US Election: Four worrying signals for Donald Trump

This piece first appeared on 18th April 2020 at

Bad polling position seems to be worsening

Across the world, incumbent governments have received a boost during the coronavirus crisis. Many call it a ‘rally around the flag effect’. In the UK for example, the once marmite Boris Johnson has seen his approval ratings shoot up. So to the governing Conservatives. Last month, I wrote how Donald Trump was enjoying a small boost to his (usually entrenched) approval ratings.

On the more specific measure of how he is handling the crisis, results are mixed. The average according to RealClearPolitics is -2.5%. Note, however, two appalling recent surveys with Yougov and CNN, showing -10%.

His performances at daily press conferences are probably not helping but that effect is uncertain. What is clear is that picking fights with state governors such as Michigan’s Gretchen Whitmer is counter to majority opinion in individual states. So too the anti-lockdown protests from his supporters.

Wisconsin victory bodes well for Democrats

Nor is there much good news to be found in national or key state polls. Arizona, for instance, is trending +9 to Joe Biden, compared to the four point advantage Trump enjoyed over Clinton in 2016.

One state the president must surely win to be re-elected is Wisconsin. I say that not because of the ten electoral college votes (there are other routes) but because he regularly fares better in the Badger State than in Pennsylvania or Michigan.

On Tuesday, the Democrats enjoyed a very important, surprise win there in an election for the state’s Supreme Court. In electing the liberal Jill Karofsky, they likely blocked a planned purge of around 200,000 voters. Trump won the state by fewer than 23,000.

Moreover the turnout – whether from postal votes or defying stay home guidelines to queue for hours in socially distanced lines – pointed towards a marked surge in enthusiasm among liberal voters. That is in keeping with other special election and mid-term trends. In stark contrast to the depressed turnout on the Democrat side that cost Clinton dearly in 2016.

Obama joins the campaign trail

Where Trump might take some hope is Biden’s potential inability to spark such enthusiasm. The 77 year-old former VP has other qualities – being a known mainstream figure, impossible to paint as extreme – but he lacks Trump’s energy and many worry he will be unable to attract younger voters.

Help is at hand. In endorsing his former running mate, President Obama killed another ridiculous talking point that had been doing the rounds in Trump media. There had been a suggestion that he would refuse to endorse when, of course, he was merely waiting for Bernie Sanders to concede, in the interests of party unity.

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