It finally happened!
After a pandemic, mass layoffs, and months of Joe Biden steadily leading the President in most major polls, the nationwide protests over police brutality have proven to be straw that broke the camel’s back. This week, the presumptive Democratic nominee has overtaken Donald Trump as the betting favorite for the 2020 presidential election.
|Political Betting Site||Trump Election Odds|
- Odds current as of 6/5.
- (Some sportsbooks may offer more favorable odds, but have not been vetted for quality by our reviewers)
Yet, I can’t help but see this as anything more than a prime opportunity to capitalize on the growing value wagering on the incumbent presents. I understand why so many pollsters, pundits, and oddsmakers see things going the other way; I just think they’re overreacting to current events and national sentiment.
US Voter Turnout
Voter turnout rates in the United States, 2002-2018 (expressed as a % of eligible voters):
|Year||Total Ballots Cast||Total ballots cast for highest office|
If Donald Trump has anything going for him, it’s that the United States has historically ranked near the bottom of all developed nations for voter turnout. The incumbent inspired a minor uptick in participation in 2016 from 2012, but only 60.2% of Americans who were eligible to vote showed up.
Nationwide polling consistently places Biden in the lead – often by a double-digit margin – but on Election Day, will he be able to count on those ballots? Responding to a couple of questions on the telephone or internet doesn’t bear quite the same commitment as showing up to vote when it counts.
— Political Polls (@Politics_Polls) May 31, 2020
It’s also noteworthy that polls tend to bias in favor of liberals and older voters. No industry has lost more credibility since last general election than the pollsters — perhaps, besides the media. Their confidence in Hillary’s coronation is why many election experts and political oddsmakers have been hesitant to read too much into the numbers thus far.
The US’s abysmal voter turnout numbers mean the slightest up-or-downtick in participation can have monumental implications, especially when you factor in the electoral college. Looking back at 2016, Clinton won the popular vote by roughly 3 million, but it was 77,000 ballots where Trump needed them most that placed Trump in the Oval Office.
“Law and Order” and Antifa Messaging
I contend that the mix of protests and riots sweeping the nation will play a central role in determining who feels the most urgency to cast a ballot on Election Day. A recent CBS News survey of over 1,300 voters nationwide (331 Rep / 454 Dem / 524 Ind), reported that 33% of respondents approve of President Trump’s handling of race relations, versus 58% who disapprove.
— Political Polls (@Politics_Polls) June 5, 2020
Those sentiments seem to be shared amongst much of the country. Trump’s aggressive response to the protests haven’t been helpful in that regard. He’s both encouraged the shooting of looters and threatened to deploy active military personnel to states he feels haven’t been “dominant” enough in stopping the “riots.”
I previously wrote about the demonstrations, explaining that the vast majority of attendees are participating in peaceful protests. There are also scenes of rioting and looting breaking out. It’s the property damage, theft, and acts of violence that have been the focus of conservatives primarily.
I’ve pointed out that the use of agent provocateurs is a tried and true establishment method of undermining public support and justifying state violence against protesters. Still, it would appear very few Americans are aware.
One’s view of the demonstrations is mostly determined by where they consume their media. Liberals are outraged by the footage of police officers wildly attacking peaceful protesters and responding to the public’s calls for police reform with even more brutality.
Their political opposites are more triggered by videos of lawlessness – angry mobs destroying storefronts and vehicles, setting fires, looting, and violently assaulting detractors. They tend to justify whatever happens to the protesters by equating them with the rioters.
Trump’s “Silent Majority”
The group of voters most responsible for putting Donald Trump in the White House was white voters who had not completed college. He led Clinton by more than two-to-one in that category. Middle-aged and older voters also carried him.
Conventional wisdom says that historically, riots have benefitted Republican candidates. Might that be why conservatives are so quick to paint all of the protesters with the same brush as the lawless bandits featured in the very worst images of unrest?
“It’s what keeps me awake at night,” says Pete Giangreco, a Democratic strategist. “I think there are a lot more people who support this President who didn’t vote last time than opposed this President and didn’t vote last time. That is how they win.”
Giangreco points out that the President, “is playing to them, fanning the flames of division instead of what just about every other president in our lifetimes — Republican or Democrat —would do.”
However, it was the suburban white voters that delivered the House of Representatives to the Democrats in 2018 – midterms that set a 50-year high in voter turnout. They’ve been equally instrumental during the Democratic primaries – second only to older black voters, who won Biden the nomination.
The question becomes: how many of those white and older suburban voters will be driven back to Donald Trump out of fear and racial tensions?
Will the three-and-a-half years of anti-Trump media coverage prevail, or the images of businesses burning and young people pouring out of the ruins with hands full of boxes?
The Democratic Divide
The problem for Joe Biden is the divide within his party. Older liberals and establishment Democrats say the “right” things when it comes to racial issues but have rarely offered more to minorities than lip service.
The worst footage of police officers abusing protesters has come from states run by Democrats – California and New York, especially. Liberal pundits have been quick to blame Trump’s aggressive rhetoric for their behavior. I’m just not sure it matters to the recipients of the abuse, who will undoubtedly be radicalized by their experiences.
How does Biden walk the line between the conservative Democrats and “Never Trump” Republicans upon whom he relied in the primaries and the leftists marching in the demonstrations? He can’t condemn Antifa or the violence too strongly without risking youth and minority votes, nor can he ignore or support them without potentially adding to Trump’s Silent Majority.
Younger voters overwhelmingly preferred Bernie Sanders in the primary. Between the Iowa caucus and March 17, — Bernie’s last before suspending his campaign — Biden carried only 22 percent of the vote among Democratic participants 45 years old and younger.
