Simon Ateba is Chief White House Correspondent for Today News Africa. Simon covers the U.S. government, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other financial and international institutions in Washington D.C. He can be reached on [email protected]
John Zogby, a renowned public opinion pollster, author, and public speaker, and founder of John Zogby Strategies, on Thursday, explained in details how former Vice President Joe Biden or President Donald Trump could win what he described as America’s ‘Armageddon Election’.
For about an hour, Mr. Zogby, speaking at a virtual media opportunity event organized by the Foreign Press Center of the U.S. Department of State in Washington D.C., provided an analysis of the current advantages and disadvantages that both the Republican and Democratic Parties face two months before Election Day.
He also described strategies both parties and candidates were using to secure the presidency on November 3.
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According to him, the top five issues for voters ahead of the 2020 election include the economy, COVID-19, Healthcare, Immigration and climate change.
He said: “I should say that the economy had been Donald Trump’s calling card, and that even with not-so-good approval ratings, poor approval ratings on COVID and other aspects of his presidency, he was getting good marks on handling the economy. That is now gone, and so that’s the number one issue.
“Distinctly related to the economy, COVID-19, 68 percent, 66 percent in some polls, give the President bad marks for handling COVID-19. And to underscore that, if it’s 66 percent, that means that there’s about 30, 33 percent of Republicans who feel that way, he is not doing well on this issue.
“Health care is number three. The issue of accessibility, of costs, of universality, of comfort level, that if people get sick that they won’t get sick twice having to worry about paying their bills.
“Racism is up there, and it’s particularly driven not only by blacks or non-whites, but it’s being driven in particular by younger voters, 18-to-29-year-olds, who already distrusted American institutions and are particularly distrustful of police and the criminal justice system. I should point out that of 18-to-29-year-olds, there are only slightly more who are white than who are non-white.
“Immigration. The parties split on whether there should be empathy, understanding, and American tradition of welcoming, even immigrants who come here illegally, versus another American tradition, which is to play by the rules.
“And lastly – and this is driven particularly by young people and by progressives, the many supporters of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren – and that is climate change. And that’s the science versus skepticism that we’ve seen.”
Advantages and disadvantages for Democrats and Republicans
Beyond the top issues on voters’ minds, Mr. Zogby said both Democrats and Republicans have advantages and disadvantages two months to election day.
For the Democrats, he said, history seems to be on their side as they have won enough states to assure them of 242 electoral votes in six out of eight elections since 1992.
A presidential candidate needs at least 270 electoral votes to win, but Mr. Zogby argued that the 242 electoral votes for the Democrats is “a much higher advantage they have than Republicans, who can be assured of 105 electoral votes.”
The second advantage for the Democrats is the demographic growth. “The growing demographics in this country are Democratic, at least by tradition. That would include black Americans, who are not growing in population but are growing in their participation in voting; Latinos who are growing enormously; Asian Pacifics who tilt very heavily – 75 percent Democrat, the fastest-growing racial group in this country. And then broadly speaking, young people, many of whom are non-white,” Mr. Zogby said.
The third advantage for the Democrats, he said, is Joe Biden, who is a much less controversial nominee than Hillary Clinton proved to be in 2016.
In addition, there is general goodwill towards the Obamas, and that’s another advantage for Joe Biden, Mr. Zogby added.
“They are revered as deities among Democrats and various Democratic constituencies. Barack Obama and Michelle Obama, much more popular today than they were when they left the White House.
“And then lastly is the – Biden’s empathy and experience, which we have alluded to,” he said.
Zogby said some of the disadvantages for the Democrats include Biden’s age. Biden would be 78 when he assumes the presidency next year if he win and Republicans are likely to sow doubt over his fitness to be president.
“He would be 78 in assuming the presidency. I have to be honest – and maybe this is because I’m an older white man myself, or as my kids like to say, just an “old” white man – I don’t see, personally, the problem with Joe Biden. I think he’s – he looks pretty robust. However, the Republicans will hammer and hammer and hammer about his age.”
President Trump is not a young man himself, he’s 74 years old and would be 75 years old next year.
The second disadvantage for the Democrats is what Zogby termed as elitism.
“Democrats have this problem that too many of their spokespeople at all levels have this sense that if only voters weren’t so stupid they’d be Democrats, can’t they see that we possess the truth. That is proven to be a troubling sentiment expressed by Democrats. we’ve seen it during the Gore campaign and we saw it with Kerry, even Obama – trashing Pennsylvania voters, saying that all they care about was guns and religion, and Hillary’s famous “basket full of deplorables” to describe Trump voters. Hopefully with a fellow like Biden, genuine working-class roots and empathy, that’s something that won’t be much of a problem,” he said.
