Late last month, a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll indicated that fully 50% of voters say that there is no chance that they would support Trump, while 37% say that there is no chance that they would go with Biden. What that 13% in the middle (or on the sides) ultimately does could determine what happens in November.
RealClearPolitics, with its betting odds average, has Biden at 56.5 and Trump at 42.5 currently, while FiveThirtyEight’s simulations give Biden a 73% probability of winning. The “I don’t trust the polls!” folks may already be shouting, and understandably so based on what happened in 2016.
But we’re better served to remember that polls are more indicative than predictive in their natures, and what they indicate is that Trump has a good deal of ground to gain and Biden has little ground to lose.
In my mind, voters and some pretty mouthy folks who may or may not actually vote fall into one of just a handful of groups. Reading from left to right in political terms might make this review easier.
So first up, at least some of that 13% from the first poll mentioned can be found in the group for whom both parties are too political in their orientation—shocking for a political party, don’t you think?—and are not focused on their particular policy priorities. In many cases, these folks will spend more time criticizing Democrats than Republicans, possibly because they consider Republicans hopeless and Democrats disappointing. In high school terms, these are the kids who didn’t root for either team at a football game (when they bothered to go) and perhaps took some pleasure when their school lost. On that basis, I feel some affinity with them—at least when it comes to touchdowns and field goals.
Next up are the full on Democrats. Some of them were for Biden all along—many weren’t. Some of them were for Kamala Harris all along—many weren’t. Perhaps the single thing that distinguishes this group from the first one is political pragmatism. These are the folks who understand that no policy battle is won without first winning the political fight and getting some of what one wants is better than getting nothing. In poker terms, they’re more likely to place their bets after calculating the odds of winning against the size of the pot.
Then there are those in the middle or on the fence or whatever you want to call it. They’re the part of the 13% that the combined 87% least understand. While they allow themselves the freedom to criticize both parties and virtually everything else that hits their radar, they position themselves to be flirted with as the “persuadable voters” who avoid commitment until the very last minute. In dating terms, these are those attractive bad boys who rarely come home to meet your mama.
Finally, we get to the Republicans. Prior to 2016, these folks would be out there dressing it up, trying to look and talk cute to those bad boy “persuadables” we identified. But in 2020, Trump Republicans just don’t seem interested in doing that. Maybe they think there’s no point in doing so, and they may very well be right in that regard. The strategy from the top of the campaign down to the individual voter executing that strategy on social media is about motivating the group as a whole while driving down enthusiasm in the opposing corner, with some voter suppression and external interference thrown in for good measure.
Under more normal circumstances, there would be one more group—folks that would consider both parties too weak on everything from immigration to national defense to race relations. Back then, they would be part of the 13%, too. But, bless their hearts, they’ve found a political home in Trump’s Republican party.
In 2016, only 52% of those undecided folks ended up voting for either Clinton or Trump. Even if Trump gets the vast majority of those votes—probably less than 7% overall—he’d be at less than 44% of the popular vote if the 50% holds. But that’s a big “if.”
Complacency has been the Achilles’ heel of the Democrats. Not trusting the polls when they indicate an advantage to your side is a good thing for Democrats, most of whom are still smarting from 2016. Whether Democrats continue smarting or smarten up is the big question of 2020.