As the two sides in US politics begin jockeying for position following the passing of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the similarities to the 2016 presidential election are striking.
That year, the fierce battle between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump was made all the more contentious because the Republican-controlled Senate refused to allow a vote on President Barack Obama’s nominee to replace Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who had died in February.
Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell pledged instead to “let the American people decide” the fate of the Supreme Court vacancy. His gambit worked. Trump won the election and successfully appointed a conservative justice to the court, some 14 months after Scalia’s death.
In recent days, however, McConnell is saying something altogether different. He’s made clear the Trump administration will decide who Ginsburg’s replacement will be — not the American people on election day.
And Trump has also already announced he will nominate a woman to the court — signalling his intention to move quickly to replace Ginsburg, with just over 40 days left before the vote.
The impending fight guarantees an already rancorous race will become even more acrimonious, with long-lasting implications.
With the Supreme Court now featuring three judges appointed by Democratic presidents and five appointments by Republicans, the potential replacement of the progressive Ginsburg by a conservative judge could have generational implications for issues like affordable health care and access to abortion.
The Supreme Court has even settled contested presidential elections in the past, and with legal challenges to the 2020 election already mounting, there’s every likelihood this could happen again.
Why Republicans are passionate about conservative judges
Unlike American politicians, who are subject to the ballot box and term limits, federal judges — including Supreme Court justices — serve lifetime appointments.
The importance of such judicial appointments to Republicans cannot be understated. Few, if any, issues are more sacrosanct to them.
A key reason for this is that demographics are not on the side of the Republicans. The US is gradually becoming more urban and non-white — two trends that favour the Democratic Party more than Republicans.
This could explain why McConnell, whose memoir is called The Long Game, has prioritised the appointments of conservative judges to federal benches. These judges would certainly outlast the seemingly inevitable decline of conservative political power.
Before Trump was elected in 2016, many Republicans questioned just how conservative he would be. In response, the Trump campaign made the unusual move of releasing a list of its intended candidates for the Supreme Court.
The list of established conservatives effectively quelled conservative concerns about the Trump candidacy. Indeed, exit polling in 2016 indicated 26% of Trump voters said Supreme Court nominees were the single most important factor in their decision to vote for him — compared to 18% of Clinton voters.
With Trump’s victory reliant on a combined margin of just under 80,000 votes across Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, even the smallest of advantages — in this case, those deciding who to vote for based on the Supreme Court — could have had outsized importance.
Some have posited a Supreme Court vacancy may help Trump’s chances in this year’s election because it shifts the focus of the race away from the president’s mismanagement of the coronavirus crisis and the poor economy.
But this ignores how much the issue could also energise the left. Indeed, in the hour after the announcement of Ginsburg’s passing, Democrats raised US$6.2 million on the Democratic digital fundraising platform ActBlue — more money in a single hour than the website had ever seen. This record was broken the next hour when donors gave over $100,000 a minute on average to total $6.3 million.
Altogether, some $42 million was raised in less than a day by Democratic online donors.
In 2016, many Republicans said they held their noses and voted for Trump because they were worried about the Supreme Court. Four years later, unenthusiastic Democrats may do the same with Joe Biden.
‘Nothing is off the table’
Constitutionally, McConnell and Trump face few barriers in their mission to confirm a conservative justice to take Ginsburg’s place. Even a “blue wave” on election day — in which Democrats take control of the Senate and the White House — couldn’t stop them because the winners are not sworn into office until January. This would ostensibly provide enough time for the Republican-led Senate to confirm a Trump nominee.
There is no doubt what McConnell and Trump are planning to do. The more pertinent question is whether 49 Republicans in the Senate will go along with them.
Even the most anti-Trump Republicans — like Senator Mitt Romney, who voted to impeach Trump earlier this year — have supported the president’s previous picks for the Supreme Court. (Only one Republican chose not to support Brett Kavanaugh following his contentious confirmation hearing.)
But amid deep political polarisation, the likes of which America has not seen for generations, some Republicans are asking themselves about the long-term impact of rushing through a Supreme Court justice — most notably, what doors this opens for Democrats if they gain power.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has said “nothing is off the table” if Republicans try to fill Ginsburg’s seat before the outcome of the election.
Some Democrats, already frustrated by Republicans having nominated 15 of the last 19 Supreme Court justices despite Republicans having lost the popular vote in six of the last seven presidential elections, have already pledged to make fundamental shifts to the country if they win the power to do so.
This could include giving statehood to Democratic-leaning Puerto Rico and Washington, DC — thereby almost assuredly giving the Democrats four more senators.
This week’s federal Newspoll, conducted August 5-8 from a sample of 1,509, gave the Coalition a 52-48 lead, a one-point gain for Labor since the last Newspoll, three weeks ago. Primary votes were 43% Coalition (down one), 33% Labor (down one), 11% Greens (up one) and 4% One Nation (steady). Figures from The Poll Bludger.
68% (steady) were satisfied with Scott Morrison’s performance, and 29% (up two) were dissatisfied, for a net approval of +39, just off Morrison’s record +41 in the last two Newspolls.
Anthony Albanese’s net approval improved two points to +3. Despite these slight movements against Morrison and favouring Albanese, Morrison’s better PM lead widened to 60-25 from 59-26 three weeks ago.
So far the Victorian Labor government is taking the blame for the coronavirus crisis. Three weeks ago, Newspoll polled the ratings of NSW Liberal Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Victorian Labor Premier Daniel Andrews. 57% were satisfied with Andrews and 37% were dissatisfied for a net approval of +20, down 20 points since late June. Berejiklian’s net approval also slid eight points to +34, with 64% satisfied and 30% dissatisfied.
As long as the Victorian government is blamed for the new coronavirus surge, while the federal government escapes blame, it is likely the federal Coalition will maintain its poll lead.
Rex Patrick’s resignation from Centre Alliance makes Senate easier for Coalition
On Sunday, SA Senator Rex Patrick announced he was leaving Centre Alliance and would continue in the Senate as an independent.
After the 2019 election, the Coalition held 35 of the 76 senators, Labor 26, the Greens nine, One Nation two, Centre Alliance two and Cory Bernardi and Jacqui Lambie one each. In January, Bernardi resigned from the Senate, and his seat reverted to the Liberals.
