Trump’s Free Fall Over?

The President has hit rock bottom.

President Trump at the Bioprocess Innovation Center at Fujifilm Diosynth Biotechnologies President Donald J. Trump listens to a reporter's question during a press conference Monday, July 27, 2020, at the Bioprocess Innovation Center at Fujifilm Diosynth Biotechnologies in Morrisville, N.C. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)
Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead

CNN’s Harry Enten reports that “New polls suggest Trump’s position has stabilized.” But that’s what happens when a falling object hits the ground.

There’s little doubt that former Vice President Joe Biden has the upperhand against President Donald Trump at this point. Biden has led in poll after poll nationally and in almost every poll in the core six battleground states (Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin).

Yet, while Biden has maintained advantage, Trump has one thing going for him: His position is no longer deteriorating. A look at the polls shows that even as coronavirus cases and deaths rise, Trump remains within striking distancing of Biden.

Here, Enten is doing what he’s repeatedly cautioned his readers not to do: overreact to the weirdness of 2016. There’s simply no evidence that Trump is “within striking distance” of Biden.

Essentially, Biden widened his advantage from May to June following the beginning of the protests after George Floyd’s killing in late May, and it’s not gotten worse for Trump since.

The national polling paints a similar picture. Biden’s margin widened at the end of May and beginning of June. Since then, Trump has held his ground.

That the challenger started with a lead and widened it considerably is surely more newsworthy than the lack of momentum change since?

Overall, pretty much every method agrees that Trump has, if nothing else, stopped the bleeding.

The fact that Trump’s standing hasn’t gotten any worse may come as a bit of a surprise given the rise of coronavirus cases and deaths nationally. Biden leads Trump by double-digits on who is more trusted to handle the virus, and the issue is a top one for voters.

The answer to this slight mystery may lie in the fact that issues surrounding race relations have faded from the news.

Coverage of protests isn’t anywhere close to where it once was. And although voters don’t like Trump on coronavirus, they like him even less on race relations. So it isn’t shocking that Trump is holding or may have even gained a point.

That said, it’s tough to see how Trump could win if coronavirus is the big issue come voting time. As I’ve noted before, the candidate who leads on the big non-economic issue of the day pretty much always wins in elections not determined by the economy.

Still, the current difference between the polls at this point and the result isn’t wide enough to suggest Biden has this locked away given how much polls have moved from this point to the election historically. Yes, Biden has held a relatively steady lead, which makes him a clear favorite.

But in a year in which we are facing unprecedented circumstances, Trump is staying in the hunt.

He’ll be “in the hunt” until the election results are known. But the key takeaway is that he’s way behind less than three months out—and, really, way less given that early voting will start in a matter of weeks.

Similarly, an NBC News report with the clickbait headline “Biden dominates the electoral map, but here’s how the race could tighten” begins with evidence that it almost surely won’t.

Solid D: California, Delaware, D.C., Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Vermont and Washington (130 electoral votes).

Likely D: Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Virginia (82).

Lean D: Arizona, Florida, Maine-02, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin (122).

Toss Up: Georgia, Iowa, Nebraska-02, Ohio, Texas (79).

Lean R: N/A (0).

Likely R: Alaska, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Montana, South Carolina, Utah (56).

Solid R: Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, West Virginia, Wyoming (69).

To recap: Several states that Trump won in 2016 are leaning toward Biden. Four other states that Trump won in 2016—and, indeed, have long been rock solid Republican states—are tossups.

Biden needs 270 Electors to win the White House. He already has 212 of them locked up. If he wins all of the states leaning in his direction, he’ll have 334. A landslide. If the toss-ups all went his way, he’d have the biggest landslide since Reagan’s re-election.

Conversely, Trump also needs 270 Electors to win. He has 125 in the bag. None lean in his direction. If every single toss-up went his way, he’d be up to 204. So, he’d still need another 66 out of those 122 currently leaning Biden.

I’d prefer my odds of drawing an inside straight.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2020, Donald Trump, Public Opinion Polls, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. CSK says:

    Is it me, or is Trump’s use of facial bronzer getting more and more careless and heavy?

    8
  2. Not to be a pedant, but you only need 270 to win.

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  3. It is pretty stunning that “leans R”=zero.

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  4. Facebones says:

    This is the template for media coverage. The reporters are bored writing “Biden still up by 10” over and over again, and they will do everything possible to create a horse race.

