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New National Poll: Biden 53%, Trump 40%

Georgetown University hired two pollsters to survey the political landscape together. One is Celinda Lake, a widely respected Democratic pollster. The other is Ed Goeas, a widely respected Republican pollster. By teaming up two pros from opposite ends of the spectrum, they got a poll that is probably as honest as one can get.

The poll found Joe Biden ahead of Donald Trump 53% to 40% among all likely voters, with only 7% undecided. Even if all the undecideds went for Trump, he would still lose badly. One subgroup is especially important. In the last poll (in Oct. 2019), white middle-class voters preferred Trump to a generic Democrat by 9 points. Now Biden leads Trump by 8 points. That's a 17-point swing away from Trump by a key demographic.

The pollsters asked about various issues. Biden leads Trump on every issue: race relations (Biden +23), COVID-19 (Biden +18), health care (Biden +18), immigration (Biden +17), foreign affairs (Biden +15), taxes (Biden +4), jobs (Biden +4), and the economy (Biden +2).

The poll also found that people are very unhappy about the direction of the country. A full 72% think it is going in the wrong direction and only 22% think it is going in the right direction. Here are the data since 2014:

Right direction/wrong direction poll

When only 22% of the voters think that the country is heading in the right direction, that is not exactly a vote of confidence in the president. And that has gone down by 13 points since the last poll. But as you can see, people have been unhappy about the direction for years. This may explain the popularity of people like Trump, but also Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). The problem is that a large fraction of the unhappy people want to move sharply to the right (MAGA) and another large fraction want to move sharply to the left (revolution). So nothing happens.

What is unusual about this poll is that both Lake and Goeas wrote up memos giving their respective takes. Here is a very brief summary of Lake's nine-page memo:

Biden is leading among men, women, voters of all races and ethnicities, and in the suburbs. He leads with voters who went with a third party in 2016. He's tied among white seniors. Trump leads with rural voters, noncollege voters, and married white women. Democrats also lead on the generic congressional ballot, but only by 6 points because they lose white voters who prefer Biden to Trump. Voters are deeply unhappy about the state of the country.

Trump's favorability is under water with Black voters (-70), Latinos (-45), millennials (-25), women (-24), and middle age voters (-18). It is above water only with high school graduates (+13) and people with some college (+2). A majority of voters (52%) think Trump's style is insulting and he has the wrong approach on policy. The coronavirus has impacted many voters economically, especially Black and Latino voters, but they know that unless the virus is defeated, the economy won't come back. If Trump can fix the economy, he has a shot at winning. What Biden needs to do is drive down Trump's numbers on the economy even more.

Here is a very brief summary of Goeas' nine-page memo:

In 2016, voters made a bargain. They accepted Trump's crude and volatile style in return for a booming economy. Now they feel he hasn't kept up his part of the bargain. In particular, white middle-class voters feel this. It is their defection that is fueling Biden's lead. In 2016, a quarter of the voters disliked both candidates. Now that is 7%. The electorate is extremely polarized, with Republicans largely approving of Trump on all the issues and Democrats disapproving on everything. The deadly combination of a stagnant economy, high unemployment, nationwide civil unrest, and a massive pandemic are leading many voters to question Trump's ability to lead. For some voters, a recession is when your neighbor loses his job. A depression is when you lose yours. For a significant portion of the electorate, we are in a depression.

Trump's path to victory is to recreate the 2016 campaign, when a quarter of all voters disliked both candidates. This means getting them to dislike Biden. Right now the race is between Trump and not Trump. He has to change that. He could also help his cause by ceding control of the COVID-19 response to experts, who might be able to manage it better than he can. He can also take some solace in that fact that only 35% of the voters say they will definitely vote for Biden, so Trump has the potential to peel off some of Biden's soft support. Currently, the electorate can be divided into four groups:
  • Trump's rock-solid base (33-34%)
  • Soft Republicans who don't like Trump but do like (some of) his policies (11-12%)
  • Independents, mostly soft Republicans and conservative Democrats (11-12%)
  • The anti-Trump base (40%)

