In 2016, I was convinced Hillary Clinton would win. Her losing forced on some needed humility about my perspective on politics. Now I’m routinely accused of saying Donald Trump will lose or of betraying my values by saying I’d vote for the guy. There’s not really any winning, or even fun to be had, by doing what I perceive as calling balls and strikes. But I want to do that anyway and give you my honest take on all of this.
In 2016, I relied mostly on myself to get a sense of things. Over the past few years, I’ve spent a lot more time talking to other people actively involved in campaigns, from the presidential level to state races, to help shape my view of the race and where things stand.
Based on these conversations, I think there is a lot of muddiness and there are a lot of unknowns but we can also paint a bit of a picture of the race to get a sense of it.
For example, it is not really disputed at this point that the President has more enthusiasm from his voters than Joe Biden. The President’s voters are more fired up. You don’t see Biden’s supporters doing boat parades.
The President’s team is also going door to door, while Biden’s team is not, though in some states, I am told there has been a falloff in volunteers over the past month in both door-to-door efforts and phone banking. But they’re still doing it.
At the same time, women, including registered Republican women and some who voted for Trump in 2016, have turned more antagonistic to the President over the course of just this year, and there is some evidence they are turning against the GOP as a whole.
Concurrently, the President's message has found a home in the Hispanic community at strengths no Republican has seen. The message has penetrated in ways other Republicans have failed to achieve. Likewise, a portion of Black male voters are connecting to the President's message.
While that is happening, senior citizens are drifting away from the President, particularly in the northern states. Additionally, voters who voted for Barack Obama and then Trump appear to be going to Biden now.
Lastly, Democrats have requested more absentee ballots than Republicans this time, but that may be because of a proactive approach to avoiding in-person voting on Election Day due to the virus and not a surge of voter enthusiasm.
All of this raises important questions for the state of play.
First, do the gains from some of the new groups of voters offset the further drift of women, seniors and Obama-Trump voters?
Second, with no major third party or independent candidates such as Gary Johnson, Jill Stein or Evan McMullin, where do the voters who voted for them go? I would think most would not go to Trump, but do they go to Biden?
Third, Trump won with approximately 70,000 votes spread across Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, all three of which drifted decisively to the left in 2018 with near presidential-level turnout. Is the President able to offset or gain those votes -- or will he lose them?
Fourth, are Trump voters not being picked up in the polling? Perhaps, but given how enthusiastic the President's supporters are, doesn't that suggest the "shy Trump voter" phenomenon is now overstated?
I understand why Trump's supporters are confident he will win. People like me were wrong in 2016, and they have internalized a belief that polls are wrong. There is actually a lot of evidence that many Trump supporters are in as much of a bubble as anti-Trump voters are, in terms of media outlets, social media, etc.
The polling could be wrong. There's a lot we don't know. But there is also a growing sense among Republican strategists on the ground that something has shifted in Biden's direction. That's not to say it cannot shift back. Looking at 2016 compared with 2020, Biden is only slightly ahead of Clinton in multiple states that went for Trump, and it was Oct. 7, 2016, when the "Access Hollywood" tape dropped. The race is still in play.