We are down to the wire. With 41 days remaining before the presidential election, there are reports of a tightening electoral map, and single-digit advantages in the polls. It’s difficult to predict the outcome of the election, or even whether we will know who the president is before Thanksgiving.
Among the voters in my 500-person panel, Democrats say they are nervous, and yet Trump’s supporters believe their guy will win decisively. While Democratic nominee Joe Biden says that everything from character to our climate is on the ballot, President Trump has painted a picture of America under a Democratic administration that is violent, socialist, and in an economic depression.
The biggest issue to affect the election outcome may be where the United States stands with the coronavirus in a month: whether we have a surge in cases, if we are truly closer to a vaccine, and whether Americans are just unhappy at the thought of hunkering down for months during a bleak, cold winter. However, there is little that either candidate can do about COVID at this date.
What does Biden need to do to win? Here are six recommendations, based on what I’m hearing from voters across the country.
Up the energy level. The primary reason Democrats in my panel expressed concern about the election is that they perceive a lack of energy in the Biden campaign. Voters in swing states say they are not seeing Biden in person or on video, and other voters are singing a similar tune. Many ask where Biden’s vice presidential pick Kamala Harris is, disappointed that she doesn’t seem to be bringing the new level of vitality to the campaign that voters expected. People also don’t hear much from the parade of Democratic leaders who lined up to support Biden last spring — except for in e-mails asking them to donate to the campaign. It’s time to mobilize the surrogates — who can reinforce the key messages, go low when Trump goes low, and do everything possible to inspire voters to show up as they never have before.
Announce an impressive economic advisory team. The economy is in a COVID-driven mess. More than any other issue, voters tell me that when they go to the polls, they will first and foremost think about how they can support their families financially. However Trump may have mismanaged our country’s response to the coronavirus, Americans still see a president who is obsessed with bringing the economy back. For months, polls have shown Trump leads Biden on the economy. Announcing an all-star team of economic advisors to implement Biden’s little-heralded economic plan could blunt this attack and build confidence that he would be a better steward of the economy than Trump.
Pitch “Save Our Country.” Biden’s primary message is that character is on the ballot. His speeches recount Trump’s lies, narcissism, and lack of concern for regular Americans. But this view of Trump is already baked into the election; hardly anyone is undecided about whether Trump is a decent human. Biden’s supporters believe Trump is a lying, cheating, self-centered buffoon, while Trump’s supporters believe he is a strong, hard-working, family-loving leader who has pushed forward in the face of enormous obstruction. Instead, Biden needs to paint a picture of an America under four more years of Trump: more divisiveness and violence, a virus killing too many citizens, an economy that benefits the rich, crumbling infrastructure, a health care system that punishes those with pre-existing conditions, an acceleration of climate change that will cause irrevocable harm for future generations, and a decline in our global standing as China becomes the world’s new superpower.
Play offense on the mental health issue. Over 90 percent of the Republicans on my voter panel believe that Trump’s attacks on Biden’s mental health competence are true — and many refer to it as dementia, quoting various journalists and politicians. To date, Biden’s main response has been “Look at me, I’m fine!” But he usually says this sitting on a chair alone with a mask on — not exactly a picture that proves his point. A recent Fox News poll found that more Americans believe that Biden is mentally fit for the presidency than Trump (51 to 47 percent) and there is room to widen this gap. Biden would do well to go after Trump’s mental acuity. He should deride Trump’s incomplete sentences, inability to answer questions directly, misuse of terms like “herd mentality” instead of “herd immunity.” Doing that will make Trump furious — and if Trump fires back, Biden can criticize him for exploiting the fact that he was born with a stutter.
Clarify his perspective on urban violence. The newest pivotal issue raised by the voters in my panel is the violence in our cities, and the general question about which candidate can keep America safe. On Aug. 31, Biden gave a powerful speech about this issue, reminding citizens that the violence was happening under Trump’s watch and that the president was stoking it further with his rhetoric. Biden needs to make these points every day: laying out the differences between protests and violence (and who is responsible for each) and ensuring Americans understand that “Defund the Police” does not mean “Cripple the Police.”
Prepare for the debates by practicing the word “false.” Biden and his team already know what Trump will say in the debates, and Biden should prepare to call out Trump on his inaccurate claims. If Trump says our poor COVID performance stems from too much testing, Biden can shout “False!” and remind him that we have 4 percent of the world’s population and 22 percent of the deaths, which has nothing to do with testing. If Trump reminds people of how he was against the invasion of Iraq, Biden can cry “False!”, and remind Trump that he supported the decision until a year and a half after the 2004 invasion. Having command of the facts will make Biden look strong even as it makes Trump look out of touch.
Biden is trying. He delivers compelling speeches, and the Democrats have assembled a massive legal team to ensure voting rights that will be critical in November. But here’s the deal, Joe: If this is the most important election of our time, then Democrats want more urgency, more voices, more offense, and more vigor before it’s too late.
Diane Hessan is an entrepreneur, author, and chair of C Space. She has been in conversation with 500 voters across the political spectrum weekly since December 2016. Follow her on Twitter @DianeHessan. See her methodology at https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/5979231-Diane-Hessan-Methodology.html