New York Times: Five Things Biden and His Allies Should Be Worried About
New York Times – September 23, 2020
There are at least five reasons Joe Biden’s consistent lead over Donald Trump does not guarantee him a lock on the White House.
First, there are indications that Trump’s base of support — whites without college degrees — is more energized and committed to voting this year than key Democratic constituencies. And there is also evidence that polling does not reflect this.
Second, Latinos, who are key to the outcome in several crucial states — Arizona and Florida, for example — have shown less support for Biden than for past Democratic nominees. Many Hispanic voters seem resistant to any campaign that defines them broadly as “people of color.”
Third, absentee voting is expected to be higher among Democrats than Republicans, subjecting their ballots to a greater risk of rejection, a fate more common to mailed-in votes than to in-person voting.
Fourth, the generic Democratic-Republican vote (“Would you be more willing to vote for a Republican or Democratic candidate for Congress?”) through early July favored Democrats by more than 10 points, but has since narrowed to 6 points.
Fifth, the debates will test Biden’s ability to withstand three 90-minute battles against an opponent known for brutal personal attacks.
There are other factors — such as the possibility that the Republican Party will conduct an effective voter suppression drive, or that Trump and his advisers will contrive new mechanisms to pave the way to victory.
Conversely, over a turbulent year — impeachment, the pandemic, a recession and the emergence of a stronger Black Lives Matter movement — one thing has remained constant: Biden’s lead over Trump. In October 2019, nearly 12 months ago, the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll had Biden 9 points ahead of Trump, 50 to 41; just days ago, on Sept. 20, 2020 the NBC/WSJ poll had Biden 8 points ahead of Trump, 51-43.
Robert Griffin, the research director at the nonpartisan Democracy Study Voter Study Group, provided data to The Times on trends in suburbia that show a very modestly fluctuating line from last January into this month. Biden’s advantage over Trump ranged from 9.7 to 12.0 percentage points.
“I’m not seeing any substantial changes since January,” Griffin noted by email.
Why, then, should there be any doubt about the outcome on Nov. 3?
Let’s take a look at the answers in the order listed above.
A Democratic strategist — who requested anonymity because his employer does not want him publicly identified talking about the election — analyzed the implications of the most recent voter registration trends for me.
In Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, he said, overall
registration is up by 6 points through August compared to the 2016 cycle, but net Democratic registrations are down by 38 percent. That’s about 150,000 fewer additional Democrats than were added in 2016.
In addition, he continued, registration among whites without college degrees
is up by 46 percent while registration by people of color is up by only 4 percent. That gap is made more stark when you realize that over the last four years, the WNC (white non-college) population has increased by only 1 percent in those states, while the number of people of color increased by 13 percent.
The pattern was more pronounced in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin than it was in Michigan.
On its own, increased registration among non-college whites would have only a negligible effect on total state voting, my source pointed out, but
it becomes troubling if it reflects greater interest more generally for these voters in those states. And there are good reasons to believe that if that is the case, those additionally energized voters are very underrepresented in surveys now.
Even if white non-college turnout reached the highest expectations, he cautioned, it would not “erase Biden’s current polling leads. But it does make the races much closer.”
While Democrats have struggled for years with non-college whites, another set of problems for Biden and the party has begun to emerge this year in what many liberals had been counting on as a key constituency: the steadily growing Hispanic electorate.
As Ian Haney López, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and Tory Gavito, a human rights lawyer who is president of Way to Win and the founder of the Texas Future Project, wrote on these pages on Sept. 18:
According to recent polls from Quinnipiac and Monmouth, 38 percent of registered Hispanic voters in 10 battleground states may be ambivalent about even voting. At least so far, this large group of Latinos seemingly perceives little reason to choose Mr. Biden over President Trump.
Why? López and Gavito offer an explanation based on 15 focus groups and a national survey:
Progressives commonly categorize Latinos as people of color, no doubt partly because progressive Latinos see the group that way and encourage others to do so as well. Certainly, we both once took that perspective for granted. Yet in our survey, only one in four Hispanics saw the group as people of color.
