violence. We told ourselves that the law and order pitch hadn't worked and the early polls backed that up, but when it continued, it seemed to have (a) fired up turnout in his base and (b) brought home some wobbly GOPers..

The good jobs and GDP numbers in October also helped. We had sort of discounted the fact that even when he was down, polls gave Trump an edge over Biden on the economy. People voted their 401ks. Who knew?

Future me: Were there any events that made a difference?

Me: I think most people understood that Trump's Election Eve vaccine announcement was a ruse, but I didn't expect that [BLANK] would happen during the debates.

Future Me: Anything else?

Me: I'm not sure we understood fully what was happening on social media. There may have been foreign interference, but most of the disinformation came straight from the Trump campaign and it was... everywhere. Last time around, Trump weaponized Facebook; this time he went all-in on Youtube. Even though he didn't have as much money as people expected, he got his message out --  under the media radar for the most part. 

Futrure me; So, really, how surprised are you? 

Me. Very. Even though I wrote something back on September 8 predicting that something like could happen, I didn't really believe it.


The actual state of the race? Here's Harry Enten.

The polls are reflective of a race that barely budges even after two conventions, protests and unrest in some cities over police brutality and as the nation navigates the coronavirus pandemic. Indeed, the stability of this race is record breaking when looking at polling dating back to 1940....

Biden has maintained leads not just nationally, but in the swing states that matter. He has been consistently ahead in states totaling 270 electoral votes, including the states Hillary Clinton won in 2016 and Arizona, Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Here's Nate Cohn:

This looks about right: 

So far, the law and order pitch does not seem to be working.

Quinnipiac poll found half of likely voters nationwide — 50 percent — saying Trump as president made them feel less safe, versus 35 percent who said he made them feel safer.By contrast, 42 percent said Biden made them feel safer, versus 40 percent less safe.

CNN poll found Biden leading — by a 51 percent to 46 percent margin — on who would better keep Americans safe from harm. (It also had him leading on better handling racial inequality by 18 points).

Maybe most revealing of all, Quinnipiac found 58 percent of likely voters saying the country is WORSE off today than it was four years ago.

A CBS poll over the weekend found something similar.   

Here is another variable to watch in the wake of the stories about his contempt for the "losers" and "suckers" in the military: Trump needs solid support from veterans. As Enten notes, "Trump relies on active military members and veterans as a base of support, and any degradation of that backing is bad for him. Further, Trump wants to put former Vice President Joe Biden on the defensive, and this story does the opposite of that."


This likely won't help. Trump responds to stories that he disrespects the military by attacking... the military. "Trump says Pentagon chiefs are accommodating weapons makers."

But this is the article you absolutely have to read today: David Frum: "Everyone Knows Its True.

How many wounded warriors have stepped forward to attest to Trump’s care and concern for them? How many Gold Star families have stepped forward on Trump’s behalf? How many service families? The silence is resounding. And when such voices do speak, they typically describe a president utterly lacking in empathy to grieving families, wholly uncomprehending of sacrifice and suffering.


Is Trump actually facing a cash crunch? This is amazing. "Five months later, Mr. Trump’s financial supremacy has evaporated. Of the $1.1 billion his campaign and the party raised from the beginning of 2019 through July, more than $800 million has already been spent.”


Meanwhile: "The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington's School of Medicine is predicting more than 410,000 deaths by January if mask usage stays at current rates. If governments continue relaxing social distancing requirements, that number could increase."


If this is not a scandal, it should be.

Disney filmed “Mulan” in regions across China (among other locations). In the credits, Disney offers a special thanks to more than a dozen Chinese institutions that helped with the film. These include four Chinese Communist Party propaganda departments in the region of Xinjiang as well as the Public Security Bureau of the city of Turpan in the same region — organizations that are facilitating crimes against humanity. It’s sufficiently astonishing that it bears repeating: Disney has thanked four propaganda departments and a public security bureau in Xinjiang, a region in northwest China that is the site of one of the world’s worst human rights abuses happening today.


There are 55 days to go.