    Yes, Trump was an upset winner in 2016, but the polling was not wildly off. It was well within the margin of error. (Hillary was projected to win the popular vote by 3% and won by 2%, Trump won the EC by 78K votes over 3 states) The polls were NOT 10 points off. By saying the polling could be wrong, pundits are only going to give Trump ammunition when he tries to muddy the waters with his lies about voting by mail and claim that he didn’t really get beaten like a drum.

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  5. Facebones says:

    @CSK: Perhaps his makeup artist is socially distancing and using a paint roller on a long handle.

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  6. inhumans99 says:

    So many annoying articles that can be easily torn down are going to be coming at us fast and furious over the next several weeks. The press is desperate to create the impression that we have a horse race going on but the reality is that this election season has so far been pretty unexciting.

    While I would cringe if we had another candidate like Clinton running against Trump the press would be beyond ecstatic if Biden was more like Clinton as that would give them so many meaty bones to sink their teeth into.

    Instead Trump wants to push up the debates because it is a “public service” if him and Biden can have the debate sooner than later…I honestly am chuckling at the idea that Trump wants the debate sooner than later for any reason other than trying to define Biden and get it to stick. To say he is running out of time to do this might be the understatement of the past 10 years.

    Almost forgot, the Politico story I saw yesterday noting the Trump’s campaign team has knocked on a million doors while Biden’s has knocked on 0 (and yet continues to maintain a steady lead in the polls over Trump) kind of says it all. When your team has to go old-fashioned and knock on doors during a raging pandemic just in an attempt to tighten up the gap in polling between your guy and his opponent you really are in trouble.

    ETA: Ha, I see Facebones beat me to the punch and of course used way less words than I did to make the point. Lol.

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  7. Scott says:

    I’d prefer my odds of drawing an inside straight.

    Inside straight is how Trump won the first time. Odds of inside straight twice in a row? Without palming some cards?

    4
  8. CSK says:

    @Facebones:
    That would be a very reasonable guess, but I think he does his own make-up.
    I ask only because his inability to apply the bronzer properly seems to be one of the most visible symbols of his overall psychological and physical deterioration. Does he think that the more he darkens his skin, the more youthful he’ll appear? Is he trying to hide behind a mask?

    He’s beginning to remind me of those raddled old women you sometime see with bright circles of rouge on their cheeks and lips painted into scarlet Cupid’s bows. What they see when they look in a mirror is clearly not what the rest of us see.

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  9. Barry says:

    @Facebones: “This is the template for media coverage. The reporters are bored writing “Biden still up by 10” over and over again, and they will do everything possible to create a horse race. ”

    Also, their bosses learned from the past four years that f*cking up the country really helps news ratings.

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  10. James Joyner says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Fair point!

    1
  11. @James Joyner: Although God help us if it comes down to one EV this go ’round!

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  12. Moosebreath says:

    “If he wins all of the states leaning in his direction, he’ll have 334. A landslide.”

    I think I have a different definition of landslide than this, as that would mean that every Democratic win starting in 1992 was a landslide.

    And I agree with Facebones and inhumans99 that the media wants to say Trump has a shot to increase the number of eyeballs watching their product.

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  13. @Moosebreath: I think that “landslide” is always subjective, and am not even sure what I would consider a landslide for 2020, save that if Biden wins the pop vote by 10 or more, that would clearly be a landslide. The EV count is another matter.

    1
  14. Dutchgirl says:

    If promoting the notion of a horse race will encourage people to use their votes, then I’m ok with it. A constant message of dems have it in the bag could lead to voter complacency. I hope not only for a big win, but also a high turn out.

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  15. Jay L Gischer says:

    I, for one, do not want any voter, particularly Biden voters, to think this one’s in the bag. Voting is probably going to take more effort this time around than it ever has in the past, and we need the B voters to make that effort.

    The difficulty of voting is due to both the pandemic and the major campaign that Trump is doing against vote-by-mail. I don’t expect those R-controlled states that are tossups to make it easy for people in D-leaning districts to vote. I expect long lines at polling places. I expect slow mail delivery.

    Now, lots of them are super motivated by their dislike of Trump, to be sure. But are all of them? I want to keep the fires burning under their feet. So a message of “relax, this one’s in the bag” doesn’t really suit me.

    I can remember when Dukakis had a lead in August. It disappeared by election day. Stuff happens. Stuff could still happen.

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  16. CSK says:

    @Dutchgirl:
    Didn’t most people think Hillary Clinton had it in the bag in 2016? Look how that turned out.