The economy keeps coming back as the key. Trump desperately wants to rerun the 2016 campaign and brag about how great the economy is. But the voters don't see it that way. They don't like his style and demeanor or how he is handling the pandemic or civil unrest. And his performance on the economy is the dagger in his heart. He has to convince people that he alone can fix the economy. (V)

Republicans Have a Strategy for November

Donald Trump may think he is going to win reelection in the greatest landslide in history, but other Republicans know how to read their own internal polls, not to mention the public ones. They also know that all is not well less than 3 months from Election Day—and only 3½ weeks before absentee ballots are going to sent out in the key swing state of North Carolina. They need a strategy, and fast. According to Politico they have decided to use a tested and familiar playbook. It may not be bright and shiny, but has worked before. Besides, it is all they have.

The campaign will be waged differently in bright red districts and swing districts. In the solidly Republican districts (and in the right-wing media), the goal will be to get the base energized and voting. There, the Party will paint Black Lives Matter as Marxist and anti-family and try to convince voters that it will eliminate the police and leave them helpless in the face of marauding hordes of radical leftists. Low-information voters inside the Fox News and OANN bubbles might swallow this whole and risk showing up in person to vote, gambling with their lives to keep the marauding hordes at bay.

In swing districts this would never work, so the strategy is different. There, Black Lives Matter won't even be mentioned. Instead, more abstract boogeypersons will be used, like "left-wing radicals" and the "liberal mob." Note that this strategy flies completely in the face of what pollster Ed Goeas says they should be doing (see above), but old habits die hard.

The different strategies have to do with different perceptions of BLM in different areas, In white, rural districts where there are almost no Black people and voters have no idea what BLM is all about, so it is easy to paint the movement as scary monsters coming to punish white people for 200+ years of slavery. In the suburbs, the majority of voters see BLM as a movement focused on stopping white cops from killing unarmed Black men. They don't see any connection between BLM and Marxism—because there isn't any. In other words, in the red districts, the Republicans can tell any lie they want and it could work because the voters don't have any real understanding of politics, economics, and the world outside their little towns (except what Fox News and OANN tell them). In contrast, suburban voters get their information from multiple sources and have a much better view of what the world is really like. Telling them outright lies will only anger them big-time.

Part of the problem for the Republicans is that BLM is a very decentralized movement. There is no clear villain. Two of the founders, Patrisse Cullors and Alicia Garza are indeed self-described Marxists, but they are hardly generic proletariat or household names. Cullors has a B.A. from UCLA and a Masters of Fine Arts from USC. She is an artist and a playwright. We wonder who she roots for when the two schools play each other. Garza grew up in bucolic Marin County where her family ran an antiques business. She has a B.A. from UCSD in anthropology and sociology. She currently directs special projects at the National Domestic Workers Alliance. Thirty-something Black women with degrees from top universities don't make good targets, so the Republicans have to keep the scariness somewhat abstract. In case you have never seen them, here are their photos:

Patrisse Cullors + Alicia Garza

The strategy may work in the red districts, but most of those people were going to vote Republican anyway. In the suburbs, it could easily backfire—at least if there isn't much more violence between now and the election. However, there were riots and looting along the Magnificent Mile in Chicago yesterday, which plays right into Republicans' hands. A recent poll shows that in suburban areas, 62% of voters support the BLM movement. Convincing them that Black people are Marxists and a threat to their way of life is going to be a tough sell (unless riots continue and Trump can convince people that BLM caused the riots), especially when their main concern now is whether their kids are going to be able to attend school in the fall, and not who owns the means of production. (V)

Democrats Will Feature Ordinary Voters in Their Virtual Convention

The Democrats are firming up their convention plans. The convention will be entirely virtual and will run from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. EDT for four days, starting next Monday. Stephanie Cutter, who has served in many high-level positions for multiple Democrats, put the thing together as Program Executive. She said that ordinary voters will speak, including:

  • A farmer from Pennsylvania who voted for Trump but, due to his trade policies, will vote for Biden this time
  • A conservative Republican from Arizona who adamantly opposed the ACA—until he got cancer and needed it
  • A paramedic who immigrated from Mexico to Florida at 12 and got DACA protection until Trump revoked it
  • A teacher from Wisconsin who is adjusting to the challenges of teaching in the time of corona
  • A cancer survivor from Nevada who wants to save the ACA
  • A bus driver from Georgia
  • An autoworker from Michigan
  • A mother whose 13-year-old son who was shot and severely injured in 2014

The idea is to give disillusioned Trump voters "permission" to vote for Biden as well as letting various Democratic constituencies know that Uncle Joe is their man.