Before Patrick left Centre Alliance, the Coalition’s easiest path to the 39 votes required to pass legislation opposed by Labor and the Greens was to win support from One Nation and one of Centre Alliance or Lambie.
Now the Coalition has an extra option if they win One Nation’s support, needing just one out of Lambie, Patrick or Centre Alliance.
Queensland Newspoll: 51-49 to LNP
The Queensland election will be held on October 31. A Newspoll, conducted July 23-29 from a sample of 1,000, gave the LNP a 51-49 lead. Primary votes were 38% LNP, 34% Labor, 12% Greens and 11% One Nation.
This poll was branded as Newspoll, but Newspoll is conducted by YouGov. A YouGov poll in early June gave the LNP a 52-48 lead from primary votes of 38% LNP, 32% Labor, 12% Greens and 12% One Nation.
Despite the LNP lead on voting intentions, Labor Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk’s ratings improved from the late June premiers’ Newspoll. 64% (up five) were satisfied with her performance, and 29% (down six) were dissatisfied, for a net approval of +35. Opposition Leader Deb Frecklington was at 34% satisfied, 42% dissatisfied. Palaszczuk led as better premier by 57-26.
Both Palaszczuk and Morrison had great results on handling coronavirus, with Palaszczuk at 81% well, 14% badly and Morrison at 80% well, 17% badly.
Biden’s lead over Trump narrows
This section is an updated version of an article I had published for The Poll Bludger last Friday.
In the FiveThirtyEight poll aggregate, Donald Trump’s ratings with all polls are 41.4% approve, 54.7% disapprove (net -13.3%). With polls of registered or likely voters, Trump’s ratings are 42.0% approve, 54.4% disapprove (net -12.4%). Since my article three weeks ago, Trump’s net approval has improved about two points.
Less than three months before the November 3 election, FiveThirtyEight’s national aggregate has Joe Biden’s lead narrowing to a 49.9% to 42.1% margin over Trump, from a 50.3% to 41.2% margin three weeks ago.
In the key states, Biden leads by 7.8% in Michigan, 7.3% in Wisconsin, 6.0% in Pennsylvania, 5.2% in Florida and 3.6% in Arizona.
On current polling, Pennsylvania is the tipping-point state. If Trump wins all states more favourable for him than Pennsylvania, and Biden wins Pennsylvania and other states that are better for him, Biden wins the Electoral College by 278 Electoral Votes to 260. But the issue for Biden is that Pennsylvania is currently 1.8% more pro-Trump than the national average.
Trump’s gains come despite a coronavirus death toll that has trended up to over 1,000 daily deaths on most days. There have been over 160,000 US coronavirus deaths. However, the daily new cases have dropped into the 50,000’s from a peak of over 78,000 on July 24.
I believe Trump has gained owing to memories of George Floyd’s murder fading, and thus race relations becoming less important to voters. An improving economic outlook could also explain the poll movement.
Despite the coronavirus’ effect on the US economy, Trump’s economic approval is close to a net zero rating according to the RealClearPolitics average. Analyst Nate Silver says real disposable personal income increased sharply in April, contrary to what occurs in most recessions. This increase was due to the coronavirus stimulus, and explains Trump’s better economic ratings.
In the RealClearPolitics Senate map, Republicans lead in 46 races, Democrats lead in 45 and there are nine toss-ups. If toss-up races are assigned to the current leader, Democrats lead by 51 to 49. If Trump’s numbers continue to improve, Republicans are likely to be boosted in congressional races.
Danger for Democrats in mail voting
Owing to coronavirus, much of the US election will be conducted by mail voting. Trump has been castigating mail voting, and this could depress Republican mail turnout. But there is a danger for Biden and Democrats in Trump’s attacks.
As Cook Political Report analyst Dave Wasserman says, mail votes can be rejected owing to voter error. Also, while there are some states that conduct elections mostly by mail, the US as a whole does not. This means there could be errors such as voters not being sent their ballot papers in time.
If Republicans mostly vote in person, while Democrats mostly vote by mail, it is likely to distort the election night results as mail votes usually take longer to count. Furthermore, mail errors, whether by election officials or voters, are likely to cost Democrats in close races.
If Trump could get within five points in national polls, his advantage in the Electoral College and the mail issue could see him sneak another win.
Another good US jobs report
After the terrible US April jobs report, the last three have indicated a clear recovery trend from coronavirus. In July, 1.8 million jobs were created and the unemployment rate fell 0.9% to 10.2%. The unemployment rate is still high by historical standards, but much better than the 14.7% in April.
Job gains in July slowed from 4.8 million in June and 2.7 million in May. The employment population ratio – the percentage of eligible Americans employed – increased 0.5% in July to 55.1%, but is still over 3% below the 58.2% low reached in the aftermath of the global financial crisis.
NZ Labour has huge poll lead ahead of September 19 election
On July 28, I wrote for The Poll Bludger that a New Zealand Reid Research poll gave Labour a thumping 61% to 25% lead over the opposition National. A Colmar Brunton poll, released after the Poll Bludger article was published, gave Labour a 53% to 32% lead.
The term “unprecedented” has been used widely to describetheseevents, but they are just the latest versions of the two oldest and biggest problems in American politics: government dysfunction and racial injustice.
The “winning” years
In 2016, Donald Trump presented appealingly easy solutions to these problems.
Untainted by government, he would “drain the swamp” of bureaucrats and his business acumen would fix problems that conventional politicians could not, from trade deficits to crumbling infrastructure. Harnessing racialresentment and a backlash against Black Lives Matter, Trump promised white Americans an end to the painful reckonings of the Obama years, instead offering them a fantasy of black gratitude for white success.
For three years, Trump crafted a re-election narrative around his “winning” approach, based mainly on an economy that was already booming by the time he became president. The partisan polarisation of the 2016 election continued into his presidency.
Trump’s approval rating has always been relatively low despite the strong economy, but it has also been resilient in the face of scandal. Trump faced few crises in this period not of his own making, although there was one that foreshadowed the disasters to come: Hurricane Maria, which devastated Puerto Rico in 2017.
