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Commentary: Handicapping the November Election


“Little doubt an election held today would be a Biden landslide/GOP wipeout,” an editor for the respected nonpartisan Cook Political Report said on June 8.

But by law national elections are held on the first Tuesday after the first Monday of November, despite Jared Kushner’s off-hand comment that the pandemic might change election day.  And there are at least seven reasons why no sane analyst would stake their reputation on predicting even a Trump/Republican defeat, not to mention a “wipeout.”  Here they are in no particular order.

Trump’s base shows no sign of erosion.  That means he starts with 35 percent of the popular vote, a highly-motivated, high-turnout cohort that will be continuously juiced up by conservative radio, TV and websites.

Natural Democratic-voting cohorts are always harder to get to the polls.  For example, African-Americans voted 92 percent for Hillary Clinton in 2016, but comparatively low black turnout in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania cost her those states, and the election. 

Presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden is behaving presidentially now but is prone to doing and saying dumb things.  And you can be sure Trump will try to brutalize him in the debates, when millions of undecided voters will be watching.

The Democratic Left is not a gift to the Biden campaign.  Biden can disavow, for example, the “defund the police” movement, but Trump will do his best to strap it to him.

The economy may be in much better shape by November, always a boon to incumbents.

So far Trump has not paid a political price for his assaults on decency and traditional political norms.  It is possible that there is no bottom to plumb and therefore no political reckoning.

Americans are twice-exhausted: first by Trump and more recently by the virus.  By July they may also be exhausted by the protests.  Many could just hunker down in economic and psychological survival mode and check out politically.

The virus with its attendant social distancing and other precautions will make the campaign unlike anything we’ve ever seen.  What will “rallies” be like?  What will “door-to-door canvassing” be like?  What will “voting” be like? 

Here’s the rest of the Cook Political Report editor’s quote we began with: “But the amount the world has changed in the past five months should caution us how much could look different five months from now.”

Dr. Terry Smith is a Political Science Professor at Columbia College and a regular commentator on KBIA's Talking Politics.