There’s a long ways to go between now and November 3, 2020, but if the election were held today, and barring widespread voter suppression and fraud, it seems Trump would handily lose. Here’s why:
Much has been made of Trump’s approval rating of the mid ‘40s – up to 44.4% in an average of the most recent polls. That’s vs. 53.6% disapproval rating. That seems to be clearly in the ball park for reelection to the presidency. As one article points out, “at this point, Barack Obama was at 46 percent, Bill Clinton was at 46 percent, Ronald Reagan was at 45 percent, and Jimmy Carter was at 43 percent. This makes Trump’s performance sound, if not impressive, at least normal.” All but Carter won reelection, and Carter faced the serious economic crisis of “stagflation”.
There are several key factors that make this election different, though:
Unusual polling numbers
Trump’s polling numbers are unusual in that they hover in the low to mid 40s and haven’t changed much since he’s been in office. As is always the case for a new president, there was a moment of enthusiasm when he first took office, but that quickly settled down. Obama’s, by comparison, were from the high 50s down to the low 40s over time. Trump’s approval ratings are also unusually low considering the unemployment rate (3.8% presently). Compare that with 9.4% for Obama and 6.1% for Clinton at the equivalent time in their presidencies. (In April of 2000, unemployment was at the same level as the present, and Clinton had a 59% approval rating.)
As Hillary Clinton found out, national popularity isn’t the be-all and end-all; it’s state-by-state popularity that counts, due to the role of the electoral college. Even here, Trump is in trouble. Here’s how Vox.com shows the scene:
- “New Hampshire: 39 percent approval, 58 percent disapproval
- Wisconsin: 42 percent approval, 55 percent disapproval
- Michigan: 42 percent approval, 54 percent disapproval
- Iowa: 42 percent approval, 54 percent disapproval
- Arizona: 45 percent approval, 51 percent disapproval
- Pennsylvania 45 percent approval, 52 percent disapproval
- Ohio: 46 percent approval, 50 percent disapproval
- North Carolina: 46 percent approval, 50 percent disapproval
- Florida: 48 percent approval, 48 percent disapproval
- Indiana: 49 percent approval, 46 percent disapproval
“It’s a grim picture. Wisconsin and Michigan were critical Midwestern pieces of Trump’s Electoral College puzzle and he is now deeply unpopular in both states. Pennsylvania was maybe his most surprising win in 2016, and now he is seven points underwater. Perhaps Trump can take solace in his even job approval rating in Florida, but that is the only swing state where the president looks as strong as he did on Election Day 2016. Everywhere else, his support has deteriorated.
“Maybe the most striking finding is in Iowa, where Trump beat Hillary Clinton by nearly 10 points. Iowans disapprove of his job performance by a 12-point margin now, in a farming state that’s been hit hard by Trump’s trade war. That would suggest the president’s cult of personality will not totally inoculate him from the unpopular parts of his policy agenda.”
The only demographic group where Trump has overwhelmingly strong support is among white evangelicals. 53% of them strongly approve of Trump while an additional 20% approve.
As Hillary Clinton also found out, a lot also depends on voter turnout. In 2016, a record 137.5 million people voted. That was 61.4% of the electorate – about the same as four years earlier. However, black voter turnout decreased from 66.6% in 2012 down to 59.6% in 2016. The difference was made up for by a slight increase in white voter turnout – up to 65.3% in 2016 from 64.1% four years earlier.
Voter turnout can be partially predicted by voter interest or “enthusiasm” today. One article reports on the general measures of this. A Fox News poll reported that in April, voter interest was at a level that is normal for just weeks before a presidential election, not a year and a half in advance. 52% of registered voters said they were “extremely interested” and a Wall St. Journal poll showed 69% in a similar category. An ABC News poll reported that 85% of registered voters said they were “absolutely certain” to vote next year.
This level of voter interest was more or less the same for both Republicans and Democrats. How about who wins the Democratic nomination? How much difference will that make for Democratic voters’ enthusiasm. Interestingly, the same article reports that 78% of Democratic Party voters would be satisfied with Biden being their candidate while 75% would be satisfied with a Bernie Sanders candidacy. Both Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren generate 60% satisfaction. What this seems to indicate is that for many Democratic voters, the main deciding factor is name recognition. (As would be expected, younger Democratic voters tend to support Sanders while the older ones tend to support Biden.)
In other words, at least among those committed to voting Democrat, the voter turnout does not seem like it will be affected by who the nominee will ultimately be. (That seems to coincide with what an earlier Oaklandsocialist article, “Does a ‘left’ Democrat stand a better chance of defeating Trump” also tentatively concluded.)
