Dem 51
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GOP 49
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The Sky Is Usually Falling, Rinse and Repeat

In view of this weekend's dire-for-Joe-Biden Siena poll of swing states, we'd like to climb into the DeLorean for a moment and share some headlines from way back in the olden days of 2012. Without further ado:

Five stories about dire polls:

Five stories about problems with specific demographics:

Five stories about how foreign policy has become an Achilles heel:

And ten stories predicting overall failure:

These 25 items, in total, come from partisans and from (ostensibly) neutral number-crunchers, from right- and left-leaning sources, from local and national sources, from domestic and foreign sources. Throughout the 2012 cycle, particularly the doldrums before votes started to be cast, there were constant predictions of doom for Barack Obama's reelection campaign. We checked with the staff archivist, however, and it would appear he won that election. In fact, as we understand it, he won rather handily, outpacing one Willard "Mitt" Romney 51.1% to 47.2% in the popular vote, and 332 to 206 in the electoral vote.

We have two points here. We suspect they are fairly self-evident, but we'll make them explicit nonetheless. First, "frontrunner is front running" is basically a "dog bites man" story. There's little to say, and such items are not particularly interesting to read. By contrast, in this particular case, "Donald Trump could win this thing" definitely gives a writer more to say, and attracts more eyeballs, than "Biden has a small lead."

Second—and we've said this many times before, and we'll say it many times again—the election is a year away (literally, as of yesterday). Yes, it is possible to make the case that these dire one-year-out numbers are worse than other dire one-year-out numbers. For example, Barack Obama's approval ratings never got quite as low as Biden's are right now (Obama was consistently in the mid-to-high 40s and low 50s in 2011/2012; Biden is currently around 40). Further, Mitt Romney was not nationally known in 2012, and as the American people learned about him, his support slipped. This is usually what happens as "generic Republican/Democrat" becomes "specific Republican/Democrat." Donald Trump is not "generic Republican" at this point, and so presumably won't be subject to this kind of slippage.

On the other hand, it is also possible to argue that Biden-Trump is sui generis, and that Biden has opportunities to bounce back not available to other sitting presidents. For example, no sitting president has faced an opponent with a better-than-average chance of being a convicted felon by Election Day. Similarly, no president has had "he's too old" as one of his two or three main liabilities as he prepared to face an opponent just 4 years younger. Surely, once the campaign gets underway, Biden and/or his surrogates will strive mightily to remind everyone that Trump may think he's the cock of the walk, but he is no spring chicken.

In short, there is simply no way to know which distinctive features of Trump-Biden (if that's the race we end up with) will be controlling. And until the campaign is properly underway, and some of the known unknowns resolve themselves, these sorts of polling numbers are just interesting fodder for conversation, and nothing else. (Z)

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