The federal government response to the hurricane was slow, uncoordinated and under-resourced. Trump showed little interest in it and took no responsibility for it. He briefly appeared on the island to congratulate himself and throw paper towels to residents. When the death toll was revealed to be nearly 3,000, revised up from initial reports of 64, Trump claimed Democrats made up most of the deaths “to make me look as bad as possible”.
The Puerto Rican tragedy was largely ignored and forgotten, but COVID-19 has replayed many of its themes on an even bigger scale.
Instead, public opinion has solidified in support of the large, multiracial protests. The protests have changed minds, including white minds, about the systemic nature of racism in the United States. Racist backlashes may be less potent when there is a polarising white president in power.
Biden is hard to paint as a radical. He has been quick to distance himself from proposals such as defunding police, and he has never supported “Medicare for all”, despite its popularity with the Democratic base and relevance during the pandemic. As president he would be unlikely to bring the kinds of lasting changes that most Democrats want to see.
This is why Trump and his allies cast Biden as “sleepy” and senile. They warn that he would easily be manipulated by radicals, and Trump is really running against the “far left”. So far, however, this approach has compelled Trump to talk a lot about his own physical and mental fitness.
And in a year when race is a defining election issue, Biden has a vast advantage with African American and Hispanic voters, despite parts of his legislative record and his cringeworthy “you ain’t black” interview. He also owes his nomination to African American voters. As Juan Williams put it bluntly, “Joe Biden would be retired if not for the black vote”.
The polls look bad for Trump, but the race remains unpredictable
Averages of national polls currently show Biden leading Trump by between nine and ten points. Even without the pandemic, Trump was never going to have an easy contest against Biden.
Polls still show Trump’s supporters are a lot more enthusiastic about voting for Trump than Biden’s supporters are about voting for Biden, which could be important if voting becomes a health risk.
But enthusiasm for the Democratic candidate may not matter. The 2018 midterm was effectively a referendum on Trump, and the 2020 election will be an even more focused one.
There is reason to believe the race could tighten, if only because no candidate has won a presidential election by more than 9% since 1984, and partisan divisions have become a lot sharper since then. Many conservative-leaning Americans who are undecided about the election may return to Trump. Closer to the election, many pollsters will restrict their samples to people who they believe are likely to vote, rather than just able to vote. These likely voter screens may reveal Trump’s standing is stronger than it currently looks.
Of course, the election isn’t decided by a national popularity contest. Democrats are haunted by the 2016 election, in which Hillary Clinton got 2.8 million more votes than Trump but still lost the state-based electoral college. Currently, The Economist’s election forecast gives that scenario about a 10% chance of happening again.
Polls show Biden leading in most of these contests, but these leads are smaller and more volatile than his national lead. The quality of many state polls has also been questionable, raising the possibility they will repeat the same mistakes as last time.
Biden is discouraging complacency. Referencing a recent NYT/Siena poll that showed him leading Trump nationally by 14%, Biden tweeted:
COVID-19 has sabotaged the usual election-year registration drives that bring millions of new voters into the electorate, which could disadvantage Democrats who traditionally benefit from younger voters.
These fraud claims have been repeatedlydebunked, and Twitter was so worried about Trump attacking the electoral process that, for the first time, it flagged two of his tweets as misleading.
Trump may believe, with reason, that Republicans could benefit from in-person voting disarray on election day. Minority voters are far more likely than white voters to have to wait for long periods in lines at polling places.
Trump’s resistance to the factual possibility that he could lose has raised fears he might not accept a defeat. Biden, noting that military leaders criticised Trump’s handling of Black Lives Matter protests, has fantasised that the military would escort him from the White House if he tried to “steal the election”.
Extensive lawsuits are a more likely scenario than military intervention, but there is also the danger Trump’s supporters would not accept the legitimacy of a Biden victory.
Given Trump has oftenwarned his supporters that their enemies will take away the Second Amendment (the right to bear arms), there is a possibility of a violent backlash, even if it only consists of isolated incidents.
At the same time, it is increasingly normal that large parts of the population dispute the legitimacy of the president. From Bill Clinton’s impeachment to George W. Bush’s contested victory; from Trump’s “birther” conspiracies about Obama to his own impeachment last year, refusals to accept the lawfulness of the presidency, on grounds real or imaginary, have become a standard part of America’s political repertoire.
A lot can happen in four months, as we’ve already seen this year. The outcome of this race is far from certain, but its ugliness is guaranteed.
This week’s Newspoll, conducted June 3-6 from a sample of 1,510, gave the Coalition a 51-49 lead, unchanged from three weeks ago. Primary votes were 42% Coalition (down one), 34% Labor (down one), 12% Greens (up two) and 4% One Nation (up one).
Scott Morrison maintained his high coronavirus crisis ratings. 66% were satisfied with his performance (steady) and 29% dissatisfied (down one), for a net approval of +37. Anthony Albanese’s net approval dropped four points to +3; his ratings peaked at +11 in late April. Morrison led as better PM by 56-26 (56-29 three weeks ago).
This Newspoll maintains the situation where Morrison is very popular, but the Coalition is not benefiting from his popularity to the extent that would normally be expected. Six weeks ago, when Morrison’s net approval was +40, analyst Kevin Bonham said the Coalition’s expected two party vote was between 54% and 60%.
Respondents were asked whether various organisations had a positive, negative or neutral impact on the coronavirus pandemic around the world. The World Health Organisation was at 34% positive, 32% negative and the United Nations was at 23% positive, 21% negative. Coalition voters were most likely to give the WHO and UN poor marks.
Xi Jinping and the Chinese government was at just 6% positive, 72% negative. Donald Trump and the US government was at 9% positive, 79% negative.
Seventy-nine percent thought the Morrison government was doing the right thing by pushing for an independent inquiry into the origins and handling of coronavirus against Chinese objections. By 59-29, voters thought Australia should prioritise the US relationship over China. There was more support for China from Labor and Greens voters.
Queensland YouGov poll: 52-48 to LNP
The Queensland election will be held on October 31. A YouGov poll for The Sunday Mail, conducted last week from a sample of over 1,000, gave the LNP a 52-48 lead, a two-point gain for the LNP since the January YouGov. Primary votes were 38% LNP (up three), 32% Labor (down two), 12% One Nation (down three) and 12% Greens (up two). Figures from The Poll Bludger.
