02 October 2020

Presidential Race Update

News That Could Drive The Election

Trump's Health

The big news, of course, is that President Trump has been hospitalized with COVID-19 and has at least mild symptoms as did his wife, some of his senior aides and campaign contributors, several White House journalists, and two GOP Senators. Vice President Pence and Democratic Party nominee Joe Biden have tested negative. 

At a minimum, President Trump will be quarantined for the next two weeks in the critical last four and a half weeks of the election campaign and would complicate the remaining two planned Presidential debates, while making next week's Vice Presidential debate far more significant. 

As an overweight 74 year old man who is probably pre-diabetic, at least, Trump is at serious risk of being disabled at least through the election if not for the remainder of his current term of office or dying from the disease he initially called a hoax, has promoted misinformation about, and has refused to take easy precautions against. 

This would elevate Vice President Pence from a typical outsider VP's role to Acting President for the last few months of Trump's current term of office, and focus attention on Pence rather than Trump as the man at the top of the ticket in a race whose primary theme has been the effort to deny Trump a second term because Trump is a malevolent, stupid, openly racist, immoral, habitual liar - factors that would disappear with Pence at the top of the ticket.

The Debate

The first Presidential debate was held and was a disaster that didn't help Trump with undecided voters. The moderator utterly failed to maintain any kind of order or decorum. Trump made a constant barrage of out of turn interruptions and attacks and refused to condemn white supremacy. Biden responded with some mild return snubs and a presentation on Trump's abysmal handling of the COVID crisis.

The Death of RGB and Nomination Of Her SCOTUS Replacement

Trump nominated someone to fill the U.S. Supreme Court seat that opened up with the death of Ruth Bader Ginsberg. She is a conservative federal judge who has been on the bench only about two years and a well known adherent to a charismatic movement within Roman Catholicism that was a model for The Handmaid's Tale because it is so stridently anti-feminist. Republicans in the U.S. Senate are pushing to confirm her as soon as possible. 

Of the eight current Justices, five are Catholic, one is a probably Episcopalian who was raised Catholic, and two are Jewish.

The Republicans in the U.S. Senate might be able to pull this confirmation off, but Democratic opposition to GOP tactics in the Senate (and Presidential nominee Biden's resolve on tactics in the U.S. Senate) has hardened.

A Threatened Self-Coup And Countermeasures To It

In another notable development, Trump has repeatedly refused to commit to a peaceful transition of power if it is not re-elected and has sought to poison his backer's belief that any election outcome will be fair. 

In response, the Department of Defense has made clear that the U.S. military will stay out of any election or succession dispute, the Justice Department has walked back and refuted the President's claim that mail in balloting is riddled with fraud, the U.S. Senate has unanimously passed a resolution supporting a peaceful transition of power, and the U.S. House passed a similar resolution 397-5 with five Republican members of Congress (at least one of whom isn't facing re-election because he was defeated in the primary) voting against it. 

Trump's Tax Returns Released

You have to go this far down the list to get to the development that Trump's tax returns for the last 18 years were released by the New York Times. In 11 of them, including 10 of the last 15 years, he paid no federal income taxes, mostly due to Net Operating Loss carry forwards, dubious deductions (e.g. $72,000 in one year for haircuts and millions for consulting payments to one of which children who was also one of his employees). In the 2016 and 2017 tax years, he has his wife paid $750.00 total in federal income taxes. He has more than $400 million in debt coming due in the next four years and may have total debt of a much as $1.1 billion, leaving him with far less net worth than he was widely assumed to have by even skeptics of his claims of great wealth.

Court Action

Trump has also faced a string of court defeats on a variety of his policy initiatives from the Census to his illegal Bureau of Land Management appointee, to visa restrictions and more. COVID-19 deaths and cases continue to grow, primarily in Red States and often among his prominent allies. 

At the state level there has been a flurry of election and COVID-19 restriction related litigation which has been a mixed bag, with big wins and big losses for each side. Bloomberg has paid the millions of dollars of fines that were disenfranchising many felons who had served their time in Florida.

An Air Strike

Finally, the media and the public didn't even notice air strikes he ordered in the Middle East after a long hiatus, probably in a futile attempt to "Wag The Dog."

The Economy

The economy is starting to recover, but is still in bad shape. Unemployment is at 7.9%, even with a census hiring boost. GDP is down about 4.2% from the third quarter of 2019.

A new round of stimulus has hit a bump in the road, the deficit has reached record highs. But the stock market has been doing unnaturally well and oil prices are now still low, but in the normal range, instead of being at all time lows. Hotels and travel and restaurants are slowly coming back. Schools are cautiously trying to restart with mixed results.

The Horse Race

The bottom line in the horse race is that Trump needs to gain about five percentage points in the polls between now and election day to have even odds of winning. He needs to reduce Biden's lead in national polling to about 2 percentage points from a current polling average of 7.0. The 538 blog gives Biden a 79% chance of winning and Trump a 20% chance (Trump's odds of winning the popular vote are only about 10%).

But there has been no time in the last thirteen months that he hasn't trailed by at least four percentage points behind Biden in national polling. National polling has never been below +4.0 for Biden in the last thirteen months (hitting a low point around January 2020 and close to that again in May 2020). Biden's best showing in the last 13 months in the polling averages was +11.7 in mid-September 2019 although he had surged to +10.2 in late June 2020. Biden has has dropped 3.2 percentage points in national polling in the roughly 14 weeks since then. He needs to drop further by one and a half times as much in the next four and a half weeks for Trump to have a shot at winning.

If the race remains stagnant and even if Biden slips slightly in the polls between now and election day, Biden wins. Trump needs a serious surge to prevail. If there is no movement in the polls between now and election day, the 538 blog gives him just a 9% chance of winning

The map below from the pundit website Sabato's Crystal Ball sums up the current situation.

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Biden doesn't need any of the orange (leans GOP) or yellow toss up states to win from Sabato's Crystal Ball's map below, and can afford to lose Democrat leaning NE-2 (+7.0) and also NV (+5.3) or NH (+8.4), but not both. Biden needs to win in Democrat leaning WI (+5.5), MI (+5.2) and PA (+5.7) to win (shown with their Real Clear Politics polling average margins for Biden. 

All of the states that Sabato lists as toss-ups or leans GOP except Texas, which is within the polling margin of error itself, have polling averages (per Real Clear Politics) that slightly favor Biden: OH (+3.3), AZ (+3.0), FL (+1.1), NC (+0.5), IA (+0.5), GA (+0.3), TX (-3.2).

If the polls were to swing in Biden's direction as much as the need to swing in Trump's direction for Trump to win, Biden would win all of the yellow toss-up and orange leans GOP jurisdictions, Alaska (-3.0), and maybe even South Carolina where recent polls range from (-1.0) to (-10.0) with a polling average near the midpoint of those extremes.

In that scenario, Biden would be winning the marginal state (Michigan) by about ten percentage points, and would be polling nationally at +12, which would completely crush any effort to dispute his landslide victory.

A swing this big in favor of Biden is pretty unlikely. But a swing in Trump's favor big enough for him to win is looking more distant by the day as well.

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