By now it should be clear: Democrat Joe Biden is the front-runner to win the presidential election this fall.
He has led all but a handful of national polls over Donald Trump for the past year, including all since mid-February. Biden is currently polling ahead of Trump in key swing states: Arizona, Florida, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Virginia.
Translating that into Electoral College votes, Biden right now would have a projected win of 336 to 202, well above the 270 votes needed.
That’s what they call a rout.
Team Trump seems to accept the current premise. Their own polling reportedly showed the president losing badly to Biden. The Trump campaign has begun focusing even more attention on Arizona and Georgia — two states he is on the verge of not winning — and promoted two veteran operatives to his team hoping to right the ship, including his former White House political director, Bill Stepien, to deputy campaign manager.
Here is the thing: There is no reason to expect this dynamic to change any time soon.
Yes, the coronavirus is still killing Americans and that could slow down before the fall. And, yes, if the situation with the coronavirus improves, the economy could come roaring back. However, if the past few weeks signal anything, even if the economy improves, it may not translate into political capital for Trump.
After all, even though some estimates suggest one out of four Americans are out of work, the markets are doing very well lately, up 25 percent in the past few weeks. They are now at levels that haven’t been seen since before the stay-at-home orders began.
Traditionally, the health of the markets often correlates with a president’s approval rating and chances at reelection. (Remember, “It’s the economy, stupid?”) However, while the markets have gone up lately, Trump’s average approval rating has gone down in the past two months by roughly 3 percent.
Team Trump argues that what these polls are missing are less frequent voters they are targeting and encouraging to vote. And when half of all Americans don’t vote, there is certainly a large pool of those voters to pick from.
However, Team Biden is also actively working to make more inroads among diverse populations, which came out to vote for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, but stayed home during the 2016 election.
Biden is currently winning nearly every campaign metric right now. And in places where he isn’t, like staffing and fund-raising, he is quickly closing the gap to the point there won’t be much of an advantage for Trump, at least on paper.
However, there is one point in Trump’s pocket that may override all of this and there is nothing Biden can do: Trump is the incumbent.
Incumbency is a big deal in the recent history of American politics. Since 1912, incumbent presidents have won 11 out of 14 times. Lately, incumbents have been doing very well: the last three presidents won two terms. If Trump were to win this year, it would be the first time in US history that four consecutive presidents won a second term.
There are reasons for this, particularly, with the explosion of money in politics. For example, while Biden might be closing the money gap with Trump, this doesn’t address the millions that Trump already has spent. For context, until former New York City mayor Mike Bloomberg’s short-lived Democratic presidential campaign, Trump had routinely outspent the entire field of Democrats running week after week.
And while five months out things look bad now for Trump, it’s also true that things didn’t look good on Election Day in 2016. And he won anyway.