Fundraising is always an indication, and here Trump has done very well indeed. He claims to have raised $25 million on the day he launched his reelection campaign – Tuesday, June 18. $6 million was raised at an event at his Trump International Hotel in Washington D.C. (His reelection campaign committee had been in existence since he took office, but June 18 was the public kick-off date. And never one to pass up a chance to personally benefit, his and Republican National Committee joint fundraising events have paid Trump’s hotel $610,000 for events held there throughout the 2018 election cycle.)
Trump’s fundraising success, however, does not seem to indicate a major swing by the mainstream of the capitalist class towards him. The average donation to his campaign was slightly over $34, and he received $3.3 million from donors giving less than $200. However, as Vox explained, “the president already has powerful grassroots support and the backing of rich Republican megadonors who benefitted from the tax cut legislation Trump signed into law in late 2017.”
Another fundraising advantage Trump has stems from the fact that he has no serious challenger in the primaries. That means that he can hoard his cash for the general election. So the question is whether Democratic donors will have donation exhaustion by the time of the general election.
Nevertheless, it seems that at this point Trump is in trouble. But there is a very bumpy road ahead. On the one hand, there is some evidence that the economy may turn down by the time of the general election. Any significant increase in unemployment would be met with calls for decreasing federal regulations, especially environmental regulations. The Democrats would join in this, but Trump dominates that particular arena. Overall, though, it seems that Trump’s support would shrink significantly in a serious economic downturn.
His true believers would probably become even more fanatical in their support. In any case, if Trump is voted out some of them could respond violently, but in an economic crisis that would be even more possible.
Then there is the possibility of a war with Iran. That would put the Democrats in a bind. They would not want to appear “unpatriotic” by attacking Trump. However, even by their own standards it would have been his blunder in ending the nuclear accord that caused this war at this time. The likelihood that Israel would be involved would also complicate any Democratic opposition to a war with Iran.
Then there is the unknowable – the chances of some sort of major environmental disaster that claimed hundreds or even thousands of lives, some act of racist terrorism on a scale not yet seen in the United States, or something else. We also cannot discount the possibility of a terrorist attack by ISIS or al Qaeda forces. That would swing support towards Trump. (His reelection would also benefit them.)
Finally, there is the issue of voter suppression. As Oaklandsocialist reported, that was a major issue in several states, especially Kansas and Georgia, in the 2018 midterm elections. How far would the Republicans be able to go next year, and what would be the political fallout if they won by such voter suppression?
Trump victory and the hounds of hell
The election of Trump was a stunning surprise to almost everybody. The inability of the mainstream of the US capitalist class to get him under control was a further surprise. Many people since then have been reluctant to fully draw the lessons. (See “Trump and the reluctance to reckon with something fundamentally new”.)
The sentiment to oust Trump is, in the main, based on a desire to return to the Obama era, an era of relative stability. That’s why Obama’s popularity is now close to 60% . But those Obama days are gone forever, whether Trump is reelected in 2020 or not. Like the hounds of hell, the forces of nativism and bigotry have been set loose and won’t return to their cages willingly. Also, for the first time in modern history, the mainstream of the US capitalist class has lost control over its presidency. Ironically, that has happened through the exact institution that was set up to prevent it – the electoral college. That adds to the fact of Trump having taken over not only his party lock, stock and barrel but through that the Senate – which will probably remain under control of the “Trumpized” Republicans regardless of who is president, plus those same forces now in control of the federal judiciary. All of which mean the end of US political stability, and therefore of world stability. A Democrat may stand a good chance of getting elected president, but that does nothing to reverse the steady slide into capitalist chaos. For that reversal, what is needed is an independent role of the working class, starting with developing its own political party.
Added comment: As the polls show, Trump is in trouble. A recent Fox News poll shows him losing by ten points to Biden and by six to Sanders. As Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post put it: “President Trump’s decision to put away his racist dog whistle and bring out his racist bullhorn has just one plausible explanation: desperation.”
It was shown in 2018 that such appeals are unsuccessful in winning elections at this time, so where is Trump headed with them? This racist bullhorn, while turning off the voting majority, will heat up his true believers. It will provide him a base for more extreme measures to retain the presidency and control over the Senate in 2020.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court majority has announced that it’s joined the Trump reelection campaign by deciding that Trump may overrule the “separation of powers” by diverting funds earmarked for a different purpose to built his Wall. They thereby give him another “accomplishment” that he will be able to brag about in his campaign.