How many times in talking about the Democrats' lead in the American election have you heard the words, “But look what happened last time?”
As Nov. 3 approaches, Canadians – 70 per cent to 80 per cent of whom oppose Donald Trump – are antsy. They fear a repeat of the stunning 11th hour turnaround that propelled him to the White House four years ago.
The collywobbles are understandable. But if you look at all the differences between 2016 and 2020, less so, far less so. Most of the contrasts illustrate how the Democrats have upped their game while Mr. Trump has downed his.
The differences, beginning with the coronavirus pandemic, don’t mean that Joe Biden won’t get Hillaried. They don’t guarantee a Trump loss. They indicate, however, that for him to win, it would be even more shocking.
A remarkable contrast is the teeming level of voter enthusiasm on the part of progressives compared with 2016, when they were burned by their low turnout.
There’s a sea change. They are so disgusted with this President that they’re descending on the polling booths in droves. They’re gripped, to borrow a Martin Luther King Jr. phrase, by a sense of “the fierce urgency of now.” Of the more than 70 million Americans who have already cast their ballots, the great majority are Democrats.
As we can see by the increased number of Mr. Trump’s daily hissy fits, Republicans are unnerved. The early voting gives them at least a reality check on what they’re up against. They know they have to play catch-up or face defeat. They have added incentive to turn out on Nov. 3.
One incentive they’ve lost compared with 2016, however, is a Supreme Court pick. Back then, the seat vacated by the passing of Antonin Scalia was up for grabs. The winning party would get it. This time round, having already voted to confirm Amy Coney Barrett to the court, they lack that pressing motivation.
The 2016 campaign offered in Hillary Clinton a Democrat whom conservatives loathed. Her own party wasn’t overly enthused. Mr. Biden is no Jack Kennedy, but he is less detested by the one party and more liked by the other.
As Ms. Clinton noted a few days ago, a big difference this time is Mr. Trump has a record to defend. Voters were prepared to take a chance on the bombastic outsider the first time. Less so now. Having promised to drain the swamp, he became the swamp. In keeping, only one in five Americans say the country is on the right track today compared with one-third who held that view in 2016.
Late in the previous election, Mr. Trump got a fantastic break when the FBI reopened an investigation into Ms. Clinton’s e-mail server on flimsy grounds. The impact saw Ms. Clinton’s seven-point poll lead soon down to three.
Mr. Trump draws no such luck this time. He needed the public-health crisis that’s been draining his support to taper off. Instead, coronavirus cases have been surging.
Mr. Biden did give him a gift in the most recent debate when he starkly declared that he would take the country off fossil fuels. That could hurt Democrats with voters in energy producing states such as Texas and Pennsylvania. There’s also the alleged discovery of a Hunter Biden computer – the “laptop from hell,” as Mr. Trump calls it – that has revived doubts in some quarters about Biden family integrity.
Another variance with 2016 is that while Mr. Trump still has his base firmly behind him, other big voter pools he drew on back then – seniors and suburban women – have moved to the Democrats.
In the previous campaign, he had a strong policy agenda, a new nationalism highlighted by an immigration crackdown and an overhaul of trade policy. This time he has no such agenda.
His unpopularity gives Democrats far more opportunities to score than in 2016. States such as Iowa, Ohio and Georgia, which were out of reach back then, are gettable now and they have a big fundraising advantage over the Republicans to lure voters. Mr. Trump meanwhile is playing defence, trying to hold the states he won, some of them critical ones, by a minuscule margin.
That still leaves perhaps the best reason for thinking 2016 is a bogus barometer for 2020, it being that Americans, as their history suggests, know when to make a course correction. They’re smart enough not to make a dreadful mistake twice.
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