Despite Labor’s weak voting intentions, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk’s ratings surged. Her approval was up 20 points to 49% and her disapproval down 11 to 33%, for a net approval of +16, up 31 points. On net approval, Palaszczuk’s ratings are the same as in a late April premiers’ Newspoll. However, that Newspoll gave Palaszczuk a net approval far lower than for any of the other five premiers.
Opposition Leader Deb Frecklington’s ratings were 26% approve (up three) and 29% disapprove (down four), for a net approval of -3, up seven points. Palaszczuk led as better premier by 44-23 (34-22 in January).
Biden increases lead over Trump
This section is an updated version of an article I wrote for The Poll Bludger, published on Friday. The Poll Bludger article includes a section on the UK polls following the Dominic Cummings breach of quarantine scandal.
In the FiveThirtyEight poll aggregate, Donald Trump’s ratings with all polls are 41.7% approve, 53.9% disapprove (net -12.2%). With polls of registered or likely voters, Trump’s ratings are 42.3% approve, 54.1% disapprove (net -11.8%).
Since my article three weeks ago, Trump has lost about four points on net approval. His disapproval rating is at its highest since the early stages of the Ukraine scandal last November.
In the RealClearPolitics average of national polls, Joe Biden’s lead over Trump has widened to 7.2%, up from 4.5% three weeks ago. That is Biden’s biggest lead since December 2019. Biden has 49.6% now, close to a majority. If he holds that level of support, it will be very difficult for Trump to win.
Trump has over 90% of the vote among Republicans, but just 3% among Democrats. CNN analyst Harry Enten says Trump’s strategy of appealing only to his base is poor, as he has already maximised support from that section. Enten implies Trump would do better if he appealed more to moderate voters.
In the key states that will decide the Electoral College and hence the presidency, it is less clear. National and state polls by Change Research gave Biden a seven-point lead nationally, but just a three-point lead in Florida, a two-point lead in Michigan and a one-point lead in North Carolina. In Wisconsin, Trump and Biden were tied, while Trump led by one in Arizona and four in Pennsylvania.
This relatively rosy state polling picture for Trump is contradicted by three Fox News polls. In these polls, Biden leads by nine points in Wisconsin, four points in Arizona and two points in Ohio. Trump won Ohio by eight points in 2016, and it was not thought to be in play.
Ironically, Change Research is a Democrat-associated pollster, while Fox News is very pro-Trump. Fieldwork for all these state polls was collected since May 29, when the George Floyd protests began.
Other state polls have also been worse for Trump than the Change Research polls. A Texas poll from Quinnipiac University had Trump leading by just one point. Trump won Texas by nine points in 2016. In Michigan, an EPIC-MRA poll has Biden leading by 12. In North Carolina, a PPP poll has Biden ahead by four.
Concerning the protests over the murder of George Floyd, in an Ipsos poll for Reuters conducted June 1-2, 64% said they sympathised with the protesters, while 27% did not. In another Ipsos poll, this time for the US ABC News, 66% disapproved of Trump’s reaction to the protests and just 32% approved.
US May jobs report much better than expected
The May US jobs report was released last Friday. 2.5 million jobs were added, and the unemployment rate fell 1.4% to 13.3%. Economists on average expected 8.3 million job losses and an unemployment rate of 19.5%. An unemployment rate of 13.3% is terrible by historical standards, but it is clear evidence the US economy is already recovering from the coronavirus hit.
The employment population ratio – the percentage of eligible Americans currently employed – rose 1.5% to 52.8%, but it is still far below the 58.2% lowest point during the global financial crisis.
US daily coronavirus cases and deaths are down from their peak, and stockmarkets anticipate a strong economic recovery. But it is likely that a greater amount of economic activity will allow the virus to resurge. A strong recovery from coronavirus would assist Trump, but unemployment is a lagging indicator that is likely to recover more slowly than the overall economy.
New Zealand Labour surges into high 50s in polls
I wrote for The Poll Bludger on May 22 that two New Zealand polls had the governing Labour party taking a massive lead over the opposition National, ahead of the September 19 election. New Zealand now has zero active (currently infected) coronavirus cases, and has had no new cases since May 22. It appears they have eliminated the virus.
At age 77, in his twilight years, the third time was the charm for Joe Biden.
He prevailed over a field of 24 Democrats from across the political spectrum and has emerged as his party’s nominee for president in a manner unthinkable in January: a united party, from left to right, across race and creed, age and ideology. He is the victor despite mediocre fundraising, no digital media traction, no base of wild enthusiasts. Voters had to consider his appeals before coming to understand and then accept that it was indeed Joe Biden, who failed in his bids for the White House in 1988 and 2008, who was the strongest Democrat to go up against Donald Trump and take him out.
Biden’s essence is unchanged from that first race more than three decades ago. As Richard Ben Cramer reported in his legendary account of the 1988 campaign, What It Takes, Biden realised:
What Americans wanted from their government [was] just a helping hand, to make the fight for a better life for their kids, just a platform to stand on, so they could reach higher … That was his life: he was just a middle-class kid who’d got a little help along the way … and that was all he had to show. But that’s what connected him to the great body of voters in the country. That’s all he needed!
Fast-forward to Biden as vice president in the Obama administration. I captured his addresses to the Democrats in the House of Representatives. This is how I recorded two journal entries for my book (with co-author Bryan Marshall) The Committee, on Obama’s historic legislative agenda in Congress.
We have to help the middle class and working Americans – the people who sent us here.
It is absolutely clear that the decisions we made are working. And the public understands they are working […] The American people understand that the Republicans have rejected the notion of compromise. That’s not the way the American people want us to do business […] We can’t straighten them out, but the American people will in November […]
We will win based purely on the merits of our position. America is going to get an absolutely clear comparison this year. It’s a stark, stark, stark, contrast […] Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive.
This has been Biden’s whole life – connecting with the gut of middle America. His 2020 message is the same as he ran on in 1988. And the task is the same as when he was on the ticket with Obama in 2008: to ensure America recovers from the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.
Biden was responsible for ensuring the delivery of the American Recovery Act – the first piece of major legislation enacted after Obama and Biden took office. Ultimately, it spurred a decade of economic growth and full employment. So Biden has been there and will work to do it again.