But fear not, there will also be plenty of politicians doing what politicians do best: emitting hot air. Among the speakers will be Bill & Hillary Clinton, Barack & Michelle Obama, Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY), and even a token Republican, former Ohio governor John Kasich. (V)

How Biden Can Win and How Biden Can Lose

Joe Baerlein, who runs a PR company in Boston and has been involved in many campaigns, has known Joe Biden personally for 20 years. He wrote a long piece for Politico about how Biden can win the election and how Biden can lose it. Here is a brief summary of his advice to Biden.

  • Stay on message: You get off message and ramble all the time. You have to make a very concerted effort to stick with three topics: (1) health care, (2) the economic fallout from COVID-19, and (3) racial justice. You are good at empathy and that should be your pitch, all day, every day. You are not going to win as a policy wonk. Hillary Clinton tried that and it didn't work. No plans for everything. Elizabeth Warren tried that and it didn't work. Just talk about ordinary people, how tough they have it, and how you are running for president to help them. Donald Trump is terrible at empathy, but it is what moves voters.

  • Watch the map: People in 50 states and D.C. get to vote. Forget 43 of them and D.C. All your efforts should be focused on seven states: the three Rust Belt states Trump unexpectedly won last time and the four Sun Belt states of Arizona, Georgia, Florida, and North Carolina. If you win them all, you get 350 electoral votes and win easily. Don't mess with Texas. It's too expensive. Don't aim at Ohio, although if you win Michigan and Pennsylvania, you get Ohio for free.

  • Focus on the present: Yeah, you were Obama's veep. People know that. They don't care. How are you going to deal with COVID-19 and fix the economy? The focus has to relentlessly be on the country's problems and what is going on now. Don't talk about the past at all.
  • Drop the ball on voting itself: Trump is going to make an enormous effort to suppress Democratic votes. Failing to respond to his every move on that front could be fatal. In Georgia, for example, Gov. Brian Kemp (R-GA) and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) will be working full time from now until the final vote is counted to suppress Democratic votes. You need to have a plan for fighting everything they do. Have your lawyers game out the possible scenarios in advance and have them write briefs ready to file in court at the drop of a ballot. Ditto Florida and to some extent Arizona (where the governor is a Republican but the secretary of state is a Democrat).

  • Cede the narrative to Trump: Trump doesn't want to talk about health care, the economy, or racial justice. If Susan Rice is your running mate, Trump will try to make the campaign about Benghazi. If it is Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), it will be about some case she (mis)handled as California AG. Don't go there. When Trump attacks your son Hunter, talk about how thousands of people are dying needlessly due to Trump's incompetence. When he attacks your other family members, talk about how Trump ruined the economy due to his greed and stupidity. Whatever he says, don't take the bait. But it is OK to bring up how your first wife and daughter were killed in a car crash. Let Trump attack them if he wants to.

  • Pull your punches: You grew up at a time when senators could argue about policy all day and then go out together for drinks at 6. Forget that Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) used to be a good friend. He's not any more. He is your enemy. Treat him as such. If he attacks you viciously and you know how to take him down five or six pegs, go for it.

  • Restrain the attack dogs: Politics ain't beanbag. You're up against a street fighter from Queens. Politics in Queens is not like politics in Delaware. You don't have to get down in the gutter with him, but you do need allies who are fully prepared and capable of doing that. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) comes to mind. Give him a high-ranking position in your campaign. Look for other street fighters to do your dirty work for you. Tell them that nothing is off limits. Nothing.