For the Republicans, Zogby said “the biggest advantage of all is that most people still believe that Donald Trump will win.”
“Could that be a self-fulfilling prophecy? Even if they’re strongly against Trump, if they believe that Trump is the winner, that could force some people to just stay home or that could be, as I said, a self-fulfilling prophecy.
“We must admit that while during July and the August portion before the national conventions that Biden was leading by double digits over Trump. That has now dissipated to anywhere from four to eight points of a national lead, but a real tightening in some of those battleground states, notably Wisconsin and Michigan.
“Pennsylvania’s only a three-point race. Florida, where Biden had been leading in July and August, is now, in recent polls, a tie,” he said.
Another advantage for the Republicans is a solid base. “Mr. Trump himself said in 2016: I can shoot someone at noon in the middle of 5th Avenue and I’ll still have my base of support. He hasn’t quite done that, but he’s done some outrageous things, or certainly things that don’t follow tradition, and yet he can always seem to count on that 41, 42 percent solid base.”
Zogby said what he needs to do is build it up four or five points to expect to win.
Another advantage for the Republicans is what he described as potential inroads among non-white and younger voters.
“I have a poll out just Tuesday – today’s Thursday – that I’ve done that’s on our website, and essentially what it shows is that young black men have a higher percentage that are supporting Trump than I thought was possible – it’s up to 30 percent. If that is true, and it’s true in the sense that it’s the same as what other polls are showing at least for now, that means that Trump could get as much as 14 or 15 percent of the non-white vote,” he said. He added that the same holds true with younger voters as well. That could be devastating for the Biden campaign.
He argued that for Biden to win, he would need to secure more than 90 percent of the black vote.
Republicans have many disadvantages as well beginning with the economic and health crises, he said.
According to him, even though unemployment numbers have been improving in recent weeks, many people remain unemployed or are not better off than they were before the pandemic.
“Really, let’s face it: 70 percent of the American people say that the President hasn’t handled it well. Despite the fact that this is a tighter race – in my most recent polling, 45 for Biden and 42 for Trump – remember Trump is still polling in most of the polls only around 42 percent. A lot of it has to do with the fact of his handling of both the economy and the health – the COVID-19,” he said.
Another disadvantages is President Trump’s polling numbers overall. “The President has low polling numbers overall and on handling key issues. Sixty-eight percent of voters say that the country is headed in the wrong direction. The person at the top always gets the credit or the blame, and those are not good re-elect numbers.
“Now, can Donald Trump win the presidency? Of course he can. He did last time with very unfavorable ratings. But the fact is that even though he’s voting about disruption and rage – or running on disruption and rage – is he seen as the President of the United States, the guy in charge, as somebody who could handle this better than the guy who’s not in charge? The numbers are not playing in his favor right now.
“And that leads into: Is there a sense that there’s just too much disruption? Maybe it was romanticized four years ago in the sense that Trump beat the opposition, the establishment, but when – can you be the sitting president and fight the establishment all at the same time?”
Strategies for Democrats and Republicans to win
According to the pollster, Democrats and Republicans can employ various strategies to win on November 3.
“For Joe Biden the issue is to build upon the strength of the Obama coalition: younger voters in general, particularly young women, African-American voters, Latino voters, and finally what we call the “creative class,” mainly suburbanites and folks who moved into the city who work in the broad knowledge economy who have generally tilted liberal on social issues. If Trump – or if Biden can bring out the African-American voters in numbers that Obama was able to but that Hillary was not able to, if Biden can bring out the support of young women, particularly young white women the way Obama did, then it could look very good for Joe Biden.
“Biden may be also able to add to his base by capturing white women and voters over 65. He had been cutting into Trump’s support among white women and was actually leading among voters over 65. That was a group that Trump won in 2016, but as of now, what we’re seeing is that voters over 65 in particular are now tied. We’ll turn to look at that in a second. And he needs a large turnout of young voters, especially white women,” he said.
The Republicans are or may be employing many strategies to win as well.
“We’ve seen this: create doubts about Biden among younger non-white voters that he’s part of the establishment, that he is linked to the Obama years and the Obama years were not very good for younger voters. Paint the Democrats as socialists – that’s part of the strategy to regain his lead among voters over 65, and particularly among young – or among white women.
“Blue Lives Matter is a means to win back white women and voters over 65, portray the Democrats as the party of chaos, as the party of rioting, party of disruption. Attack Biden’s age; we continue to see that. And then finally, tout the Trump record on COVID-19 and the fact that the President, as he will say, was on top of it right from the very beginning and was in charge. Those are the strategies.”