A vice president to pick
We know only that it will be a woman. The oped pages and social media are on overdrive on who is best. Two things are paramount to Biden, because he knows the job and he knows what has to work.
Especially given his age, it is imperative the vice president be fully qualified and capable to step in to serve as president on her first heartbeat after his last – and is seen as such by the American people. This is where Sarah Palin was such a failure for John McCain in 2008.
Other mediocrities, both callow (Dan Quayle under George H.W. Bush) and criminal (Spiro Agnew with Richard Nixon) served but did not ascend to the presidency. Others, starting with Walter Mondale under Jimmy Carter, and then Al Gore under Bill Clinton, and Dick Cheney under George W. Bush, became true partners in governance, with real power and responsibility, and remade the office. That is the Biden template.
Biden insisted on – and received from Obama – a promise that he would be the last person in the room with the president before major decisions were taken, so he could give the full benefit of his judgment – whether the president took it or not. (Obama did not take Biden’s advice on the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.)
Biden wants a vice president who can do the same with him. The virtues she would bring to the ticket, such as Amy Klobuchar’s ability to drive votes for Biden in the Midwest, and Kamala Harris, who can bring a surge of African American voters to the polls, are but the icing on the judgment Biden will make.
The second factor is chemistry: Biden has to feel with his selection the same intensity that marked Obama’s bond with him over their eight years together. So a woman who is absolutely qualified and star-studded won’t get it if Biden feels they cannot do great things together through shared conviction and trust.
Given the strike rate of vice presidents who have become president – five of the past 11 since 1952 – Biden’s choice will likely affect the future of the Democratic Party and the country for perhaps the next 12 years.
An election to win
Ask anyone in America who is politically attuned and they will tell you this is the most important election of their lifetimes. President Donald Trump has the bully pulpit of the White House where, as we have seen during the pandemic crisis, he can command the airwaves for hours every day to pound home his message. He has a TV network that has effectively become a state media channel. He has a Republican senate that will provide no check on his misbehaviour and no effort to protect the election against Russian interference or voter suppression.
Trump’s avalanche of lies will continue unabated. He is the most shameless and relentless campaigner in modern American history. And if gets enough votes in the key states he won in 2016, he can be re-elected.
Biden’s task is clear: to take back those traditionally Democratic states – Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin – that Trump won in 2016’s outburst of populist anger at the political establishment, which included Hillary Clinton. And he must withstand and neuter the unprecedented charges of conspiracy and corruption that Trump is unleashing with “Obamagate”.
As of now, Biden leads Trump nationally by three to nine points in the polls. He is leading in three key battleground states, including Florida, and has a chance to capture Arizona and North Carolina. Trump is targeting Minnesota, New Hampshire and New Mexico. The consensus today is if the election was held now, Biden would win.
November is increasingly becoming a referendum on Trump and his management of the pandemic, and whether voters, facing disastrous hardship (over 16 million Americans lost their health insurance when they lost their jobs), trust Trump to restore the economy.
Biden’s message is already clear: Trump’s failures to appreciate the pandemic and act to protect the American people unnecessarily cost tens of thousands of lives. Biden helped bring the nation back from the Great Recession in 2009 – and knows how to do it again in 2021.
I wrote at the time [of Nazis marching in Charlottesville in 2017] that we’re in the battle for the soul of this nation. Well, that’s even more true today. I believe history will look back on four years of this president and all he embraces as an aberrant moment in time. But if we give Donald Trump eight years in the White House, he will forever and fundamentally alter the character of this nation — who we are — and I cannot stand by and watch that happen […] The core values of this nation, our standing in the world, our very democracy, everything that has made America America, is at stake. … Even more important, we have to remember who we are. This is America.
In the late stages of the primaries, the overwhelming sentiment of most Democrats was simple: get rid of Trump. As voters could see limits to the appeal of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, as Kamala Harris and Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg simply could not reach critical mass, they decisively concluded it was Biden that everyone knew and trusted to do the job and free the country of Trump.
The Newspoll, conducted January 8-11 from a sample of 1,500 people, gave Labor a 51-49 lead on a two-party preferred basis, a three point gain for Labor since the last Newspoll in early December.
Primary votes were 40% Coalition (down two points), 36% Labor (up three), 12% Greens (up one) and 4% One Nation (down one).
Morrison also suffered a drop in his job performance rating, with 37% saying they were satisfied, down eight points from early December, and 59% saying they were dissatisfied, up 11 points.
His net approval was -22, down 19 points since December. Labor leader Anthony Albanese’s net approval, meanwhile, improved ten points to +9.
Albanese also led Morrison 43-39 as preferred PM, a reversal of Morrison’s 48-34 lead in December. Apart from Morrison’s first Newspoll as PM following the ousting of Malcolm Turnbull in August 2018, this is the first time an opposition leader has led the incumbent PM on this measure since Tony Abbott was in office.
The bushfire crisis almost certainly explains the crash in Morrison’s ratings, but will this be sustained? As memories of a key event fade, people tend to move back to their previous positions.
US Democratic primary polls: Sanders has narrow Iowa lead
As the US Democratic primaries and caucuses are about to begin, here are the latest polls from the US.
Three weeks before the February 3 Iowa caucus, the highly regarded Selzer Iowa poll, conducted for CNN and the Des Moines Register, has shown Bernie Sanders with a slight lead in the state.
Sanders was at 20% in the poll (up five points from November), Elizabeth Warren 17% (up one), Pete Buttigieg 16% (down nine), Joe Biden 15% (steady), Amy Klobuchar 6% (steady) and Andrew Yang 5% (up two).
No other candidate had more than 3%. The poll was conducted January 2-8 from 701 likely caucus attendees.
The last Selzer Iowa poll had Buttigieg ahead at 25%, but he is down to third place in the new poll. After the last poll, there was much media attention on the former South Bend, Indiana, mayor, but he failed to catch on nationally. This failure has probably contributed to loss of enthusiasm in Iowa.
There are four early state primary contests: Iowa, New Hampshire (February 11), Nevada (February 22) and South Carolina (February 29). Fifteen states and territories then vote on March 3, otherwise known as Super Tuesday, when 36% of the total delegates will be awarded. This date could be decisive to determining who will be the nominee.