  • Pick the wrong kind of running mate: It is widely believed that you want to pick a veep based on how much you like her. Forget that. Pick one who has what it takes, whether or not you like her. It is known that you like Susan Rice and don't like Kamala Harris. Don't let your feelings get in the way. Carefully evaluate all the potential running mates on what they bring to the campaign, not how you feel about them personally. Jack Kennedy couldn't stand Lyndon Johnson, but he was the right person for the job (winning Texas in that case).

  • Fail to be open about your stuttering: You stuttered as a kid. Not everyone knows that. You fought bravely and mostly conquered it. Your "gaffes" are often due to trying to avoid some word at the last second and then substituting a different (and wrong) word. Explain it and embrace it. You were born with the stutter, and you beat it. People will identify with that and when Trump goes after you for some gaffe, it will make him look small and petty. This way people won't see you as old and doddering, but as a hero who was dealt some bad cards and won anyway.

For better or worse, that is the advice. (V)

Can the FDA Handle the Pressure?

Another possible strategy that Donald Trump might use in October is to announce that a vaccine for COVID-19 is at hand as a direct result of his program to create one. In fact, with dozens of drug companies and universities working on it, there is an excellent chance that one or more candidates will be in an advanced state of development. That's when it gets tricky. For reference, the fastest vaccine ever developed was the mumps vaccine. It took 4 years.

Donald Trump can't wait 4 years. He wants one or more vaccines approved. Right now. Come October, he is undoubtedly going to put so much pressure on FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn to approve at least one that if Hahn were a lump of coal, he would magically turn into a diamond. The $64,000 question is: Will Hahn be led by science or by politics? From what we have seen so far, it could be a toss-up.

On July 4, with the coronavirus surging across the Sun Belt, Trump said 99% of virus cases are "totally harmless." The next day, CNN host Dana Bash asked Hahn: "Is the president wrong?" Hahn was a doctor and researcher at the University of Pennsylvania and University of Texas for years. he knew the answer very well. But he refused to answer Bash. When Trump insisted that hydroxychloroquine (a medicine for malaria) cures COVID-19, Hahn gave his approval for its use off label, despite his knowing better. After 25 patients taking it died, Hahn finally rescinded his approval.

People who know him have their doubts whether he is capable of standing up to Trump by saying: "I'm sorry Mr. President, but I cannot approve any vaccine at this time." Peter Lurie, a former associate commissioner at the FDA, said that Hahn "is not a powerful presence." In fact, he accepted a rule that he is not allowed to speak to the press without a Trump-approved minder on the phone line with him. Dr. Margaret Hamburg, who was FDA commissioner for 6 years under Barack Obama, said: "There's no doubt that the president believes he can massage FDA decisions." In contrast, the previous commissioner, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, called reporters whenever he wanted to (which was often) and spoke his mind. He would never have tolerated being told he could only speak when a political official was on the line to listen and correct him if need be.

Many people fear that when a vaccine comes up for FDA approval, Hahn will give in to Trump's pressure and approve it, even if researchers say that it hasn't proven its safety or effectiveness because it hasn't been tested enough (or worse yet, because it is not safe or effective). The fear has sufficient basis that a group of two Republican and one Democratic senators (Maggie Hassan, D-NH, Mike Braun, R-IN, and Lisa Murkowski, R-AK) have introduced a bill that would set up strict standards for vaccine approval, basically making it impossible for Hahn to bypass the normal procedures and simply approve a vaccine because Trump orders him to do so. In addition, a group of 400 health experts sent Hahn a letter urging him to use the agency's own 15-member Vaccines Advisory Committee to get a green light before approving a vaccine. In short, a lot of people close to the fire are afraid that when push comes to shove, Hahn will bend to Trump's will and approve a vaccine that is not ready for prime time.