    1
  17. Sleeping Dog says:

    The Former Reality Show Host’s poll numbers were not going to fall below ‘0,’ so at some point he would only be left with his core supporters and we’re there. James is right, given that there are no R leaning states and the toss-up states are traditionally R, then he’s done. Baring some huge f-up by Biden or massive vote fraud on the part of the FRSH. Will the race tighten, yes, will there become some R leaning states, yes, but the presidency is Biden’s to lose.

    A note on vote fraud and tampering with the election, he can’t do that alone, he needs the help of R governors and legislatures, who may not be so willing to sacrifice their own reputations at the alter of Trump.

    1
  18. Jay L Gischer says:

    Ok, now that I’ve made my cautionary post, my breath is taken away by the fact that Georgia and Texas are “tossups”. TEXAS!!! Georgia, too!

    I’m hoping that this means that the D’s can gain enough in the TX state legislature to reshape the districting of that state, though that is probably a reach. But let’s not forget that districting is up for grabs this cycle, since it’s a census year.

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  19. Dutchgirl says:

    @CSK: exactly. USA, don’t break this dutch girl’s heart again.

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  20. Moosebreath says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    “if Biden wins the pop vote by 10 or more, that would clearly be a landslide.”

    That’s the classic definition of landslide I have heard, and which makes sense to me. By that definition, we haven’t had a landslide since 1984.

    2
  21. CSK says:

    @Dutchgirl:
    Not if I have anything to say about it.

    2
  22. gVOR08 says:

    @Scott:

    Inside straight is how Trump won the first time. Odds of inside straight twice in a row? Without palming some cards?

    Russian bots, Bill Barr, other GOP apparatchiks, various GOP Senate committee chairs, and Republican governors and voting officials may all be trying to palm cards. I.e. Trump’s suit against mail-in voting in Nevada or Barr’s plan to, perhaps selectively, release the Durham report inside 90 days to the election despite DoJ policy. Vote as if small d democracy were at stake. It is.

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  23. James Joyner says:

    @Moosebreath: @gVOR08: Fair. Reagan in 1984 and Bush in 1988 were rather clear landslides, in that Reagan won 49 states (and 58.8 percent of the popular vote) and Bush 40 (albeit with only 53.4 percent).

    It’s hard to consider either of Clinton’s wins (1992 or 1992) “landslides,” since he failed to capture a majority of the vote. In 1992 he carried only 32 states, and only 31 in 1996.

    Obama won a majority both times but only carried 28 in 2008 and 26 in 2012.

    Biden would only have 28 states if he carried only Lean-Democrat and above, so probably not a landslide.

    Even a Bush-level landslide is likely not possible in the current political climate.

  24. Kylopod says:

    @Dutchgirl:

    A constant message of dems have it in the bag could lead to voter complacency.

    It could, but I don’t think it will. I’ve seen far more of the opposite score, that most Dems are cowed with fear of seeing a repeat of 2016. It’s almost meta: “Let’s not be complacent lest we see a repeat of 2016” is something practically everyone is saying, yet the people who say it seem convinced they’re in the minority.

    I also think people are forgetting why there was complacency in 2016. The polls weren’t the reason. They may have contributed to it, but they weren’t the ultimate cause of it. The real reason was that most people simply could not get their head around the idea that Donald Trump could possibly win the presidency. It just seemed insane (which it was, of course). This attitude was so deeply ingrained that I think even if he’d been leading in the polls, millions of people would have refused to believe it. Hillary’s polling advantage reinforced this attitude, but it didn’t create it.

    None of that applies this year. Nobody has any difficulty imagining Trump winning anymore, because we’ve all seen it happen once already. I don’t see any evidence of Dems this time thinking they can just sit out the election or vote third party because the outcome is assured. On the contrary, Dems seem to be in a state of near panic over this election. That isn’t necessarily a good thing–it can lead to demoralization, which can be just as self-destructive as complacency.

    Likewise, favorable polls can be a way of motivating voters, especially on a state-by-state basis. For instance, Biden’s strong numbers in Arizona and his surprisingly competitive numbers in Texas are almost certainly going to inspire some Dems who normally don’t vote. A lot of what makes red states stay red (and blue states stay blue) functions like a self-fulfilling prophecy, where voters of the other party don’t bother because they don’t think it’ll make any difference. Once polls appear in which a race seems winnable, it often has the effect of making those voters awaken from their slumber. We saw that in Alabama in 2017, and it’s probably part of what enabled Obama to win states like Indiana and NC in 2008.

