Thursday, October 1, 2020

The Debate and Beyond

The first Presidential debate is behind us and what more do we know today than a couple of days ago?

First, the debate garnered many fewer viewers than was predicted.

TV viewership was over 10 million fewer than watched the first Clinton/Trump debate in 2016.

Does this suggest that a lot of voters have made up their minds and don't see the need to spend their time watching the debate drama?

Interestingly, I found in talking to a number of friends that most only watched the first half of the debate. Most said they got tired of the back and forth bickering and changed the channel. 

Second, we know that the Donald Trump that ran in 2016 is the same Donald Trump that stood on that debate stage this week. His personality and his unique brand of politics has not changed. He is brazen and blunt. He does not politely sit back. Trump is a fighter to the core, and if he is not punching his opponent, he is counter punching.

I personally believe that Trump would have been better served by letting Biden make his points despite the fact so much Biden said was untrue. Trump should have taken note of what Biden said and then come back with a stinging rebuttal instead of butting in and challenging Biden. 

However, the debate format was not set up to facilitate this very well. There was no real time for rebuttal before Chris Wallace came in with his own follow-up questions. This effectively introduced a third party to the debate and Wallace was not there to do any favors for Trump. 

Third, Joe Biden survived the night without any major gaffes or brain freezes. This by itself made the debate a win for Biden. He could not afford anything that fed the narrative that he was not up to the job.

However, at the same time, the general reaction I got from talking to friends was that Biden looked old, weak and fragile compared to Trump.

On balance, I would give Biden a win on points for the night but I doubt anyone will remember this debate in a week or so.

Other events will intercede and prove to be much more consequential in determining the final outcome of this election.

Why do I say that?

Let's go back four years ago.

The first Clinton/Trump debate had just taken place.

Hillary was consistently considered the winner of that debate by almost everyone.

In fact, I wrote a blog post after that debate in which I criticized Trump entitled "The Counter Puncher Forgot To Punch Back".

Donald Trump has famously stated that he does not punch first. He only counter punches when he is attacked first.

In the first Presidential debate tonight it seemed to me that Trump forgot who he was.

Perhaps it was because he had been told incessantly that he had to show a Presidential demeanor and a calm demeanor. It might have been because he did not expect so many offensive blows from Hillary.

The reason does not matter.

What I saw tonight was a counter puncher who forgot to punch back.

Hillary Clinton was on the offensive with every answer.

However, instead of counter punching, Trump looked like he was employing Muhammed Ali's "rope-a-dope" strategy where he just went into a reflexive defensive strategy.

Let's not forget that this was all before the Access Hollywood tapes were released and Republican officeholder were distancing themselves from Trump as fast as they could.

However, right on the heels of that disclosure Trump went into the second debate with Hillary. In one of the great performances I have ever seen under pressure, and with the stakes so high, Trump turned the race around that night which ultimately led to his election.

That is one of the reasons I don't second guess or underestimate Donald Trump.

Trump does not do things the way I would do them but he is still standing despite the fact that almost the entire media, bureaucratic and political establishment has been trying to take him down since he first ran for President.

It just might be true that Donald Trump knows better than anyone what works best for him. Too many people get too wrapped up in the style of Donald Trump when they should be focusing on his substance and the results that he gets.

Perhaps Donald Trump is not as focused on winning over undecided suburban women as he is in turning out his base of voters? How many true undecided voters are out there right now anyway? 

Perhaps Donald Trump is more interested in getting the votes of Black and Hispanic males, who clearly benefited greatly from the Trump economy the last three years, than trying to swing more independents his way?

Perhaps Donald Trump is focused on getting more non-college educated working class people to vote. Only 55% of these people voted in 2016 compared to 72% of college-educated Whites.

It seems that you can find most any poll result you want when you survey those who watched the debate. I have found that most of the time people tend to think that their candidate "won" the debate.

However, there was one poll after the Trump/Biden debate that I found particularly interesting.

It was conducted by Telemundo which specifically targets Hispanic viewers. Bear in mind that this was a "click" poll and was not a scientific opinion poll. However, it was still rather astounding.

66% of the Telemundo viewers who participated saw Trump as the winner of the debate.


Many polls have shown that Trump has improved his standing with Black voters over the last four years.

For example, I cited this Rasmussen poll in a blog post in late July that showed Trump with a 49% approval rating with Blacks and a 57% approval rating with other non-White (principally Hispanics) likely voters.

Approval scores do not necessarily translate directly to votes. However, they certainly indicate that there are potential votes to be had if there is approval of the job performance of the incumbent President.

As of October 1, Rasmussen has Trump's overall approval rating at 49%. This is exactly where Barack Obama stood in 2012 on the same date when he was running for re-election against Mitt Romney.

Source: Rasmussen Reports

Most polls right now are showing Biden ahead of Trump by about 6 or 7 points. At the same point of the race with Hillary Clinton, Trump was down 3 or 4 points. However, after the Access Hollywood tape was released Trump's deficit grew to 7 or 8 points.

As I have written many times before, the biggest factor in any election involves turnout. Political races are primarily won when you get your voters to turn out. You lose when your voters stay home.

For example, a big reason that Hillary Clinton lost in 2016 was due to the fact that Black voters did not turn out to support her like they did for Barack Obama in 2012. 67% of registered Black voters turned out to vote in 2012. Only 57% turned out in 2016.

Turnout also explains the GOP Congressional losses in 2018. A substantial number of the people who turned out to vote for Donald Trump in 2016 simply did not turn out to vote for GOP Congressional candidates in 2018. As a result, the Republicans lost the House.