While the protests were sparked by race, several other underlying issues are fanning the flames as well. There’s been a definite anti-establishment vibe from the crowds, with the youth of America demanding real, substantial reform and not the usual empty promises.
These are the generations hit the hardest by decades of neoliberal policies. They represent the lowest percentages for both home and small business ownership in US history. It’s a group with minimal investment in their neighborhoods, cities, or nation and, thus, not much to lose.
The liberal think-tank Center for American Progress recently published an election analysis that suggests approximately 9% of Trump voters from 2016 are prepared to support the former Vice President in November.
One-third of these swing voters are working-class whites without college degrees, one-third are white college graduates, and the remainder are non-white. They are economically progressive but socially conservative.
They want higher taxes on the wealthy and higher minimum wage, but are against banning guns, oppose reparations, and want the government to promote “family values.”
Based on their leftist economic ideals and lack of political correctness, one would expect this group to be comprised of Obama-to-Trump voters and Democrats that abandoned Hillary after stealing Bernie Sanders’s nomination in 2016.
How might the response from Joe Biden and Democratic officials to the protests/riots impact this group’s decision?
So far, liberals have been reluctant to denounce the violence and destruction of property. Plus, demonstrations are amplifying a lot of “woke” culture — the aspects of liberalism these voters seem to reject.
Will their disappointment in Trump’s lack of follow-through on his 2016 populist promises and his prioritization of the wealthy outweigh this group’s aversion to liberal political correctness? Might the Democratic response to the protests cost Joe Biden this valuable bloc of swing voters?
Biden’s Resume Doesn’t Help
Young Americans are burdened by insurmountable levels of student loan debt in a job market that couldn’t provide enough well-paying jobs before the pandemic wrecked the economy further.
It probably doesn’t help that the Democratic candidate is directly responsible for their inability to escape their debt through bankruptcy.
Black male incarceration rates skyrocketed as a result of Joe’s time in the Senate. The Trump team is already hammering these facts home in advertising campaigns.
While I think the anti-Trump message will play with affluent urban liberals and some suburbanites, I don’t see the enthusiasm young people are showing in these protests carrying over into the polling stations. And that causes significant problems for Biden.
If Trump’s gamble on his Silent Majority pays off and they respond to his tough stance against “Antifa” and “communists” for trying to “destroy their country” and “start a revolution,” I’m not sure Biden has a card to play to increase turnout on the other side.
Based on what we’ve seen in the early Democratic primaries and these demonstrations, the young voters are done with incrementalism – they want actual change—the kind Democrats aren’t offering due to their obedience to wealthy donors.
Will Biden’s message of “at least I’m not Trump” be enough?
I see these George Floyd protests doing substantial damage to the President’s approval rating overall. However, when it comes to voter turnout, the messaging about unrest is likely to be unifying for Republicans and divisive for Democrats.
Trump’s Cash Advantage
One area in which the incumbent enjoys a sizable advantage over his challenger is the campaign war chest. The Trump campaign, along with Republican fund-raising committees, now has $255 million in cash on hand. For comparison’s sake, the Biden campaign only has $103 million.
Trump has had several advantages when it comes to fund-raising. Democratic donors had a field of candidates from which to choose before Super Tuesday. It was Bernie Sanders’s prolific grassroots fund-raising campaign that collected the most money in the Democratic primaries, but that enthusiasm hasn’t transferred to Biden.
Joe’s finances have also taken a hit due to the pandemic. Trump has been front-and-center, with daily press briefings – first about COVID and now regarding the protests, while Biden has been largely invisible, locked away in his Delaware basement for months.
In 2016, Hillary Clinton outspent Trump by nearly three times, so campaign cash isn’t everything. However, the former reality TV show host was handed billions of dollars’ worth of “earned media” — free coverage by way of being the only thing any of the pundits wanted to talk about.
That’s Biden’s bigger problem. Not only can the President outspend him by two-and-half times, but he’s also much more visible. The cable news networks have done nothing but obsess over Donald Trump since last Election Day. With the multiple ongoing crises, that isn’t going to stop.
Between the face time and campaign coffers, Team Trump should have a significant messaging advantage. Liberal outlets will pick up some of the slack for Biden, just as they did in the primaries, but he’s still at a disadvantage.
Right Time to Bet on Trump?
For the first time since this election cycle kicked into gear, Donald Trump is the underdog. Online sportsbooks have been stubborn before now, occasionally shortening the incumbent’s odds, but never going all the way to favor Biden. It would appear that Trump’s handling of the ongoing protests finally did the trick.
Sure, Donald Trump has presided over an exceptionally chaotic end to his first term, with multiple crises affecting his approval rating. A pandemic killed thousands, his beloved economy crashed before rebounding somewhat, and now nationwide protests are highlighting tensions between citizens and their police departments.
On top of everything, one could argue that President Trump hasn’t handled any of these unexpected issues exceptionally well. Regardless, I predict that in November, he wins a second term.
Trump is unpopular, but the country’s low voter turnout mitigates the damage. So does the electoral college and the arrangement of his base within that system.
The protests might reflect poorly on the President overall, but his intense focus on “law and order” will play very well with the voting blocs he needs, in order to overcome Biden in crucial swing states.
Meanwhile, the Democratic candidate is stuck juggling the needs of affluent, conservative liberals — who carried him through the primaries — and the left-leaning youth and minority voters pushing for more than “not Trump;” they want real reform.
Biden doesn’t offer that possibility. He doesn’t provide anything other than “I’m not Trump.” In the current climate, that’s not going to be enough.