The Speaker
Friday, 14 June 2024 – 10:09
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Biden’s curbed enthusiasm could lose the 2020 election

NOTE: This is an opinion article – any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Speaker or any members of its team.

With less than 100 days to go until the US Presidential election, Democratic nominee Joe Biden is winning in the polls but losing the enthusiasm battle.

This may not seem like a big deal considering Joe Biden is leading by double-digits in every poll in America. However, there is a difference between whom voters say they support and the enthusiasm they have for that candidate, as enthusiasm can lead to huge turnout for your base, possibly securing the election.

Is History repeating itself?

A USA TODAY/Suffolk Poll finds that half of Trump supporters are “very excited” about their candidate, almost double the 27% of Biden supporters who say they are “very excited”. Similarly, a Pew research poll found that a large majority of Trump supporters (76%) say their choice of Trump is a vote for Trump, then it is a vote against Biden (24%). By contrast, most of Biden’s supporters (67%), view their vote for Biden as a vote against the President, while only about half as many (33%) say it is a vote for Biden.

Although an unenthusiastic vote counts the same as an enthusiastic one, the party with the enthusiasm advantage has won every presidential election since 1988, which currently puts Trump at an advantage.

Take the last election, in 2016 Hillary Clinton’s enthusiasm rating was far less than Trump’s a week before the election, with Trump leading by 8 points in the share of voters who say they are very enthusiastic about their choice. As we know Donald Trump benefitted from a huge enthusiasm gap between the two candidates despite the polls consistently showing Clinton in the lead throughout the election.

Three months away from the election, history could be repeating itself as the much-touted blue wave full of motivation and excitement to kick Trump out of the White House has seemingly dwindled. According to a July 2020 AP-NORC Center Poll, 42% of Trump supporters describe themselves as excited heading into the election. Contrastingly, only 31% of Biden supporters state they are enthusiastic about the upcoming election. Ostensibly, this is an astute warning sign that perhaps the election may not turn out exactly as the polls and Democrats predict.

Not only this, but like 2016 there is a slight caution that there are secret Trump voters, potentially skewing the polls again. More than half of those surveyed said they believe their communities are populated by people who support Trump but have not told anyone. Currently, Joe Biden is leading President Trump by 13% in Pennsylvania, similarly in August 2016, a Monmouth Poll had Hillary Clinton ahead of Trump by 8%. However, it was Pennsylvania’s rural and rust belt communities that delivered enough votes for Trump to win by a 44,000-vote and become the first Republican nominee in nearly three decades to win the state.

Biden’s minority problem

A further issue for Democrats is that while negative partisanship may mobilise white voters, it does not motivate nonwhite voters to the same degree. According to political scientist Davin Phoenix, white Americans, both Democrats and Republicans, are more likely to be motivated by anger than African Americans and, to a lesser extent, Latino and Asian Americans. This is because nonwhite voters are more likely to be influenced if they feel pride or hope for their candidate. This was discernible in 2008 and 2012 when African Americans voted in historic numbers for Barack Obama, with 2012 being the first election that black turnout rates exceeded white turnout rates.

Worryingly for Biden, he still has a lot of work to do to win over the black and younger voters. According to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, Biden has a favourable rating of 48% positive, with 19% negative (+29) — good, but not great when this is broken down further. Around 56% of 18 to 34-year old’s have a high interest in the election, which is about equal to where it was in October 2016 (54%). His favourables among these voters are also abysmal as 26% are positive, whereas 44% are unfavourable of Biden, giving him a net negative rating of -18%. Still, Biden is leading Trump among these voters, 62% to 23%.

Despite the Black Lives Matter protests and Trump’s racist rhetoric for four years, black voters this year are less committed to Biden compared to where Hillary Clinton was at this point in 2016. Biden sits 9-points behind where Clinton was with African Americans in July of 2016, with most of the difference in the undecided column.

There is still time to turn it around

This may change and improve for Biden over the coming months as Trump has used the protests to position himself as a ‘Law and Order’ candidate, deploying camouflaged border-patrol agents to Portland, Oregon to escalate violence and arrest protestors. As well as calling the planned Black Lives Matter mural in New York a ‘symbol of hate’.

For Biden to inspire and enthuse African Americans, women, and the progressive base of the party, he must nominate a Black woman as his Vice President. Black women consistently show up and turn out on election day, ranking among one of the most active voting blocs. More than 90% of Black female voters cast their ballot for Hillary Clinton and in the 2018 midterms, 92% turned out for Democrats.

At a time when so many people are disillusioned by the status quo, feel left out of the country’s political processes, and have had their lives turned upside down from Coronavirus, it is crucial that Biden finds a way to bring them in and show them that he is a candidate that can bring much needed positive change to their lives. This cannot be effectively done without representation on the ticket. Having a Black woman as his Vice President would enthuse voters and assure them that he is that candidate.

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