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 41.4% approve, 54.7% disapprove (net -13.3%). With polls of registered or likely voters, Trump’s ratings are 41.9% approve, 54.5% disapprove (net -12.6%). Since my article three weeks ago, Trump’s net approval has improved about two points.
In FiveThirtyEight’s national aggregate of Joe Biden vs Trump polls, Biden’s lead has narrowed to a 50.0% to 42.5% margin, from a 50.3% to 41.2% margin three weeks ago. In the key states, Biden leads by 7.7% in Michigan, 7.4% in Wisconsin, 6.0% in Pennsylvania, 5.1% in Florida and 3.4% in Arizona.
On current polling, Pennsylvania is the tipping-point state. If Trump wins all states more favourable for him than Pennsylvania, and Biden wins Pennsylvania and other states that are better for him, Biden wins the Electoral College by 278 Electoral Votes to 260. But the issue for Biden is that Pennsylvania is about 1.5% more pro-Trump than the national average.
Trump’s gains come despite a coronavirus death toll that has trended up to over 1,000 daily deaths on most days. There have been over 160,000 US coronavirus deaths. However, the daily new cases have dropped into the 50,000’s from a peak of over 78,000 on July 24.
I believe Trump has gained owing to memories of George Floyd’s murder fading, and thus race relations becoming less important to voters. An improving economic outlook could also explain the poll movement, although the economic data is mostly pre-July, when the second coronavirus wave started. The US July jobs report will be released on Friday.
Despite the coronavirus’ effect on the US economy, Trump’s economic approval is close to a net zero rating according to the RealClearPolitics average. Nate Silver says that real disposable personal income increased sharply in April, contrary to what occurs in most recessions. This increase was due to the coronavirus stimulus, and explains Trump’s better economic ratings.
A danger for Trump is that extending the stimulus is stalled in Congress. This close to the election, Republicans should be eager to stimulate the economy, but there are many Republicans who are ideologically opposed to government spending.
Danger for Democrats in mail voting
Owing to coronavirus, much of the US election will be conducted by mail voting. Trump has been castigating mail voting, and this could depress Republican mail turnout. But there is a danger for Biden and Democrats in Trump’s attacks.
As Cook Political analyst Dave Wassserman says, mail votes can be rejected owing to voter error. Also, while there are some states that conduct elections mostly by mail, the US as a whole does not. There could thus be errors such as voters not being sent their ballot papers in time.
If Republicans mostly vote in person, while Democrats mostly vote by mail, it is likely to distort the election night results as mail votes usually take longer to count. Furthermore, mail errors, whether by election officials or voters, are likely to cost Democrats in close races. If Trump could get within five points in national polls, his advantage in the Electoral College and the mail issue could see him sneak another win.
In the RealClearPolitics Senate map, Republicans lead in 47 races, Democrats lead in 46 and there are seven toss-ups; that situation is unchanged from three weeks ago. If toss-up races are assigned to the current leader, Democrats lead by 51 to 49. If Trump’s numbers continue to improve, Republicans are likely to be boosted in congressional races.