The doomsday scenario is that it is produced in huge volumes and fails to prevent people from getting COVID-19. Or maybe it works but kills or injures a nontrivial number of people. Then, a new vaccine comes out a few months later and people are afraid to get it because they assume the government is lying to them again and there is nothing President Biden can do to convince them, so the disease continues to mow people down for years. (V)

Democrats' House Prospects Are Looking Good

In the 2006 midterms the Democrats, under the leadership of Nancy Pelosi, picked up 31 seats, slightly less than the 40 they netted in 2018. Then in 2008, they did it again, picking up an additional 21 seats. Could they repeat this two-in-a-row trick in 2020? Election guru Nathan Gonzales sees this as a real possibility. Republicans thought that they could bludgeon the voters with cries of "Socialism!" and "Impeachment!", but it doesn't seem to be working. Gonzales thinks that the GOP has no chance of gaining the majority on Nov. 3, because several of its takeover targets are now basically out of reach including MI-08 (Elissa Slotkin), MI-11 (Haley Stevens), and IL-14 (Lauren Underwood), among others. All of these are R+4 or R+5 districts occupied by first-term Democrats who unseated Republicans in 2018.

Not only is flipping Democratic seats going to be tough for the GOP, but Republican members who thought they were safe may not be. With Trump 8-13 points behind Joe Biden, the Democratic coattails are going to put quite a few Republicans districts in danger. Gonzales sees Democrats as the favorite in CA-25 (Mike Garcia), GA-07 (open, was Rob Woodall), NC-02 (open, was George Holding), NC-06 (Mark Walker), and TX-23 (open, was Will Hurd). Other Republican districts that are now battlegrounds include AZ-06 (David Schweikert), FL-15 (Ross Spano), IN-05 (open, was Susan Brooks), MI-03 (open, was Justin Amash), MT-AL (open, was Greg Gianforte), NE-02 (Don Bacon), NY-02 (open, was Peter King), NY-24 (John Katko), NC-08 (Richard Hudson), OH-01 (Steve Chabot), TX-21 (Chip Roy), and TX-24 (open, was Kenny Marchant), Gonzales expects the Democrats to gain a net of up to 12 seats, but conceivably even more. (V)

Florida Democrats Failed to Register a Million New Voters

Florida Democrats tried to register a million new voters this year. They missed. Badly. When Barack Obama won Florida in 2008, there were more than half a million more Democrats than Republicans registered in the Sunshine State. By 2016, this lead had dwindled to 259,000 and Hillary Clinton lost by 112,000 votes. Currently, Democrats lead Republicans by 240,000 registered voters, with 5.2 million Democrats and 4.9 million Republicans. One group that has soared, though, is independent voters, Over 700,000 have been added since 2016. There are 3.6 million registered independents at the moment, and they could swing the election. Another 4 million Floridians are eligible to register and they have until Oct. 5 to do so.

However, in one dimension, the Democrats are doing well: absentee ballot requests. It is expected that at least 2 million Democrats will vote by mail this year. They have an advantage of about 600,000 in terms of mail-in voters. Absentee voting is common in Florida and will almost certainly go through the roof this year. As usual in Florida (and many other states), what matters is turnout. The party that can turn out its base the best often wins. Turnout among absentee voters is generally higher than among in-person voters, so the Democrats might have an advantage this year, especially if COVID-19 is raging in Florida in October and November. But no one expects Florida to be a blowout. It never is. (V)

Willie Brown: Harris Should Decline Veep Offer and Hold Out for Attorney General

Former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown wrote an op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle advising Kamala Harris to refuse an offer to be Joe Biden's running mate because it's not worth a bucket of warm...oh wait, that was John Nance ("Cactus Jack") Garner's line. Still, Brown agrees with Garner's basic assessment. He wants Harris to hold out for the position of attorney general, which has actual power and which could lead to real changes in racial justice and other areas.

If Harris gets the choice, it's a tough call. There have been 48 vice presidents and 14 of them have become president later, so Team Veep is batting .292. Of course, Biden would be the oldest president ever, so the odds of him dying or resigning in office are greater than usual. Figuring those odds out is what actuarial tables are for. The probability that a generic 79-year-old man hangs on for another 4 years is 0.77, though the president always has a doctor within a few feet and a helicopter on stand-by to take him to a hospital in a flash if need be.

