Trump's re-election prospects darkening

The Covid-19 outbreak may be remembered as the wave that swamped US President Donald Trump's re-election bid. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

WASHINGTON - The polls are becoming too consistent in their message for United States President Donald Trump to ignore.

It is very clear what he is up against: the Covid-19 outbreak may be remembered not just as a deadly pandemic, but as the wave that swamped his re-election bid.

"Every single poll… these last two weeks has painted a dire picture for President Donald Trump's chances at re-election," wrote the national editor of the non-partisan Cook Political Report Amy Walter on Friday (June 26).

"His overall job approval rating sits somewhere around 41 per cent. He's down by an average of 9-10 points to (presumptive Democratic Party rival and former vice-president) Joe Biden."

Mr Trump's disapproval rating has hit a record high according to a new NPR/PBS Newshour/Marist poll of more than 1,500 registered voters, which was conducted from June 22 through June 25. Fifty-eight per cent of respondents disapproved of the President's job performance, while only 40 per cent approved of it.

A New York Times-Siena College poll conducted earlier showed Mr Biden opening up double-digit leads over Mr Trump in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, and 6, 7 and 9 per cent leads in Florida, Arizona and North Carolina respectively - all battleground states the President won in 2016.

Significantly, Mr Trump's approval has eroded among older white males - a key demographic in his bid for re-election - over his handling of the pandemic and his management of street protests against racism and police brutality.

"Unfortunately for him, the people in his camp are, with each passing year, a smaller share of the electorate, in part because the electorate is diversifying and in part because of generational replacement," said Dr Charles Bullock, professor of political science at the University of Georgia.

"Usually, a person who is narrowly elected will try to broaden their base, reaching out to people, trying to win them over," Dr Bullock said in an interview.

"Trump has never done that and his policy decisions have not been designed to bring new people into his camp."

The biggest challenge for President Trump is that he is not the outsider any more, Ms Walter wrote. "He's in charge. And, when you are in charge you need to prove that you are effective at dealing with the issues currently enveloping the country. Today, those issues are racial justice and the coronavirus. Right now, voters see him flailing on both."

That the President is aware of what he is up against is evident from his tweet storms against negative polls, his eagerness to campaign and, more ominously, pundits say, disputing the legitimacy of the election itself.

"Rigged 2020 election: Millions of mail-in ballots will be printed by foreign countries and others. It will be the scandal of our times!" the President tweeted in capital letters on Monday, but without offering any evidence to support his claim.

"The scariest thing is that he might not accept the election result," Dr Bullock said. "But the message he is sending out is also being sent out by some Democrats, like (former Georgia Congresswoman) Stacey Abrams who has been saying elections in Georgia were stolen.

"So you have high visibility people in both parties who are raising serious questions and that is worrying."

The President's options for narrowing the gap with Mr Biden are limited, Dr Glenn Altschuler, professor of American Studies at Cornell University, told The Straits Times.

One tactic is to attack Mr Biden, alleging corruption and feeble mindedness; Mr Biden is prone to gaffes. A second is to evade responsibility for the pandemic - which the poll numbers and the trajectory of the pandemic show is proving difficult. A third is to declare victory for the economy - but it is the coronavirus which thus far is having the last laugh.

"That leaves the fourth option which quite frankly can be summarised as voter suppression. What you do is try very hard to discredit mail-in ballots, to call into question whether or not an election is fair; that is, I think, where he is going with the rhetoric," Dr Altschuler said.

"But it's very difficult to do because the states regulate those kinds of issues. And even Republican secretaries of state are cooperative in increasing the options in a pandemic, of mailing in ballots."

In addition, Americans will not believe an election is rigged unless it is close, Dr Altschuler said.

"If you're behind by 6, 8, 10 per cent in the polls consistently... saying you were robbed in the election really depends on it being razor thin."

Mr Trump has been written off before and the Democratic Party is taking absolutely nothing for granted, Ms Anne Wakabayashi, political director at Emerge America, told The Straits Times. Emerge America recruits and trains Democratic women for public office and leadership.

"In campaign terms, we've got an eternity until election day. There's a lot of campaign left to be run. The focus now is just on expanding the electorate and turning out the vote," she said.

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