In the days leading up to the start of the Democratic National Convention in mid-August, CNN’s poll of polls – an aggregate of all credible national surveys – showed Joe Biden with a 51% to 42% edge over Donald Trump. As of Thursday morning, with both national party conventions behind us, the CNN poll of polls had Biden at 51% to Trump’s 43%.
So, yeah. For all the speeches and all of the spin of the last two weeks, the race on September 3 is pretty much where it was on August 3.
And that’s true for numbers outside of the national head-to-head as well. In a CNN poll in mid-August – before either of the conventions – 42% approved of the way Trump was handling his job. In a CNN poll released on Wednesday, 41% said the same. Trump’s numbers on handling the economy (51% approval pre-convention/50% approval post-convention) and the coronavirus (38% approval pre-convention/40% approval post-convention) didn’t move in a statistically significant way, either. And one more: In mid-August, Biden had a 9-point edge on Trump when it came to which candidate voters thought could better handle the coronavirus pandemic. In CNN’s new poll, Biden’s lead over Trump on that question was 12 points.
On a state-by-state basis, the race looks similar as well. Fox News polls released Wednesday night show Biden with a 9-point lead over Trump in Arizona, an 8-point edge in Wisconsin and a narrower 4-point lead in North Carolina. Monmouth University polls show Biden up 2 on Trump in North Carolina and 3 in Pennsylvania. Yes, you can cherry pick a poll or two here or there that seems to suggest real movement for Trump in a swing state, but viewed broadly, the polling data confirms what we are seeing on the national level: The race is in the same place it was a month ago.
Trump, um, doesn’t agree.
”.@FoxNews Polls are, as in the past, Fake News,” he tweeted Thursday morning. “They have been from the beginning, way off in 2016. Get a new pollster. I believe we are leading BIG!” Then, two minutes later, he added this: “Do you notice that any time Fake News Suppression Polls are put out, like @FoxNews, the Stock Market goes DOWN. We are going to WIN!”
Like many of Trump’s tweets, these two should be read as a bit of overcompensation. Because he knows, somewhere deep down, what I’ve just laid out is right. And he knows that is bad news for him.
See, Biden didn’t need to change the underlying dynamic of the presidential race in his convention. He just needed a generally smooth four days – culminating with a speech in which he demonstrated that the doddering caricature of him painted by Trump was wrong. Biden did all of that; his acceptance speech was, in fact, one of the best speeches I have ever seen him give. He went into the convention ahead and just wanted to make sure he left it that way.
That wasn’t the case for Trump. He entered his own convention in a historically weak position for an incumbent president – with approval ratings stuck in the low 40s and running well behind Biden in most national polling. Trump’s convention then needed to change things, whether the entire arc of the race or, at a minimum, voters’ perceptions of him.
Trump’s campaign clearly understood that imperative. Speaker after speaker – from Trump family members to average Americans – took the stage to extol the softer, more empathetic side of Trump. The ongoing coronavirus pandemic, which has sickened more than 6 million Americans and killed more than 185,000, was virtually nonexistent. In its place was an emphasis on “law and order,” driven by scare tactics designed to make suburban women especially fearful of what America might look like if Biden is elected.
The lack of movement in the race – both in the horse race and in questions regarding the candidates’ attributes – suggests that the effort by the Trump side didn’t work. One other data point to that end: In the three Fox News polls released Wednesday night, Trump was losing suburban women by 16 points in Arizona, 17 points in Wisconsin and 10 points in North Carolina. Not good.
It is, of course, possible that further violence in large American cities could convince more voters that Trump’s “law and order” message matters more than they think it does right now. And there’s no doubt Trump and his allies will do everything they can – including hyperbole and outright falsehood – to push that narrative. “Portland has been burning for many years,” Trump said, erroneously, of the Oregon city during an interview earlier this week with Fox News’ Laura Ingraham. “For decades, it’s been burning.”
But for the moment, the race – Biden ahead by mid-to-high single digits – is what it has been for quite some time. Or, in the words of Donald Trump, it is what it is.