'Don't Believe the Polls' Mantra Could Hurt the GOP
All the recent 2020 general election matchup polls between President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden consistently indicate that Biden could limit Trump to a single term.
Last Friday’s Fox News matchup showing Biden crushing Trump 49% to 38% was sobering for Republicans, as an 11-percentage-point difference signals landslide potential. Days before, on May 14, an Emerson matchup showed Biden thumping Trump by 8 points, 54% to 46%.
The poll trends for a Trump vs. Biden race appear to be worsening for the president. Shortly after Biden announced his candidacy on April 25, both a CNN and Hill/Harris poll showed the challenger defeating the president by “only” 6 percentage points.
Of course, it’s still very early in the election cycle, but Biden could be experiencing a “spiraling up” where his strength in the matchup surveys has helped propel him to a nearly 20-percentage-point lead in RealClearPolitics' latest average of Democratic primary polls. And if current trends continue, we can expect Biden’s primary lead to increase when some of the 20+ candidates inevitably drop out and get on the Biden bandwagon, especially if his general election poll lead consistently stays above 8 percentage points.
In discussions with my fellow Republicans, Biden’s strength against Trump is continuously dismissed by the mantra “Don’t believe the polls.” This throwback to Trump’s 2016 surprise victory has now morphed into “comfort food” that sustains and fortifies Trump supporters against any negative 2020 indicators.
I have learned not to contest this popular incantation, even though the last 2016 RealClearPolitics general election poll average showed Hillary Clinton winning the popular vote by 3.3%, which she actually won by a margin of 2.1%.
Yes, I am a loyal longtime Republican, but I refuse to be placated by a stale mantra that masks reality. The facts are that the current matchup polls — consistent with 2018 midterm election voter data — show disturbing trends reflected in Biden’s formidable lead. Team Trump must reverse these trends or face almost certain Electoral College defeat.
Let’s start with a key data nugget from the May 17 Fox News poll cited earlier, showing Biden defeating Trump by double digits. The primary reason is that Biden wins women by 20 percentage points over Trump, 53% to 33%. Sure, women voters have never been Trump’s strongest demographic — he lost them by 15 points, 54% to 39%, in 2016 while still managing to win the White House. Nevertheless, Biden gaining women voters by an additional 5 percentage points over Trump is a formidable trend.
It is also important to note that I just checked the 2016 validated voters study by Pew Research Center — supposedly more accurate than the exit polls — showing women comprised 55% of the 2016 electorate compared to men at 44%. Alternatively, exit polls from that year and the 2018 midterm elections show that women voters composed 52% of the electorate compared to men at 48%.
Either at 55% or 52%, women are the dominant voter demographic, and if Trump loses them by over 15 points, he must over-compensate with men.
Unfortunately for the president, the Fox News poll has Biden and Trump splitting male voters at 45% each. As always, white men are Trump’s strong suit, and Fox has the president winning them by 51% to 40% over Biden.
However, compared to 2016 when Trump won white men by 62% to 32% over Clinton, Trump is currently down 11 percentage points with his strongest group of voters, who comprised 33% of the 2016 electorate and 35% of 2018 voters.
Now, let’s compare this national voting and gender data to last week’s Quinnipiac matchup poll between Trump and Biden in Pennsylvania. This all-important state with 20 Electoral College votes could swing the 2020 election. The poll shows Biden leading Trump by 11 points, 53% to 42%. Remember that the national Fox News poll also showed Biden defeating Trump by 11 points but with lower percentages, 49% to 38%.
When you consider that the president won Pennsylvania by only 0.7% in 2016, Biden leading by 11% could be a bellwether for national Trump 2020 meltdown.
Again, women lead the way with 60% supporting Biden and only 36% for Trump. Moreover, Biden wins white women by 20 points, 57% to 37%. Yikes! Time for the GOP to kiss PA goodbye?
Thankfully, Trump has a loyal following among men, winning them 49% to 45% over Biden. But that 4-percentage-point margin does not nearly compensate for him losing women by 24 points, especially if they turn out to vote in greater numbers.
Still, white men in Pennsylvania are Trump’s saviors with 54% supporting the president compared to 41% for Biden. That 13-percentage-point difference is two points higher than the national Fox News poll, which had Trump winning white men by 11 points over Biden.
Hooray! Trump leads with white men in Pennsylvania by a greater percentage than the national average. More reason for the president to hold robust rallies there -- as he did on Monday night in this must-win state.
Here is the peril for Republicans, however: They’re believing in energized rallies rather than discouraging polls. It’s a dangerous strategy since rallies are like preaching to the choir. With large crowds gathered together because the Trump campaign collects contact information from voters who already support the president, rallies are feel-good exercises in cheerleading. I laugh whenever Republicans gauge Trump’s popularity and re-election prospects based on turnout at rallies
Polls tell a different story, one written outside of the arenas. Losing women by 20 points and tying with men signals that the president is in desperate need of a course correction. But, given that Republicans in general are so “rah-rah Trump” and do not believe polls, this gender data is often dismissed as “fake” or “inaccurate” because of a strong economy and a 2016 poll hangover.
As Trump likes to say, “Let’s wait and see what happens,” but that mantra is neither pro-active nor encouraging for the GOP in 2020.