In recent weeks, despite national polls showing Biden maintaining his edge, most pundits consider the race has tightened. Indeed, the Biden campaign implicitly admitted the race was narrowing by having their candidate come out of the basement and campaign in-person.
One could say the race has shifted since the party’s conventions. The DNC and RNC held their conventions back to back and the data on whether either party benefited is a mix. Polling shows the DNC resulted in no bounce for Biden. For Trump, despite showcasing his party’s push to woo female suburban moderates and black voters, whatever bounce he might have gotten from the convention is likely fading.
What likely has altered the trajectory of the race are protests in Portland and Kenosha, after a policeman shot a black man in the back when he resisted arrest. While Trump had already decided his campaign would focus on law and order, numerous polls showing Biden still leading indicate Americans are worried about the violence in American cities.
Many analysts and the media have figured this is a last gasp by the Trump campaign to pander to suburban, female voters. But, rather, it seems Trump’s team has decided the path to victory does not reside in winning back wayward Republicans. Instead, they are going all in on a campaign based on law and order sprinkled with economic populism which does not challenge economic elites enough to scare their support away.
Again, national polls are stagnant. But, it is the battleground state polls showing a clear movement to the President. Trump has retaken the lead in North Carolina and Georgia, he is neck and neck in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, and he may have a better shot in Minnesota than suspected.
Recent events, mentioned above, such as protests, police shootings, and COVID -19 may be driving some movement in the polls. Bu, more than anything else, it seems the divergent strategies of the candidates are altering the course of the campaign. Whereas Trump is seemingly going all in on his populist appeal which arguably won him the election in 16 (globalization, trade, location, identify), Democrats seem to have learned nothing from 2016.
Democrats have long assumed Joe Biden’s blue-collar roots would be enough to get him enough support with these voters, combined with white college educated elites and minorities, across the finish line. Indeed, at the DNC, the party seemed so comfy with Biden’s stature among these voters their entire convention was a parade of former elected officials (elites) telling us how Trump was bad.
Say what you will about the RNC but at least it set the stage for Trump to return to his populist roots. Yes, they tried to woo female voters by assuring them the President was not terrible. But, on the other hand, they mixed this theme with tales of Trump appealing to blue-collar workers and looking out for them in a rigged system. Days after the RNC, six Democratic mayors in Minnesota endorsed Trump, a reflection of the campaign’s strategy.
Biden’s camp, seems to be seeing this alarming numbers. Their candidate has come out of hiding to campaign. But, on the populist issues Biden could pivot to, taxes, regulation, healthcare, the campaign has made no shift. Indeed, Biden pledged, right before the DNC, he would not raise taxes on those over $400K. To the urban and suburban elites who are in the party’s column, the move is welcome news. But, to the blue-collar voters in swing states, it is hard not to see this as anything other than a Democratic candidate catering to his base.
The same issues which plagued Clinton in the waning days of the campaign seem to be coming back to haunt Biden. Biden is stuck because of the party’s increasingly upstairs-downstairs coalition. He cannot economically argue against the interests of his party’s upscale voters and elites and appeal to downscale voters – particularly minorities.
Indeed, academics have picked up on this divide in the Democratic Party for the last decade. But, Trump has been the first GOP candidate to exploit it so brutally and he is doing so to deadly impact again. A subtext of the RNC was Trump’s appeal to black men and blue-collar minorities. Pollsters have picked up on the fact the President is running ahead among minorities this election vs. 2016 (but is running further behind among college educated white voters) and the campaign has noted.
Trump’s campaign after the RNC seems to be running on all cylinders. How else can one describe the Trump campaign’s move to enact a moratorium on evictions via a law passed in 1944 meant to give the government extraordinary powers during a pandemic? But, there is a twist. It does not forgive late payments but simply delays it as the tenant is eventually responsible for paying the landlord what they owe. This means the GOP’s economic elite remain unalarmed but see the political benefit of the move.
For Biden, cruising to the White House is looking less and less likely as Clinton learned. Biden is actually running behind Clinton’s numbers in battleground states even as he has a larger national lead (an indication his gains among college educated whites are more consolidated in already blue states).
More polling and time is necessary to see just how much the race has shifted. But, finally, lacking COVID to hide behind, Biden’s campaign is stalling, and the Trump campaign seems to be hitting its stride.
The caveat to this is Trump. In the final three weeks of 2016, he ran an extremely disciplined campaign where he kept a laser like focus on the failures of Democratic elite economic policies. What is less clear is if he can do it again. But, if he does, he might just surprise the political world once again.