In fact, the authors continued, the majority of Hispanics
rejected this designation. They preferred to see Hispanics as a group integrating into the American mainstream, one not overly bound by racial constraints but instead able to get ahead through hard work.
Another data point they found “even more sobering”: López and Gavito asked
eligible voters how “convincing” they found a dog-whistle message lifted from Republican talking points. Among other elements, the message condemned “illegal immigration from places overrun with drugs and criminal gangs” and called for “fully funding the police, so our communities are not threatened by people who refuse to follow our laws.”
As they expected, “almost three out of five white respondents judged that message convincing.”
More disconcerting to López and Gavito, both liberals, was that “exactly the same percentage of African-Americans agreed, as did an even higher percentage of Latinos.”
Latinos are a major segment of the population in a number of key battleground states: Texas, 38.7 percent; Nevada, 29.2 percent and Arizona, 31.7 percent; and they are significant players in North Carolina, 9.8 percent, and Georgia, 9.9 percent. These are all states where their ballots could prove crucial to the outcome.
Compared with past elections, a disproportionate share of the ballots cast this coming November will be sent in by mail, a procedure that in most cases involves detailed requirements that can lead to disqualification for errors, large and small.
During this year’s primary elections, both The Washington Post and National Public Radio reported that more than 500,000 absentee ballots were disqualified, many for failure to meet stringent matching signature requirements, far more than in previous years.
Disqualified ballots are a bigger problem for Biden and the Democratic Party than for Trump and the Republican Party. An August WSJ/NBC poll found, for example, that 11 percent of Trump voters plan to cast ballots by mail compared with 47 percent of Biden voters.
From another vantage point, those planning to cast absentee ballots favor Biden over Trump 74-20, while those planning to vote in person on Election Day favor Trump over Biden 62-30, according to the WSJ/NBC survey.
A recent Philadelphia Inquirer story, “How ‘naked ballots’ in Pennsylvania could cost Joe Biden the election,” illustrates how even a relatively easy mistake can nullify a vote. The paper reported on a state Supreme Court decision that
ordered officials to throw out “naked ballots” — mail ballots that arrive without inner “secrecy envelopes.” Pennsylvania uses a two-envelope mail ballot system: A completed ballot goes into a ‘secrecy envelope’ that has no identifying information, and then into a larger mailing envelope that the voter signs.
In Philadelphia’s municipal election last November, the Inquirer reported, 197 out of 3,086 absentee ballots, or 6.4 percent, lacked secrecy envelopes.
What would this mean if the 6.4 percent applied to all the votes cast in 2020? Assuming that 37 percent of 2020 voters cast ballots by mail, as the Democracy Fund + UCLA Nationscape project expects, and assuming that turnout reaches or exceeds a projected 155 million, the 6.4 percent rejection rate for absentee ballots would mean that as many as 3.6 million votes nationwide would be rejected.
Taking it one step further. If, as the WSJ/NBC survey found, those voters favored Biden over Trump 74-20, that would mean roughly 2.7 million Biden votes would go uncounted, compared with roughly 735,000 Trump votes.
Despite these warning signs, Biden is better positioned than Trump with six weeks to go. Not only has the former vice president had the lead consistently, but many voters appear to be hardened in their commitments and unlikely to shift.
One of the hurdles facing Trump is the racially divisive rhetoric he has lavished on voters over nearly four years in the White House.
His use of racist and anti-immigrant themes proved effective in 2016, but, surprisingly, many voters viewed him then as relatively moderate. That perception of Trump as a moderate made his hard-edged message more palatable to centrist voters.
Harry Enten wrote on FiveThirtyEight about the 2016 election, when Trump was running for president, that “more voters viewed Trump as liberal than any incoming GOP president since at least Ronald Reagan,” persuaded in part by his backing of LGBT rights, his support for infrastructure spending and his promise to preserve Social Security and Medicare.