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He’s well behind in the polls, but can Donald Trump pull out a surprise vict- what? You’ve read that article? Six times? Yes, well your correspondent has been off for a while and was all set to return with a staggering contrarian take, and it’s gone and been done, and done.

The truth is that there’s so many indicators that Donald Trump is failing in the polls that pundits are now putting in a contrarian take as insurance, pure and simple, in case the universe has become several degrees more screwy than it was in 2016.

Trump is running behind Biden by 10 points overall, a huge margin, and he’s falling behind in key groupings such as suburban voters and women overall.

The widening of the gender gap is particularly significant, since it wasn’t universally present in 2016: despite his pussy-grabbing talk, Trump won a majority of white non-college educated women in 2016, and it was probably that unexpected burst of support in the rust belt states that got him over the line.

Such women have allegedly now deserted him, and the widening gap threatens to swallow his campaign. Trump is also failing in a couple of key states. Wisconsin is one, the surprise victory in ’16 that helped seal Trump’s majority. Florida is another, returned to true marginal status after the Republicans thought they had returned it to red state status. And they have also had to commit to full campaigns in Arizona and Georgia, two states which haven’t voted Democrat in decades. 

But those happy numbers for the Biden campaign hide a slightly more tenuous situation than many are willing to admit. The paradox of this comes down to the state/electoral college system once again.

What has to be remembered is the scale of Trump’s victory in 2016. Team Trump didn’t just win it on Michigan and Pennsylvania. He won three distinct groups of states: the tending-republican marginals (North Carolina, Missouri, Iowa); the pure swing states (Ohio, Florida); and finally the “blue wall” of Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.

Any one of these states (especially the last three) might have been stolen outright, but it was still a substantial achievement. And to win, the Democrats have to get most of them back. That’s where the margins come in. Some of these are pretty thin.

According to Real Clear Politics, Biden’s lead is 3.7% in Pennsylvania, and 1.2% in Florida. Trump is leading by 0.2% in Ohio. Those aggregates are taken from a mess of polls, good and bad, but together they indicate a borderline situation in three big states.

This is offset by small states going in the other direction — Minnesotta, at 6.6% for Biden is no longer a Trump target, as it threatened to be, and Biden leads in Arizona and Georgia — but it’s a far from done deal. If the Democrats simply can’t convert some small states — Iowa and North Carolina — and Trump fights hard in the big three, then Trump, with 304 of 539 electoral college votes, can lose any two states except Florida or Ohio and Pennsylvania together.

He can lose three in various combinations, including a trad red state, and still hang on. The trend towards Biden is going to have to be deep and uniform across the swing states for victory to be certain.

The hope is that Trump has alienated enough groups of people. But there are two reasons why he might not have.

Firstly, a basic resistance to any form of polling has spread deeper and further among those leaning towards Trump over the last four years. With the spread of QAnon and other conspiracies into the wider electorate, the number of people who now feel that any form of media activity is conspiracy and surveillance is substantial.

Secondly, the divide between the coasts and the interior of America is now so great that a level of residual support for Trump (including in north and central Florida) simply cannot be registered by a coastal-oriented media system.

This would be the ultimate revenge of the deplorables: that amid all the clamour of Black Lives Matter, Trump’s aggressive misogyny, Ruth Bader Ginsberg-olatry, etc, the progressive movement and the Democrats still have not turned real attention to the vast numbers of Americans whose lives have been sinking for decades, but whose plight does not fall into a race/gender frame.

Trump remains a representative figure for many such, even though he has done relatively little for them.

But there is no one else — except Q — and if Trump were to win again it will because of one last push against the tide of history.

So which direction is it going in? Absolutely no-one knows. But there’s no real doubt that Biden will win the popular vote. So if Trump were to eke out an electoral college win, it would be against a Biden majority of 4 million to 6 million votes.

That split would shake the republic to its very core. A nation desperate for relief from crisis would instead have of it four more years…

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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