It is June 26th—only a little more than four months away from election-day. Trump is fraying electorally right now. A crop of new polls show him in a weakened state in all the key swing states. Many talk of Biden expanding the map, taking the fight to Trump in places like Georgia and Texas. This is now—will it be so in November?
For me, it is all about presidential approval ratings—they are the most important leading indicator of electoral success, or demise. And at this stage so far out from election-day such metrics are a better gauge than even horse race polls.
In my opinion, Trump’s numbers right now are dampened by a combination of three factors: (1) uncertainty around COVID-19, (2) depressed consumer confidence, and (3) the George Floyd murder and related protests. The key analytic question: will these variables be operative in November?
If they are, game over for Trump. If not, glimmers of hope.
- Level setting probabilities. The table below is based on 500+ elections and details the relative probabilities of electoral victory at different levels of approval rating. It breaks out the chances of winning by whether the candidate of the party-in-power is an incumbent or a successor. One key takeaway is that a sitting president (incumbent) at or above a 40% approval rating has a better than 50/50 chance of winning. I would keep my eyes on this key metric looking forward.
- Trump is below the tipping point. Nationally, Trump is below our 40-point tipping point. A president with an approval rating in the mid-40’s is in a commanding place given our above model. But with approval numbers at 39% he begins to show cracks. Will he fall further? It will depend on our troika of factors. We will see.
- Bad news on the COVID-19 Front. Trump needs people out and about and spending money freely. This was the trend until there was a jump in confirmed coronavirus cases in those states that eased up early. Look at how perceived risk has shot up, even before Florida announced close to 9,000 new cases in a 24-hour period, just today. This is not good news for Trump.
- The precipice, before crash and burn? Consumer confidence has shown some uptick in the last few weeks. But will it last? Unemployment checks are drying up and the stimulus monies are long gone. We still have not reached the nadir of our time-series—which dates back to 2009 to the height of the Great Recession. A lot will depend on whether there is a fast recovery. If there is, Trump has a chance. Again, let’s wait and see.
- Racism and police reform: An energized Black vote? Black voters cite racism and police reform as the top two issues for them in upcoming presidential election. Will George Floyd’s murder and subsequent protests be a tipping point for the election? Remember that Black Americans make up about 20% of the Democratic base. And thus their turnout is key. An energized Black electorate is bad for Trump.
For a synthesis of the above analysis, please see my most recent interview with Tim Farley. Finally, be safe and be sane.
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