As I have written previously, the two states at the top of the calendar, Iowa and New Hampshire, are largely comprised of white voters. As such, they do not represent the diversity of the Democratic electorate.
A recent poll of black voters nationally gave a Biden a huge lead with 48%, with Sanders on 20% and nobody else in double digits.
Sanders and Warren, the two most left-wing candidates, are leading in the latest Iowa poll. One explanation is that Iowa is a caucus, not a primary. Caucuses are conducted by the parties and are time-consuming affairs that require voters to attend meetings where supporters make their case for candidates.
Primaries, meanwhile, are managed by the state’s electoral authority and operate like normal elections. As a result, caucuses have far lower turnout rates than primaries, and are more likely to be influenced by party activists.
In the 2016 Democratic presidential primary, Sanders performed far better than Hillary Clinton in caucus states, while Clinton performed better in most primary states.
The bad news for Sanders and Warren is that Democrats strongly encouraged states to use primaries this year. After Iowa and Nevada (February 22), only one state uses a true caucus, while four others have a party-run primary.
According to New York Times analyst Nate Cohn, 14% of pledged delegates were awarded by caucuses in 2016; this year only 3% will be. Left-wing candidates are most likely to be hurt by this change.
National Democratic polls and polls of other early states
The most recent RealClearPolitics national Democratic poll average has Biden leading with 29.3%, with Sanders at 20.3%, Warren 14.8%, Buttigieg 7.5%, Michael Bloomberg 5.8% and Yang 3.5%.
In New Hampshire, the RCP polling average has Sanders leading with 21.5%, followed by Biden at 18.8%, Buttigieg 18.3% and Warren 14.8%.
In Nevada, the only poll conducted in January has Biden at 23%, Sanders 17% and Warren and Tom Steyer both at 12%. And in South Carolina, the only January poll conducted had Biden in the lead at 36%, with Steyer in a surprise second at 15%.
In December, the US economy added 145,000 jobs. While this is down from 256,000 in November, it is still a good performance.
However, hourly wages grew only by three cents in December, and the annual hourly wage growth increased by just 2.9% – the first time it has been below 3% since July 2018.
We do not yet have the inflation report for December, but inflation increased 0.7% in October and November. Higher inflation undermines wage growth.
The US uses two surveys for its jobs reports. The number of jobs gained and wage growth are based on an establishment survey, while other statistics are based on a household survey. In December, the household survey was steady for the three most important indicators: unemployment at 3.5%, labour participation rate at 63.2% and employment population ratio at 61.0%.
The strong jobs reports and the fact the Dow Jones surged to near 29,000 are good news for President Donald Trump. The economy represents Trump’s best chance of re-election in November.
Trump’s ratings and head-to-head polls
With all polls, the FiveThirtyEight aggregate has Trump’s ratings at 41.8% approve, 53.5% disapprove, for a net approval of -11.7%. With polls of likely or registered voters, Trump’s ratings are 42.9% approve, 53.0% disapprove (net -10.1%).
In mid-December, Trump’s ratings rose to their highest since the very early days of his presidency. His ratings have since fallen by two to three net points since then, perhaps owing to the conflict with Iran.
In the most recent national head-to-head election polls, Biden led Trump by 4.5% in the RealClearPolitics average, Sanders led Trump by 2.6%, Trump led Warren by 0.2% and Trump led Buttigieg by 1.2%.
These polls were taken in early to mid-December, when Trump’s ratings were at their peak.
A year away from the November 2020 presidential election, Donald Trump has a 41.4% approval, 54.6% disapproval rating with all polls in the FiveThirtyEight aggregate. His net approval is -13.2%, down 0.8% since my October 10 article.
With polls of registered or likely voters, Trump’s approval is 42.4% and his disapproval 54.6%, for a net approval of -12.2%, down 0.7% since October 10.
In the FiveThirtyEight tracker, 47.5% support actually removing Trump from office by impeachment and 45.7% are opposed (47.4-44.7 support four weeks ago).
On October 31, the Democrat-controlled House officially voted to begin an impeachment inquiry by 232-196. As I said previously, while the house will very probably impeach Trump, the Senate is very unlikely to reach the two-thirds majority required to remove him.
In national general election polling against the three leading Democrats, Trump trails Joe Biden by 10.2% in the RealClearPolitics average (7.4% on October 10). He trails Elizabeth Warren by 7.3% (4.5% previously) and Bernie Sanders by 7.9% (5.2%).
How the Electoral College could save Trump again
To win the presidency, a candidate needs at least 270 Electoral College votes. The 538 total Electoral Votes (EVs) are apportioned winner-takes-all by state with two minor exceptions. Each state’s EVs is the sum of its house seats (population-based) and senators (always two).
While Trump’s national ratings and general election match-ups are poor, a poll of the six closest 2016 Trump states gives him a real chance. In this Siena College poll for The New York Times of the states of Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Florida, Arizona and North Carolina, Trump trails Biden by two points overall, is tied with Sanders and leads Warren by two.
In 2016, Trump won these six states collectively by two points. Despite losing the national popular vote by 2.1%, Trump exceeded the magic 270 Electoral Votes when he won Wisconsin by 0.8%, so the difference between the national vote and the “tipping-point” state was 2.9%.
Trump’s 2016 win was a result of strong backing from non-college educated whites, who make up a large share of the population in the mid-west. This poll suggests Trump’s support is holding up with non-college whites. The Democratic vote could be more inefficiently distributed than in 2016.
I do not believe there will be an eight-point difference between the national vote and battleground states, which this poll suggests when compared with current national polls. The Siena poll was taken October 13-25, a better time for Trump nationally. It may also be Republican-leaning.
US economy still good
In the September quarter, US GDP grew at a 1.9% annualised pace. The US reports its quarterly GDP rates as if that quarter’s GDP was the rate for the whole year. To convert to Australian-style GDP rates, divide by four, which means US GDP grew almost 0.5% in the September quarter. This growth rate is moderate. In the June quarter, GDP was up 2.0% annualised.
In the October US jobs report, 128,000 jobs were created and the unemployment rate was 3.6% (up 0.1% since September, but still very low historically). The participation rate increased 0.1% to 63.3% and the employment population ratio was steady at 61.0% – matching September’s highest since December 2008.
