The 2020 presidential election candidates are set. Some are claiming President Trump will win in a landslide. Some polls, on the other hand, show Joe Biden handily winning
It should be no surprise that we have such diverse predictions in what I call this moment in time: The Divided Era.
It is rather more likely that the 2020 election will be quite close. Here are the two major reasons why.
1. Our recent elections have all been close because we are that divided.
Our last true landslide was Reagan’s 1984 reelection victory – 58.8 percent to Walter Mondale’s 40.6 percent. Of late, we have had nothing but close elections. Tight elections are hallmarks of divided eras, such as during the late 1800s known as the Gilded Age. In 1876 and 1888, for instance, two presidents lost the popular vote but won the Electoral College.
In our time, Bill Clinton won two terms. However, neither time did he get 50 percent of the vote. Indeed, in his first election, he got just 43 percent of the vote in a three-way field. His successor, George W. Bush, lost the popular vote but won the Electoral College in disputed fashion. Bush then won reelection with just 50.7 percent of the vote, a mere 2.4 percent more of the vote than John Kerry.
Barack Obama won his first election with 52.9 percent of the vote – a historically low figure. Obama’s reelection vote total then slipped to 51.1 percent of the vote – a rarity for winning incumbents. By contrast, Reagan’s, Clinton’s and even Bush 43’s reelection winning percentages rose.
In 2016, of course, President Trump lost the popular vote. That marked the seventh straight election no president received 53 percent of the popular vote – a streak not duplicated since the Gilded Age. The 2020 election will have to buck that deepening trend not to be close.
2. Most Democrats no longer vote the private sector economy.
There was a time when both sides voted the economy. That dynamic prompted Clinton advisor James Carville to say “It’s the economy, stupid.” Today, however, Democrat voters have different priorities.
Consider the 2018 midterm election results. Yes, most times a president’s party loses seats during the first midterm election. In 2018, however, the economy had been experiencing strong economic growth. But that didn’t stop voters from handing the House over to the Democrats.
Even at the height of the historically strong pre-COVID-19 economy, in February of 2020, according to Gallup, only 27 percent of Democrats thought the economy was getting better – obviously a more partisan than economic view.
Plainly stated, most Democratic voters no longer vote the private sector economy.
Today, government is their economy. They care more about the Supreme Court’s ideological makeup than the unemployment rate. They want socialist justice from the Courts, government pensions, income security and even jobs from government.
Overall, the Democratic party has moved significantly to the Left and the socialist wing of the party, the Warren-Sanders wing, is alive and well.
So, even if the economy recovers between now and election day, Democrats will not be lured to vote for President Trump. Democrats want him out at all costs because they have to control government to get what they want.
Just as divided as 2012
All of the above can be summed up in the June 2020 Gallup poll. In that poll, 91 percent of Republicans approved of President Trump’s job performance, while just 2 percent of Democrats approved. That represents a spread of 89 percent between the parties. That divide is not new.
When Obama eked out his reelection victory in 2012, the spread between the parties was 84 percent.
Meanwhile, Rasmussen polling shows that President Trump’s approval rating is roughly the same as Barack Obama’s reelection year approval rating in July of 2012, i.e. there were exactly even on July 10 (45 percent) and July 15 (48 percent), Obama up 2 percent on July 14 and Trump up 1 percent on July 3 (47 percent-46 percent) with their support coming mainly from their own party.
Similarly, just before the 2012 election, Rasmussen polled voters about who they preferred between VP candidates Joe Biden and Paul Ryan. Those two men could hardly be more different. Nevertheless, each polled at 44 percent — a reflection on party loyalty more than the feelings of about each man.
In other words, in this Divided Era, if you ask a Democrat for whom he or she will vote, the answer will almost assuredly be a Democrat and Republicans will do the same for their own.
That means the presidential election will be decided by three things: (1) by the enthusiasm of the two parties, (2) Independents and (3) the battleground states.
On the first point, it is worth noting that Joe Biden, according to the Washington Post/ABC polling, has a historically low enthusiasm rating and, according to several polls, Biden voters are voting much more to oust Trump than because they want Biden. However, not liking the other guy did not sufficiently help Bob Dole, John Kerry or Mitt Romney defeat Clinton, Bush or Obama.
In sum, based on recent history, we can expect the popular vote to be close with the winner getting around 52 percent. Based on the party divide, Independents hold the key now more than ever.
Finally, given that twice Republicans have won the presidency while losing the popular vote in the last 20 years, battleground states also hold the key – and all of the above indicates the results of the 2020 election will likely be closer in this Divided Era than most currently think.
Tom Del Beccaro is an acclaimed author, speaker and the former Chairman of the California Republican Party. His latest book is “The Divided Era: How We Got Here and the Keys to America’s Reconciliation.”
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