Donald Trump is the most widely hated man in America. He has some of the ugliest scandals in American history, and these days his scandals keep multiplying by the hour. This raises an important question: why isn’t Trump even further behind in the polls than he is?
The answer is one that you probably won’t like, and in fact you shouldn’t like it, but it’s helpful in understanding how these things work. In modern presidential general elections, both candidates almost automatically get 40% of the vote right off the bat, without even trying. This is due to party line voters, ideological extremists, and people who have soured on their own candidate but don’t want to admit they were wrong for getting behind him to begin with. So 40% is rock bottom.
Even in the elections we think of as all-time blowouts, the losing candidate has still gotten around 40%. Walter Mondale got 41% in 1984. George McGovern got 38% in 1968. Barry Goldwater got 39% in 1964, and so on. And these are considered the big blowouts. So 40% is essentially zero. This brings us to Donald Trump, who for awhile now has been ever so slightly above the 40% mark in the national polling averages.
This suggests that Donald Trump’s numbers may not be capable of going any lower. That theory is about to get tested over the next seven weeks. But it would help explain why, even as Trump’s scandals continue to get uglier, his numbers don’t drop any further; he’s already at zero to begin with. It shouldn’t be this way in politics, but it appears to be. So what do we do with it?
It’s important to understand that Joe Biden’s current eight point lead in the polling averages is considered a blowout by modern standards. For reference, Bill Clinton beat Bob Dole by eight points, Barack Obama beat John McCain by seven points, and we think of those elections as having vaguely been blowouts. So if Biden were to defeat Trump by eight points, that would also be something of a blowout, at least in the weird world of presidential general election math.
Importantly, Biden’s lead over Trump has been consistent. Some of you still mistakenly look at individual polls as if they represented actual movement, when they really just show statistical variances. But for those of you who have learned to only look at the polling averages, you’ve seen that this race is has been a remarkably consistent eight point race.
This margin matters, because if Biden goes into election day with an eight point lead, Trump’s cheating schemes and electoral college luck might be able to shave that down to four points, but it won’t be enough. That said, if Biden goes into election day with just a three or four point lead, it’ll be a nail biter, and it may not be enough.
So with Donald Trump having been at rock bottom in the polls for awhile now, he’s the one who has to find a way to change minds. The question isn’t whether his worsening scandals will drive his numbers lower. The question is whether his worsening scandals will make it impossible for him to drive his numbers higher. Every day that goes by where Trump is still eight points down in the polling averages, is another loss for him.
It’s abundantly clear that the majority of Americans prefer Joe Biden over Donald Trump. The key to winning is to make sure that these people actually go through with voting for Joe Biden over Donald Trump. That comes down to volunteering, phone banking, working at polling places, and so on. Trump is on track to lose, but his numbers may not go any lower no matter how poorly these next 46 days go for him. If we want to make certain he loses, we have to do it by driving turnout. Let’s get to work!
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report