As we have touched on many times, the 2016 election seemed rife with the question of choosing between two candidates that were fairly disliked by voters in general. Yes, Democrats voted for Hillary Clinton en masse, and Republicans did the same for Donald Trump, but that doesn’t mean either party was largely favorable of their respective candidate. Remember, Donald Trump won several primaries with sometimes 25% of the vote, meaning a large number of Republicans voted against him before he won the nomination. Hillary faced a less competitive primary, but still suffered longer at the hands of Bernie Sanders than she should have due to some voters’ general dislike for her as a candidate.
Looking through this lens at the 2020 race, what does the like/dislike landscape appear to tell us about where Joe Biden and Donald Trump fall on the spectrum?
According to a recent poll, some of these voters who defaulted to Trump in 2016 out of dislike for Hillary could reverse course, and fall to Biden out of dislike for Trump, per Politico:
President Donald Trump is losing a critical constituency: voters who see two choices on the ballot — and hate them both.
It’s a significant and often underappreciated group of voters. Of the nearly 20 percent of voters who disliked both Clinton and Trump in 2016, Trump outperformed Clinton by about 17 percentage points, according to exit polls.
Four years later, that same group — including a mix of Bernie Sanders supporters, other Democrats, disaffected Republicans and independents — strongly prefers Biden, the polling shows. The former vice president leads Trump by more than 40 percentage points among that group, which accounts for nearly a quarter of registered voters, according to a Monmouth University poll last week.
“It’s a huge difference,” said Patrick Murray, who oversees the Monmouth poll. “That’s a group that if you don’t like either one of them, you will vote against the status quo. And in the 2016 election, Hillary Clinton represented more of the status quo than Trump did. In this current election, the status quo is Donald Trump.”
If 2020 shapes up as a referendum on Trump as the status quo, then Biden will naturally benefit. This creates an objective for the Trump campaign to push back on that narrative and argue that Trump’s record of job creation and economic growth should be enough of a sell for voters to avoid going backward toward the Obama era. The only catch is, of course, the Coronavirus pandemic punching the economy in the gut and creating mass amounts of uncertainty, unemployment, and host of other problems.
If the economic argument disappears, and voters are left to choose “the lesser of two evils,” then Biden stands to win that toss-up purely because he’s much more conventional and “safe” as far as politicians go. He’s been a Vice President, and Senator, he knows how to move the gears and function without ruffling feathers or sending unpleasant tweets every day.
Snapshots in poling like this are just that — snapshots. The narrative will change, and the Trump campaign is preparing to unload on Biden and drive down his numbers, as the summer begins:
One prominent Republican pollster said it is “certainly a concern,” suggesting that “the campaign needs to put a lot more heat on Biden.”
Trump’s campaign is now preparing to unload a barrage of negative ads on Biden, expecting to spend more than $10 million in an effort to weaken the presumptive Democratic nominee. Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale likened the campaign to a “death star.”
It’s true, Parscale did liken the Trump campaign apparatus to the Empire’s “Death Star.”
For nearly three years we have been building a juggernaut campaign (Death Star). It is firing on all cylinders. Data, Digital, TV, Political, Surrogates, Coalitions, etc.
In a few days we start pressing FIRE for the first time. pic.twitter.com/aJgCNfx1m0
— Brad Parscale – Download our Trump 2020 App today! (@parscale) May 7, 2020
However, many on twitter responded to Parscale’s statement by noting that the Death Star gets destroyed in the end by a band of rebels. After all, Luke used to bullseye womp rats in his T-16 back home, so hitting the thermal exhaust port was no sweat.
The question is whether Biden can hit the Trump campaign’s thermal exhaust port from the basement he’s currently quarantined in. Appearance after appearance has been going badly for Biden. From technical glitches, which continue to hamper his attempt at virtual rallies, to mixed interviews, Biden was not built for remote campaigning.
Asked if DOJ was justified in dropping charges against Michael Flynn @JoeBiden tells @GStephanopoulos: "I think there's nothing there…but it's not a surprise that, in fact, the Justice Dept. decided anybody who was an ally of the president didn't do anything wrong ever anyway" pic.twitter.com/eSHX96xScG
— Good Morning America (@GMA) May 12, 2020
Biden is a people-person, he’s a hand shaker, he’s a “look you in the eye” type of candidate who likes getting out with voters. He can still run into trouble in person on the campaign trail, sure, but the twinkle in his eye usually smoothes things over.
Campaigning online doesn’t allow for the same kind of communication. Rather than smooth-over gaffes or hide sharp edges, it amplifies them, records them, and then replays them endlessly on cable news. Without public appearances and stump speeches, Biden’s doing the best he can to stay relevant, stay on message, and remind voters they’ll have a choice in November.
In the end, Biden’s shortcomings won’t matter if Trump doesn’t improve numbers and become less-disliked than Biden.