US Election: Four takeaways from the Democrat Convention

This article first appeared at on 24th August 2020, following the Democrat Convention

After months of terrible signals for Donald Trump’s re-election bid, here is some good news for the sitting president. According to the first polls taken following the Democrat Convention, Joe Biden has not received a bounce. Despite wall-to-wall publicity and choreographed messaging, CBS show his lead static at 10% compared to before the convention.

Simultaneously, the betting trends have moved against him. Biden is now rated 55% likely to win at [1.81] compared to 43% for Trump at [2.32]. The lack of bounce may or may not explain the market trend. The move was already underway.

Now, we shall see whether Trump gets a bounce after his own convention as the Republicans meet in Charlotte, North Carolina. He certainly did following their 2016 convention, briefly overtaking Hillary Clinton in popular vote polls. Equally though, remember that opinion has been extraordinarily consistent and entrenched since Trump took office. It is quite possible, perhaps likely, that we again see very little change.

Democrats must be happy with united front

One profound difference with 2016 was the unity. Four years ago the DNC proceedings began with disaster. Leaks from a Russian hack were released to great online fanfare, revealing the party establishment’s preference and bias towards Clinton over Bernie Sanders. It drove a wedge between the progressive and moderate wings which may very well have cost her the election, because Sanders supporters either didn’t turn out, or switched to Trump or third parties.

This convention passed off without any such incident. The fact it was socially distanced was a great help, as it prevented footage of argument or protests (however small) being amplified.

Rather the party came across as absolutely focused on defeating Trump. Whether left-wingers such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez or Elizabeth Warren or centrists such as Clinton, the message was consistent. Unite. Avoid complacency. Remove this unique threat to democracy.

In that respect they can also count upon a growing number of Republicans. Last week I noted the significance of GOP moderates like John Kasich, Colin Powell and the McCain family in building a big tent. Since then they’ve been joined by more than 70 National Security officials from various Republican administrations. Consequently there won’t be much division in Charlotte either – Trump’s internal enemies have already left.

Biden defies low expectations

The conclusion I drew from Biden’s speech is how badly Republicans have played this. For months, Team Trump has been painting the 77 year-old former VP as a sleepy figure, struggling with dementia, who can barely finish a sentence.

Having set such a low bar, Biden was always likely to exceed expectations. His speech wasn’t particularly memorable. But it was competently delivered, without pauses or errors. Nor was any evidence of mindrot on view in his setpiece interview with ABC.

Thus, many worries were assuaged. Where Biden did get a bounce was a 5% jump in his approval rating. Team Trump’s belief that he’ll be exposed in debates looks highly optimistic, especially given that didn’t happen during the primaries.

Obama’s formidable presence looms large

One speech stood out above the rest, in terms of delivery, potency and significance. Biden’s bestie is back on the campaign trail and Trump should worry.

When Barack Obama excoriated Trump’s record and actions in office, it was historic. Presidents shy away from criticising their predecessors, let alone get involved in elections. They don’t label them a threat to democracy. Having kept his powder dry despite obvious temptation to hit back, Obama’s words carried greater weight and there is still no better orator in the game.

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