    If there’s one prediction I’ll make about this election, it’s that turnout will be huge–to the extent that Trump can’t suppress it, of course (and his Post Office shenanigans is the single biggest thing that worries me). We need to find some balance between complacency and doomsaying. I believe that cautious optimism is the healthiest approach.

    11
  25. Michael Reynolds says:

    I think the absolute bottom for Trump is about 38%.

    That’s 25% of the country that are Evangelicals, another 10% that are racists but not Evangelical racists, and a few points for grifters and criminals who love to see one of their own in power.

    At this point the issue is whether enthusiasm has waned sufficiently to cause that 38-42% to underperform.

    1
  26. Michael Reynolds says:

    My ‘reasonable best case’ is 335 EV’s for Biden. That’s with Florida, AZ and NC but not Texas or Georgia. My ‘reasonable worst case’ is 278. That’s no FL, AZ, TX, GA, plus I give up one EV in Maine and don’t take the Omaha EV.

    The usual caveats apply. But right now it looks like 335 for Biden. His fantasy scenario – polls stay where they are – is 395. Trump’s absolute fantasy is 291.

    1
  27. Kylopod says:

    @James Joyner: I think the definition of “landslide” has been downgraded over time, mainly because it’s been so long since we’ve seen a true landslide. Obama’s 2008 victory is called a “landslide” mainly because it’s the biggest electoral college victory in the 21st century so far, even though it looks relatively modest compared to most 20th-century elections. (Here’s a stat for you: From 1928 to 1988, only 4 of the 16 elections were won with fewer than 400 EVs.) I think if we’re defining the majority of elections as landslides, the term starts to lose meaning.

    3
  28. jfoobar says:

    Trump won in 2016 because he flipped Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan, states that had previously “gone D” 6 or 7 Presidential elections in a row. Biden’s current lead (as per polls) in these three states are 8 points, 6 points, and 8 points.

    Talking about Arizona, North Carolina, Florida, Georgia and Texas is all well and good but, at the very least, Trump has to take Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan again to have any chance of winning.

    1
  29. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Kylopod: Keeping in mind that 2 of 3 times the Republican won, he did so with a minority of the popular vote. As such, it’s only natural that “the definition of “landslide” has been downgraded over time”

    1
  30. Kylopod says:

    @jfoobar:

    at the very least, Trump has to take Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan again to have any chance of winning.

    In theory Trump could lose Michigan and Pennsylvania and still win the election, as long as holds onto everything else he won in 2016. But that would be a victory of literally one point: 270-268. If he also loses ME-02 or NE-02, it becomes a 269-269 tie; if he loses both, Biden wins by one point.

  31. Let’s assume Trump loses the 2020 election and leaves office peacefully in January 2021. This is an unlikely scenario but, for the moment, let’s assume it does happen.

    Should he be prosecuted for the incredible and criminal harm he has done to America?

    Definitely not! What’s best for us, for the world, is to just forget that the Trump dictatorship ever existed.

    Let’s prepare to move on, and then move on.

    1
  32. Sleeping Dog says:

    @John A. Broussard:

    No, John, his crimes should be prosecuted, so to dissuade some future wannabe authoritarian from trying it again. We dodged a bullet with Trump, because he is so lazy and incompetent. A Tom Cotton or Ted Cruz, if they were similarly motivated would have turned over our republic.

    Obama chose not to prosecute war crimes against members of the Bush administration and 8 years later Trump was encouraging the intelligence agencies and military to pursue those same crimes.

    12
  33. Sleeping Dog says:

    For what it is worth, UNH had a poll out this past weekend showing Trumps approval at -20 and trailing Biden -15. 4% were voting for other with the rest undecided.

    1
  34. Kathy says:

    Trump the Colossal Wreck might have hit bottom as polls go, but he has a way to go morally and ethically. We haven’t seen the worst of him yet. We’ll get to see it when it’s clear he’s lost the election.

    2
  35. Raoul says:

    Trump: “Biden is against God.” No, I don’t think the freefall is over- see latest Pew poll. If I was Biden I would demand an apology or else the debates would be cancelled.

  36. CSK says:

    @Raoul:
    Biden is a practicing Roman Catholic. It occurred to me that Trump calling him out as someone who “hurts God” might boost Trump with any anti-papist fundamentalists who might have grown a bit disenchanted with him over the past few years.

  37. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @John A. Broussard: And the GOP relearns the lesson that they can get away with damn near anything.