In the year to October, hourly wages grew 3.0%, while inflation increased 1.7% in the year to September, so real wages increased 1.3%.
These two economic reports are good news for Trump. If the economy was all-important, Trump would be a clear favourite for re-election. But Trump’s general behaviour has angered many who might otherwise have voted for him based on economic factors.
Trump will need the economy to stay strong until November 2020 to have a realistic chance. It is likely a weak economy is the only thing that would shake Trump’s support with non-college whites.
Biden retakes lead in Democratic polls
Three weeks after the October 15 Democratic debate, Biden leads with 29.7% in the RealClearPolitics average of national Democratic polls, followed by Warren at 20.8%, Sanders at 17.8% and Pete Buttigieg at 6.7%. Nobody else has more than 4%. In the past four weeks, Warren has lost votes to Sanders and Buttigieg, owing perhaps to her difficulties with the Medicare for All policy.
We are now three months away from the first Democratic contest: the February 3 Iowa caucus. In Iowa, Warren has 22.3%, Buttigieg has surged to 17.0%, Biden has 15.7% and Sanders 15.3%. In New Hampshire (February 11), the one poll conducted since the October debate gives Sanders 21%, Warren 18%, Biden 15% and Buttigieg 10%.
Two recent polls in Nevada (February 22) give Biden an eight or ten point lead over Warren. Biden still has a large lead in South Carolina (February 29).
The next Democratic debate will be held November 20 with qualifying criteria increased from October; nine candidates have qualified so far. The qualifying criteria will be increased again for the December 19 debate; five candidates have qualified for that debate.
UK general election: December 12
After failing to win parliamentary approval for his Brexit deal in time for the October 31 exit date, Prime Minister Boris Johnson won House of Commons backing for a December 12 election on October 29. The European Union had extended the Brexit deadline to January 31 at parliament’s request.
I wrote for The Poll Bludger on October 29 that Labour’s chances of winning will improve if they can make the election a referendum on Boris Johnson’s deal, which has plenty to attack from a left-wing perspective. Leave was helped by being undefined at the 2016 Brexit referendum, now it is defined.
Canada and other elections
I live-blogged the October 21 Canadian election for The Poll Bludger, in which the centre-left Liberals won a second term, but lost their majority. I also covered the Argentine and Polish elections for The Poll Bludger: a centre-left presidential candidate won in Argentina, and the Law and Justice party retained its lower house majority in Poland.
On my personal website, I wrote about the Greens’ surge at the October 20 Swiss election, where a unique system of executive government is used. Also covered: the left-wing Bolivian president was re-elected for a fourth successive term, the far-right dominated Hungarian local elections despite a setback in Budapest, and the far-right surged in German and Italian October 27 state elections.
Australian Newspoll: 51-49 to Coalition
In the latest Australian Newspoll, conducted October 17-20 from a sample of 1,634, the Coalition led by 51-49, unchanged since late September. Primary votes were also unchanged, with the Coalition on 42%, Labor 33%, Greens 13% and One Nation 6%.
Scott Morrison’s net approval was +2, down two points. Anthony Albanese’s net approval was -7, down six points. Morrison led Albanese by 47-32 (50-31 previously). Figures from The Poll Bludger.
This Newspoll was the fourth consecutive Newspoll with the Coalition ahead by 51-49. Newspoll’s lack of volatility probably contributed to the poll failure at the May federal election, but this does not appear to have changed.
After the first Democratic presidential debate on June 25-26, Joe Biden fell in Democratic national presidential polls, and Kamala Harris surged. In the lead-up to the July 30-31 debate, Biden recovered lost support while Harris lost some of her gains.
Since the debate, the biggest movement is clear gains for Elizabeth Warren, while Harris has continued to fall. In the RealClearPolitics national Democratic poll average, Biden currently leads with 30.8%, followed by Warren at 18.0%, Bernie Sanders at 16.8%, Harris at 8.3% and Pete Buttigieg at 6.3%. All other candidates are at 2% or less.
As I wrote previously, four states – Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina – hold their primaries or caucuses in February 2020, while all other states need to wait until at least March 2020. So early state polls are important.
In the only poll conducted since the second Democratic debate in Iowa, Biden led with 28%, followed by Warren at 19%, Harris at 11%, Sanders at 9% and Buttigieg at 8%. In New Hampshire, there have been two polls since the debate. One has Biden at 21%, Sanders 17%, Warren 14%, Harris 8% and Buttigieg 6%. The other gives Sanders a lead with 21%, followed by Biden at 15%, Warren 12%, Buttigieg 8% and Harris 7%.
In general election polling, Biden has a high single-digit lead over Donald Trump, Sanders a mid single-digit lead, and both Warren and Harris have low single-digit leads. Biden’s perceived electability is crucial in explaining his continued strong polling, as this tweet from analyst Nate Silver says.
For the next Democratic presidential debate, on September 12, the threshold for participation has been increased. As a result there are likely to be far fewer candidates than the 20 in each of the first two debates.
In the FiveThirtyEight poll aggregate, Trump’s ratings are slightly down since these massacres. With all polls, Trump’s ratings are 41.9% approve, 53.6% disapprove, for a net approval of -11.7%. With polls of registered or likely voters, his ratings are 42.6% approve, 53.3% disapprove, for a net approval of -10.7%.
Perhaps due to his anti-immigrant rhetoric, Trump’s net ratings have fallen about 1.5 points since my previous article a month ago, and this trend has continued after the massacres.
In the latest US jobs report, the unemployment rate remained at just 3.7% as 164,000 jobs were added in July. These jobs reports have been good news for Trump. I wrote an old but still relevant article on my personal website last year about how the low US participation rate holds down the unemployment rate compared to Australia.
The question that should be asked about Trump is why, given the strong US economic performance, his net approval is well below zero. FiveThirtyEight has historical data from 12 presidents going back to Harry Truman, and Trump’s net approval is only ahead of Jimmy Carter at this point in their presidencies. If there is an economic downturn before the November 2020 general election, Trump is likely to be far more vulnerable.
