The pointless feuds and rage tweets, the conspiracism and obsessions all seem baked in—none of that seems to surprise the electorate anymore. He could win. He might win. Here are six reasons why.
1. The economy could come back just enough.
Reckless though it was to reopen businesses while the virus raged, states that lifted stay-at-home restrictions gave the economy an unmistakable jolt. A record-setting total of 7.5 million jobs were added in May and June. The numbers might well cool off in the coming months, but Trump can spin what might turn out to be fleeting gains as a full-fledged recovery.
“This looks like a very rapid rebound,” Gregory Daco, the chief economist at the consulting firm Oxford Economics, told me, referring to recent job numbers. “But we have to keep in mind that we’re still deep in the hole. We’ve only recouped about one-third of the jobs lost, and the second portion of the recovery phase is likely to be much slower.” To illustrate the point, Daco cited clothing sales, which dropped 90 percent from February to April. Since then, sales have nearly doubled, which may sound like reason to celebrate. But they’re still 70 percent below the peak, Daco told me.
For Trump’s purposes, the broader context wouldn’t matter. He’d point to the progress and ignore the rest. And some may be inclined to believe him. Even as voters sour on Trump for other reasons, 50 percent still like the way he handles the economy, a new ABC News-Washington Post survey shows.
“The president needs a glimmer of hope in the fall, and that will be enough on the economy,” a former senior White House official told me, speaking on the condition of anonymity in order to talk candidly about Trump’s reelection.
2. Polling could be wrong (again).
Four years ago, the race between Trump and Hillary Clinton came down to Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. Trump narrowly won all three. This time around, Biden is leading in each of the same three states by anywhere from 6 to 8 points, the RealClearPolitics average of polls shows.
If that sounds familiar, it may be because state surveys also showed Clinton topping Trump in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania ahead of the election. In Pennsylvania alone, seven different state polls taken in the first two weeks of October 2016 showed Clinton beating Trump by no fewer than 4 percentage points and by as many as 9. She wound up losing the state by about a point.
Read: Debbie Dingell is afraid the Trump polls are wrong—again
Postmortem analyses of state polling turned up serious flaws. In some instances, surveys failed to correct for the overrepresentation of college-educated voters who participate more in polls and tended to favor Clinton. Or they didn’t capture a trend in which most voters who made up their minds late voted for Trump.
Franklin, the Marquette Law School poll director, told me that his survey now shows Biden leading the president by 8 points in Wisconsin. But how much weight do such polls deserve, given the debacle in 2016? At the end of that race, Clinton led Trump by an average of more than 6 points in Wisconsin and then lost by nearly a point.