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  38. Michael Cain says:

    @jfoobar: Ignoring faithless electors, Biden needs 39 EC votes more than Hillary. Florida plus Arizona are 40. I expect the Latino vote to turn out this year and Biden to win both of them. In which case he wouldn’t need any of MI, PA, or WI (assuming no odd surprises anywhere else).

  39. Jen says:

    @John A. Broussard: It might not matter if he’s prosecuted for the crimes against America, he’s being investigated for more prosaic tax crimes against the State of New York.

    I don’t think he, or his kids, get out of this unscathed. The Trump Org has some ‘splainin’ to do.

    3
  40. MarkedMan says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    His fantasy scenario – polls stay where they are – is 395.

    This is the perfect way to put this. This is what an election held today might yield. But in my entire life, 90% of the time the race narrows towards the election. And all of the exceptions I can think of are non-presidential elections.

    I am moderately optimistic* with one very significant exception: If Biden gets ill before Election Day, all bets are off.

    *Mildly optimistic is as far as I go. Despite the fact that I believed Hillary would pull it off, I kept pointing out that she never saw the sunny side of 50% approval rating and she was the better known candidate. My negativism is informed by my first presidential election. I voted for Anderson, secure that Jimmy Carter would win but that it had to be close to teach him “a lesson”, motivated by my vague anger about Carter allowing the country to be weakened while he negotiated with hostage takers. But I was absolutely certain that the my fellow voters would never be taken in by someone so obviously phony as Ronald Reagan.

    3
  41. JohnSF says:

    Query: is it just Trump or is really starting to hammer the Republicans in other contests?
    I’ve commented before that Trump might be killing McConnell’s vision; but as a Brit my political instincts may be off.

    I assume Democrats are confident re. the House of Reperesentatives, given their likely popular vote edges, but are they really likely to take the Senate?

    And what about the states, where I confess I really don’t understand the interaction of Governors, State Houses and State Senates.

  42. DrDaveT says:

    @Kylopod:

    I also think people are forgetting why there was complacency in 2016. The polls weren’t the reason. They may have contributed to it, but they weren’t the ultimate cause of it. The real reason was that most people simply could not get their head around the idea that Donald Trump could possibly win the presidency.

    This. It’s like the idea that your husband could secretly be the leader of a child pornography ring. It seems utterly unbelievable and crazy, until the day the FBI breaks down the door and takes him away.

    The terrifying part is that apparently about 40% of American voters are doing the political equivalent of running a child pornography ring.

    5
  43. DrDaveT says:

    @John A. Broussard:

    What’s best for us, for the world, is to just forget that the Trump dictatorship ever existed.

    That is exactly the logic that allowed the conquered Confederacy to still be fvking up America 150 years later.

    Gross corruption must be met with overwhelming rule of law. Anything else makes more trouble down the road than is avoided in the short term.

    13
  44. inhumans99 says:

    An update to my earlier post, Deadline (Hollywood film industry blog) of all places is where I saw a story that the commission that works to set up the Presidential debates has denied Trump’s request to hold an earlier debate.

    One does have to wonder why Trump thinks that Biden would agree to such an idea. It is in Biden’s best interest if the debates are indeed held pretty close to the actual election. By then many folks will have already started getting mail-in ballots to send back and for the most part unless someone has an extraordinary performance during the debate I have come to understand that many folks will have already made up their minds and the debates do not hold the same sway in voters minds that they used to.

    Finally, Biden know that Trump is dying to treat the debates as part of his MAGA rallies given how many people will tune in (it seems counter intuitive to declare that the debates do not matter as much as they used to, when one can point out the ratings are indeed usually pretty solid for at least the first two debates, but I have seen a lot of credible folks highlight how debates just are not as important to a voters decision to vote one way or another than they were in the past).

  45. An Interested Party says:

    He’s beginning to remind me of those raddled old women you sometime see with bright circles of rouge on their cheeks and lips painted into scarlet Cupid’s bows. What they see when they look in a mirror is clearly not what the rest of us see.

    Oh great, it’s nice to know that our president has become Baby Jane Hudson…

    Finally, Biden know that Trump is dying to treat the debates as part of his MAGA rallies given how many people will tune in…

    It would be great if Biden would turn to look at Trump and say, “Fuck off, asshole!” or perhaps just, “You’re fired!”

    3
  46. de stijl says:

    @Moosebreath:

    I voted for Mondale.

    1
  47. de stijl says:

    Now I’m free. Free fallin’.