Issue #5: Biden in front in early voting, the presidential debates and more

Edited by David S. Kerr

(A product of Morningside Communications) 

(This week: Did Biden beat out Trump in swaying absentee voters by early TV spending – The Debates and what Joe Biden has to Prove – Why has it been hard for President Trump to keep control of the news cycles – and a British perspective on polling and lessons for the U.S. from our London Correspondent Ross Duncan)

Did Biden already get out in front of Trump in early/absentee voting?  (Biden’s early TV and Social Media advertising was good strategy)

This isn’t about getting in a clever one liner or stealing a news cycle or two, it’s about the new electoral landscape of the pandemic.  A lot of voters are opting to vote absentee.  Virginia, for example, has a brand new “no excuse” absentee ballot rule.  In other words, you don’t need a reason you can just vote absentee.  Three quarters of all states allow some form of absentee voting, or as some have dubbed it, “vote by mail.”  That said, it seems that Joe Biden realized that a substantial percentage of the votes in this election are going to be cast before election day.  So, when it came to TV and Social Media spending, in August and September, normally quiet months on this media front, especially TV, the Biden campaign went all out.  They figured it out early.  They were trying to sway those who would be voting by mail. The Trump campaign didn’t seem to be considering this as a major factor – though the President has made his views on vote by mail well known – instead they’ve been holding back their money for spending on later in the campaign.  However, the Biden folks, with money to burn anyway, may have scored a decisive edge with this strategy. 

Making the Point

According to the Governor’s office, as of last week, 797,000 Virginia voters (a record setting number) have requested absentee ballots and that number is likely to grow.     

Off kilter

President Trump had been counting on using a lot of his time in September and October painting Former Vice President Joe Biden as a wild eyed liberal.  A wild eyed, “old” liberal, at that.  This is how he wanted to dominate the news cycles.  However, the thing is, thanks to this revelation or that, and at least two books so far (with more to come), he seems to have been knocked off kilter.  He’s lost the edge in a dozen news cycles so far.  Every day he’s forced to defend himself, or when the attention is not what he’s saying, but rather on some other breaking story, he’s not landing punches on Joe Biden.  In the meantime, the President according to the polls, is actually losing ground in some of the states that many, including myself, thought he would be closing in on at this point.  Wisconsin and Pennsylvania for example.

The Presidential Debates

If you thought this campaign was devoid of excitement this year’s debates should fill the gap.  They’re scheduled for Sept. 29, Oct. 15 and 22.  Now remember, these are two candidates, who at various times, have intimated that one could beat up the other.  A televised brawl would be quite a show.  My money would be on Biden.  In Catholic School he was known for being scrappy.  But, sorry, the Secret Service will never let that happen.  However, that doesn’t mean it won’t get loud, combative, and personal.  Back in 2016, then candidate Donald Trump, during his first debate with the Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton interrupted her 70 times.  Since Trump and Biden are brawlers by nature that record may be broken.  

Biden will be the center of attention at the debates

However, there is more to this debate than verbal fisticuffs.  It’s about how well Joe Biden handles himself.  He’s only a few years older than the President, but, if he wins, he’ll be the oldest President at the time of his election, ever, and the public will be watching carefully to make sure he looks like he’s got it together.  He’s been gaffe prone since he was a young man, but during this forum, he can’t afford any of that. 

From our London Correspondent – “Across the Pond” – this week’s topic “The Success of polls in forecasting British elections (an object lesson for America?) – by Ross Duncan

Britain’s experience with electoral polls has been decidedly mixed. On several occasions, polling has suggested a far different result to the one that has occurred. The 1992 and 2015 general elections stand out in particular in this respect. In both elections, the polling data suggested that the Conservative Party was going to suffer a defeat to, or stalemate with, the Labour Party. In reality, the Conservatives won a far larger vote share, and far more parliamentary seats, than the polls predicted they would. 

The reasons for these polling errors seem to be a combination of unrepresentative voting samples; methodological error; late swings in voting preference from Labour to the Conservatives, and the reluctance of some voters to declare their intention to vote for Conservative Party candidates. 

These examples serve as a stark reminder to us all that pollsters are human beings, and human beings make mistakes. Moreover, conducting polling is not an exact science, nor should we expect it to be so. Consequently, we must always retain a healthy scepticism when considering election polls of any kind. 

Indeed, with the 2020 Presidential election approaching fast, it is a lesson that we must not forget.