An incumbent President also can only be defeated if those who voted for him the last time turn against him four years later. The polls suggest that this has occurred. However, I just do not see evidence of that in the people I know and talk to.

I know many people who were on the fence about Donald Trump four years ago. Most reluctantly voted for Trump. I do not know one of them who regrets their vote. Most say he has far exceeded their expectations.

Most still don't like the way he behaves or his tweets. However, they are not going to vote for Biden over Trump. That is especially true as they see what is going on in the country right now. Most see Trump as the person that is needed to protect and preserve civil society. Most of those late converts to Trump would not have believed they would see him that way considering what they were thinking four years ago at this time.

In fact, I think most everyone would also have to admit that there has not been a President in our lifetimes who has governed and followed a policy agenda that has deviated less from what the candidate ran on than what we have seen with Donald J. Trump. 

There are people who may not like what he has done. However, it is hard to find almost anything that Trump has done that was not in his original political platform.

There has been no bait and switch.

You have not seen Trump say one thing when running for President and do another thing as President.

What you saw when he ran in 2016 is what you have seen for the following 47 months. We saw that again at the debate this week.

There have been no surprises.

Let's look at how important some of these factors above play out by looking at an interesting interactive tool that NBC News has developed for their election coverage website to see if we can understand where all of this leading us to in the election. It may allow you to better understand what is really driving the campaign strategies of the candidates.

It is called "Swing the Election" and it allows you to input different turnout and vote totals for different demographic groups to determine what effects they may have on the 2020 election results.

For example, here is the electoral map for 2016 that ended with Trump winning with 306 electoral votes with 49% of the popular vote.

If you merely adjust for population and demographic changes since 2016 this tool suggests that Biden would capture 52% of the vote and 307 electoral votes. It projects that Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin would all move from Trump to the Democrats.

These are the underlying assumptions based on that conclusion. 

For example, it assumes only 8% of the Black vote and 28% of the Hispanic vote are for Trump which were the totals in 2016. However, these groups have a bigger percentage of the population today.

Let's leave everything else the same but adjust Trump's share of the Black vote to 12% (+4 points compared to 2016) and his share of the Hispanic vote to 32% (+ 4 points). 

These don't seem unreasonable considering some of the approval scores we have seen for Trump recently.

Trump now retains Florida and Michigan and wins the electoral college according to the tool. He loses Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

If Trump does that and also gets a higher turnout with non-college White voters (his most reliable demographic) by 4 points (from 55% to 59% turnout) the electoral college results are identical to 2016 and Trump actually gains in the popular vote.

If you merely have 4% lower turnout among the age 18-29 demographic than we saw in 2016, Trump would also retain all of the states he won in 2016 plus pick up New Hampshire.

This is not far-fetched considering that Joe Biden is not exactly the type of candidate that seems able to create a lot of enthusiasm with younger voters. You also have the added factor now that many college students are not on college campuses in states like New Hampshire. They are more likely to vote in their home states if they vote at all.

There is something else you should be aware of when seeing poll numbers involving the national popular vote. Due to the fact that so many Democrat votes are concentrated in large states like California, New York and Illinois, you cannot assume that a popular vote win will translate into an electoral vote victory for Biden.

Nate Silver calculated the chances that Biden would win the election based on his popular vote margin. 

As you can see, Biden needs to be up by about 3 points in the popular vote to have a better than even chance of winning the electoral college according to Silver. Keep this in mind as you see the national polls leading up to election day.

The big point in all of this is that there is a lot that can still happen in the weeks leading up to the election. 

As you can see in my use of the interactive tool, this election will also be determined by small changes at the margin among many voting groups.

There is a reason that Biden and the media want to falsely allege that Trump is a racist white supremacist sympathizer.

There is a reason that Biden will never say anything remotely negative about Black Lives Matter.

There is a reason that Biden wants young voters to know that he his working with Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on their agenda and he does not want to call out Antifa as anything but an "idea".

There is a reason that Trump went after Biden aggressively on issues like law and order, the Green New Deal, defund the police and packing the Supreme Court at the debate.

There is a reason that Biden is trying to play both sides of these issues.

That reason is in the numbers above.

The Democrats are trying to hold a very, very fragile voter coalition together for Biden to win.

They need high turnout among Blacks, Hispanics and young people and they cannot afford to lose any that voted for Hillary to stay home in 2020 (or even worse) to switch to Trump.

Trump needs to maintain the energy and commitment of his base first and foremost. 

If every voter who voted for Trump the last time does it again, he will be tough to beat. If he does this, and can make inroads with Black and Hispanic voters and get more working class voters to the polls that have stayed away in the past, he will be impossible to beat.

Fasten your seatbelts. 

It is going to get even more interesting before it is over.

After all, it is 2020.


Shortly after I published this post it was revealed that President Trump and First Lady Melania have tested positive for Covid-19.

Didn't I just say it would get even more interesting before it is over?

The question is quickly going to be asked as to when the President can be allowed to resume normal activities.

The CDC guidelines (follow the SCIENCE!) state that he could be back on the campaign trail 10 days after the first symptoms appeared and at least 24 hours after any fever is absent without the use of fever-reducing medications.

If no symptoms ever present themselves the President can resume normal activities 10 days after his positive test. Note that the CDC now does not require that additional negative tests be obtained before discontinuing home isolation after a positive test. These would only be required if one wanted to cut short the 10 day home isolation period.


Assuming all goes well this means the President could be back on the campaign trail by October 11.

The next debate is scheduled for October 15. The final debate is October 22.

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