Are Trump voters tired of winning?
Limits to popularity - why Donald Trump might lose the election
Just as everyone believed that Trump would not be elected four years ago, today everyone believes that he will be re-elected. But the Democrats are mobilized, they are benefiting from demographic change and are swimming in money. All they need now is the right candidate.
Four years ago, things seemed clear: Hardly any observer expected Donald Trump to win the Republican Party's nomination - and certainly not the election for President of the United States. Today, the opposite is the case: the re-election of the incumbent on November 3, 2020 is considered by many to have been agreed. And yet the Democrats have a good chance of retaking the White House.
What are the arguments for Trump? First, his constituents are united behind him. More than 90 percent of those who voted for him in 2016 want to do so again - a historically uniquely high figure. Whatever the president was accused of, whether it was collaboration with Russia, paying hush money to a porn star, pathological lying, blackmailing Ukraine, nothing could shake the loyalty of his followers. He can count on the full support of the Republican Party, which has completely submitted to him. Their apparatus and their financial resources allow Trump to campaign more professionally this time than four years ago. He's also swimming in money differently than in 2016: thanks to many mega donations, his war chest is filled to the brim with more than 100 million dollars.
Second, the economy is doing fine. The unemployment rate is lower than it has been in fifty years, the stock markets are booming, there is hardly any inflation, real incomes are rising, the poverty rate is falling, consumer confidence is high. At the beginning of January 2020, 62 percent of Americans were satisfied with the economic situation. Hardly any US president missed re-election when the economy was flourishing. In general, and that is the third reason in favor of Trump, incumbents rarely fail: they have only lost 5 out of 19 elections since 1900. The last two to suffer this fate were Jimmy Carter in 1980 and George Bush Sr. in 1992 - both struggling with economic problems.
The president has kept almost all of his fans in line, but has not gained any new ones.
Fourth, the crucial electoral college favors Trump, since its supporters are more favorably distributed across the constituent states of the USA than those of the Democrats. According to the "winner takes all" principle, all electors in a member state go to the candidate with the most votes. In 2016, Hillary Clinton won her 21 member states on average by a greater margin than Trump won his 30. The result: She gained 3 million more votes at the national level and was 2.1 percentage points ahead of her rival, who, however, had the majority of the electorate and thus the presidency won. This structural advantage for the Republicans is likely to be even stronger in 2020, according to projections.
Despite all of these pluses, the Democrats' chances of beating Trump on November 3rd are intact. Because the president has kept almost all of his fans in line, but has not gained any new ones. In the past three years, never more than 45 percent of voters approved of his administration. The reason for this is the sharpest political polarization in American history: there are hardly any swing voters left who can be won over to your side. Even a booming economy will only help the incumbent marginally. That is why another traditional trump card of a president does not triumph at Trump, namely being able to stage himself as a non-partisan representative of the nation through ceremonies and international summits. On the contrary: with every public appearance he deepens the rift between the two political camps.
The Democrats also have an important ally in the contest for the presidency: demographics. Trump voters tend to be white and male, older, more religious and less educated than the average citizen. The proportion of this group in the total population is declining year after year, while the typical constituencies of the Democrats are growing: minorities such as Hispanic, Asian and black Americans, people with college degrees, those who are distant from the church, atheists. Then there are the young first-time voters who have little left for the Republicans. In the age group between 18 and 24, Trump only achieved 34 percent in the last presidential election. Every four years, the electorate therefore shifts by one percentage point in favor of the Democrats. If all population groups were to vote in the same way in 2020 as they did in 2016, Trump would lose his office simply because of demographic change.
No longer full and lethargic
In addition, this time the Democrats are more mobilized than they were four years ago. At that time, together with Barack Obama, they had been president for eight years and were fed up and lethargic, the election of Clinton seemed purely a matter of form. In contrast, the Republicans, spurred on by the radical tea party movement, pushed with all their energy back to the levers of power. This time the Democrats are the “Out” party and absolutely want to chase their nemesis Trump out of the White House.
They have no money problems. On the one hand, small donors and large patrons are already pumping enormous sums into the election campaign of their favorites. On the other hand, with the former Mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg, a man who is twenty times richer than Trump with a fortune of 60 billion dollars has entered the candidate race. As an official candidate, there are no restrictions on using his private capital to campaign, and unlike the stingy president, he does. So far, Bloomberg has already invested $ 275 million, primarily in television, radio and Internet advertising, more than compensating for Trump's financial lead. For the Football Super Bowl on February 2, with 100 million viewers the overwhelming TV night of the year, both bought a 60-second commercial for $ 11 million. Bloomberg reportedly announced that it would provide up to $ 2 billion to fight Trump, even if he does not become a Democratic presidential candidate.
After all, the Democrats have learned from Hillary Clinton's mistakes and will not neglect their traditional supporter states in the rust belt around the Great Lakes this time around. Because Trump won in 2016 because he wrested the states of Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, which they had won without interruption since 1992, from the Democrats with a wafer-thin majority of a total of 77,744 votes. In the crucial hundred days leading up to the election, he visited these three states twice as often as Clinton. The Democrats now understand their importance: They will hold their national election party in July 2020 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the largest city in the state.
Just not a radical candidate
The prerequisite for a Democratic election victory on November 3, however, is that they nominate the right candidate. Simply relying on left-wing populist positions like Bernie Sanders to motivate your own base to vote is not enough. In a study of the House of Representatives elections between 2006 and 2014, two election researchers at Stanford University found that radical candidates increase voter turnout among political opponents more than among their own supporters. In 2016, Trump won not least because he convinced voters that Clinton was much more ideologically extreme than him. Sanders could easily brand the unscrupulous president as a socialist revolutionary.
Since the majority of the citizens of the swing states of Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, which are likely to be decisive for the elections, are older and less educated than the American average, the Democrats would be well advised to run with a candidate from the political center. Demonizing him or her as radical left or un-American will be more difficult for Trump than Clinton, who was not prepared for such attacks at the time. Joe Biden, Bloomberg, Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar meet this criterion. Trump fears the first two most. It was not for nothing that he tried to politically damage Biden with his Ukraine smear campaign. And if the president respects one thing in this world, it is men who have more money than he does - like Bloomberg. With a moderate challenger, the Democrats can definitely win on November 3rd.
Stephan Bierling teaches international politics and transatlantic relations at the University of Regensburg. His new book “America first. Donald Trump in the White House. A balance »published by C. H. Beck.
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