An economic downturn could occur due to Trump’s trade war with China, or due to a “no-deal” Brexit in the UK. I wrote for The Poll Bludger on August 2 that the UK parliament is running out of options to prevent no-deal, which PM Boris Johnson’s hard “Leave” cabinet suggests he will pursue. In my previous Poll Bludger article on July 23, I talked about Johnson’s crushing victory (66.4-33.6) in a Conservative members’ ballot.
Trump can still win the 2020 election, despite his low approval ratings, if he is able to either demonise his eventual Democratic opponent, or win the Electoral College despite losing the popular vote, as occurred in 2016. However, recent state by state polling has Trump’s net approval below zero in ten states he carried in 2016, and in some of those states his ratings are well below zero.
If all the states where Trump’s net approval is currently negative were to go to the Democrat, the Democrat would win the presidency by an emphatic 419-119 votes in the Electoral College.
Australian election preference flows and the first Newspoll
On August 2, the Electoral Commission released data on how every minor party’s preferences flowed between the major parties at the May federal election. The Greens, who won 10.4% of the primary vote, flowed heavily to Labor (82.2%), but Clive Palmer’s UAP (3.4% of the vote) flowed at 65.1% to Coalition, and One Nation (3.1% of the vote) was almost identical in its flow (65.2%). Excluding the Greens, UAP and One Nation, Others preferences were 50.7% to Labor.
Analyst Kevin Bonham says there was barely any increase in the Greens preference flow to Labor since 2016. The Greens flow increased in four states, fell slightly in Queensland, and was weaker in SA as more moderate voters returned to the Greens after the collapse of Centre Alliance.
In 2016, One Nation preferences were just 50.4% to the Coalition, so the Coalition’s flow from One Nation increased almost 15%. In 2013, Palmer’s party preferences were 53.7% to the Coalition, so the UAP’s flow to the Coalition improved 11.4%.
Preference shifts advantaged the Coalition by 0.8% on the national two party vote compared to if no preference shifts had occurred. The Coalition’s overall share of minor party preferences (40.4%) was its best since 2001, when the Greens only had 5%.
In the first Newspoll since the election, the Coalition led by 53-47, from primary votes of 44% Coalition, 33% Labor, 11% Greens and 3% One Nation. Scott Morrison’s ratings were 51% satisfied, 36% dissatisfied, for a net approval of +15, a big improvement from +1 in the final pre-election Newspoll that was biased against the Coalition. Anthony Albanese’s initial ratings were 39% satisfied, 36% dissatisfied. Morrison led by 48-31 as better PM.
This poll was conducted July 25-28 from a sample of 1,600. Bonham says there is no indication in The Australian’s report that anything has changed at Newspoll since the election’s poll failure. As I wrote after the election, there was, and still is, a lack of adequate documentation of Newspoll’s methods.
The Spanish Socialists won the April 28 election, but as I wrote on my personal website on August 1, a lack of cooperation between the Socialists and far-left Podemos could mean another election. Also covered: a landslide for former comedian Zelensky’s party in the Ukraine, and the conservatives easily retain their hold over Japan’s upper house.
Yet despite his policies and character, the president could well be re-elected. As Hillary Clinton discovered, running against Trump has its challenges. His attack-based, fear-mongering style is more electorally effective than many would hope.
Pundits frequently write about the loyalty of Trump’s base – rusted-on Republicans and whites without college degrees. However, Harvard voting data suggests that, in key swing states, registered independents and self-described moderates switched parties or turned out to deliver Trump victory.
The leader: Biden
Last week, we saw the 2020 election season officially kick off, with two televised debates featuring ten Democratic candidates apiece. But while the stages were packed, only a few candidates seem to have a genuine chance of taking out Trump: former Vice President Joe Biden; senators Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris; and Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Indiana.
And since May, Biden’s polling average has declined from around 41% to 31%, according to an average of eight major polls. Right now, he’s riding name recognition and the warm glow of association with still-popular former President Barack Obama.
We’re particularly cautious about Biden’s chances, because when he campaigned to be president in 1987-88 and 2007-08, he was unimpressive. The former vice president remains notoriously gaffe-prone and his speech-making abilities are middling. In 2006, Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen wrote:
The only thing standing between Joe Biden and the presidency is his mouth.
Why has America arrived at a moment where progressive policies are popular and it is conceivable Sanders or Warren could become the next US president?
The short answer is that status quo politics and economics have failed many Americans and the nation seems open to new solutions. Those “solutions” might still look like Trump, but they might also take the form of leftist policies that have long been considered irrelevant or unrealistic.
In the past, the Democrats have offered younger voters a less moralistic and more inclusive form of capitalism. Sanders and Warren, in particular, are now promising a social democratic vision that is far easier to communicate to the electorate than the complicated social policies promoted by the Clintons.
Gaining ground: Harris and Buttigieg
Harris and Buttigieg both sit to the left of Biden, but to the right of Sanders and Warren. Harris performed especially well in the debate – she effectively attacked Biden’s political history, and used her own past as a prosecutor to push for a ban on assault weapons. After the debate, one poll showed her moving from 6%-12% among Democratic voters.
Harris’ own history as San Francisco’s district attorney and California’s attorney general, however, could prove a weakness, particularly in an environment where candidates are being challenged on progressive terms. In January, a New York Times op-ed argued that, when in power, Harris failed to push criminal justice reform and worked to uphold wrongful convictions.
Buttigieg is attempting to stake out the ground of the “scholar politician,” echoing Obama’s Ivy League credentials. He’s a graduate of Harvard and Oxford, and reportedly speaks seven languages. He also served in the US military and would be the first openly gay presidential nominee.
Among the challenges confronting Buttigieg is his response to the shooting of a black man by a police officer in his city, South Bend. At the Democratic debate, he was asked why he has been unable to improve African-American representation on the city’s police force. Buttigieg responded, “Because I couldn’t get it done”.
As the campaign wears on, we will likely see increasingly heated debate among the winnowing field, with any weakness that puts a candidate at risk of being defeated in the presidential race ruthlessly confronted and thoroughly interrogated.
As we approach February 2020, when the first votes are cast in the Iowa caucuses, the Democrats will continue to go through an existential struggle between those who believe the time has come for fundamental social reform, and those who believe such a platform would make a candidate un-electable, even against Trump.