Guest post by Adrian Beaumont, who joins us from time to time to provide commentary on elections internationally. Adrian is an honorary associate at the University of Melbourne. His work on electoral matters for The Conversation can be found here, and his own website is here.
In the FiveThirtyEight poll aggregate, Donald Trump’s ratings with all polls are 40.9% approve, 55.4% disapprove (net -14.5%). With polls of registered or likely voters, Trump’s ratings are 41.3% approve, 55.1% disapprove (net -13.8%). Since my article three weeks ago, Trump has lost about three points on net approval. His ratings are at their worst since the US government shutdown in January 2019.
FiveThirtyEight has started tracking the presidential general election polls. As there are far more national polls than state polls, they adjust state polls for the national trend. So with Biden widening his national lead, FiveThirtyEight will adjust states in Joe Biden’s favour where there hasn’t been recent polling.
The latest national poll aggregate gives Biden a 50.9% to 41.3% lead over Trump. US polls usually include an undecided option, so the remaining voters are mostly undecided, not third party. Three weeks ago, Biden’s lead was 6.6%.
In 2016, four states – Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Florida – voted for Trump over Hillary Clinton by 1.2% or less. In the FiveThirtyEight aggregate, Biden leads in Pennsylvania by 5.6%, in Florida by 7.4%, in Wisconsin by 7.6% and in Michigan by 9.6%.
Biden also leads in several states Trump won comfortably in 2016. He leads by 4.7% in Arizona, 1.3% in Georgia, 1.9% in North Carolina and 2.4% in Ohio. Trump has just a 0.1% lead in Iowa and a 0.5% lead in Texas.
If the election were being held next week, there is little doubt that Biden would win both the national popular vote and the Electoral College easily. But the election will not be held until November 3. Can Trump recover? If Biden’s national lead is reduced to fewer than five points, the Electoral College could save Trump, as Biden’s lead is narrower in the pivotal states than nationally.
The two issues that have eroded Trump’s position are coronavirus and the protests after the murder of George Floyd. Up to the last week, US coronavirus cases and deaths had fallen from their peaks in April, but the last week has seen a renewed surge in cases. Over 38,000 cases were recorded Wednesday, the highest since April 24. Analyst Nate Silver says this increase is not caused by greater testing, with the positive test rate rising to 7.7% from 4.9% on June 17.
There has not yet been an increase in daily coronavirus deaths, but it is likely that deaths are a lagging indicator, and will increase later. The seven states with over 1,000 cases Wednesday are all southern states except for California, a big western state. In March and April, the north-eastern states were hit hardest. Weather may be a factor: the virus spreads more efficiently indoors, and people stay indoors more if the weather is either too cold or too hot.
It is unlikely that there can be a genuine economic recovery while coronavirus is still active. Trump’s best chance of re-election is for the coronavirus to have faded by November, and a strong economic recovery. May US economic data has been much better than April, but April was so terrible that a recovery still has a long way to go. I cannot see Trump being re-elected without an economic recovery.
I believe the video evidence of George Floyd’s murder is a major reason for the great dissatisfaction with Trump’s performance on race relations, and sharply increased support for the Black Lives Matter movement. Had this murder not been on video, the police would have been able to deny it, and many would have believed their denials.
What about Congress?
As well as the presidency, all 435 House of Representatives seats and one-third of the 100 senators are up for election on November 3. Democrats gained control of the House in November 2018, and are very likely to retain control; they have an 8.1% lead in the FiveThirtyEight generic ballot tracker.
There are two senators per state. While it was not always the case, the bias towards low-population states now favours Republicans, who currently hold a 53-47 Senate majority. In deeply conservative Alabama, Democrat Doug Jones unexpectedly won a December 2017 by-election, and is unlikely to repeat his success.
The RealClearPolitics Senate map gives Democrats some chance of winning the Senate. It has 48 Republican seats, 47 Democrats and five toss-ups. Republicans are currently being dragged down by Trump, so a move back to Trump would assist them.