By contrast, as a general rule (no pun intended), the attorney generalship is not a path to the presidency. There have been 83 Senate-approved attorneys general, and none of them has gone on to become president (Robert F. Kennedy came closest to pulling off the trick). That is a batting average of .000. Still, if Harris were to spend four years as AG organizing a reunion of the Trump administration out near Fort Leavenworth, and perhaps making some progress on police misconduct, she could very well in a position to buck the trend in 4 or 8 years.

So, will Harris take Brown's advice if it comes to that? She used to listen to him. They dated for a while when he was 60 and the powerful speaker of the California Assembly, and she was 30 and deputy D.A. in Alameda County. He later appointed her to some state positions and helped her career in various ways. Unfortunately, we don't have any statistical tables giving the fraction of people who were offered the vice presidency and who said: "No thanks. I want a real job," so she is on her own. (V)

Today's Presidential Polls

From today's polls, it looks like the race might be tightening a little, but it is just one day's snapshot. Pulse is Scott Rasmussen's old firm, even though he has been gone for 7 years. PPP is located in North Carolina, so it probably knows the lay of the land there better than Pulse (which is in New Jersey).

YouGov, like all pollsters, runs polls for anyone who is willing to pay it. It recently ran polls for both CBS and the University of Wisconsin and they overlapped in time. We have omitted the second ones for Wisconsin and Pennsylvania to avoid effectively counting them twice. (V)

State Biden Trump Start End Pollster
Arizona 49% 45% Aug 03 Aug 04 OH Predictive Insights
Maine 50% 39% Jul 27 Aug 02 RMG Research
Michigan 47% 43% Jul 27 Aug 06 YouGov
North Carolina 47% 48% Aug 06 Aug 07 Pulse Opinion Research
North Carolina 49% 46% Jul 30 Jul 31 PPP

Today's Senate Polls

Cal Cunningham's lead corresponds better to PPP's poll of the presidential race in North Carolina, so probably that one is the more accurate of the two above. As to Maine, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) is probably kicking herself now for voting to confirm Brett Kavanaugh since it looks like that vote will end her Senate career, not to mention her legacy. She should have voted "no," become an independent, and joined Sen. Angus King (I-ME) in the Democratic caucus. A bit late now. (V)

State Democrat D % Republican R % Start End Pollster
Maine Sara Gideon 48% Susan Collins* 41% Jul 27 Aug 02 RMG Research
North Carolina Cal Cunningham 48% Thom Tillis* 44% Jul 30 Jul 31 PPP

* Denotes incumbent

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Aug10 More on Trump's Saturday "Executive Orders"
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Aug08 Saturday Q&A
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Aug08 Today's Senate Polls
Aug07 Tennesseans Waltz to the Polls
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Aug07 CPD: Debate Schedule Not Open to Debate
Aug07 Biden Opens Mouth, Inserts Foot
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Aug07 Today's Presidential Polls
Aug07 Today's Senate Polls
Aug06 Axios: It's Harris or Rice
Aug06 Democrats Prefer Harris; Republicans Want Rice
Aug06 Acceptance Speeches Won't Be at the Conventions
Aug06 Biden Announces a Massive Ad Buy
Aug06 Can an Election Be Held During a Pandemic?
Aug06 Michigan Was a Mess
Aug06 Trump Sues Nevada over Absentee Ballots
Aug06 Republicans Knocked on a Million Doors Last Week, Democrats on Zero
Aug06 McConnell Says That He Will Need Democratic Votes to Pass a COVID-19 Relief Bill
Aug06 If Trump Loses, Republicans Will Have a Leadership Battle
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Aug06 Today's Senate Polls
Aug05 In the Sunflower State, Everything Comes Up Roses for the GOP
Aug05 Trump Embarrasses Himself in Axios Interview
Aug05 Trump's Debate Dithering
Aug05 Today's Stance on Vote-By-Mail
Aug05 How Trump Could Steal the Election
Aug05 VP Candidate Profile: Gov. Gina Raimondo (D-RI)
Aug05 Today's Presidential Polls
Aug05 Today's Senate Polls
Aug04 Vance Is Out For Blood
Aug04 Not-ctober Surprise
Aug04 Fauci-Birx Role Reversal?