A defining characteristic of progressive voters around the world is that they believe they can lose an election when ahead in the polls, and that they cannot win an election when they are behind in them.
To be fair there is some justification for such belief. Progressives have become quite good at losing elections they should win.
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As we all look to the US presidential election this coming week, those working, hoping, and praying for a Biden win remain ever distrustful of the polls that have Biden up by eight points.
Maybe we should not trust them, but we all know that were Biden down eight points, no one would think there was any hope left.
The different attitude was nicely summarised by former Republican party consultant Stuart Stevens, who told Battleground podcast last week:
I seem to remember losing to the Democrats in the popular vote every time since 1988, except 2004, so it’s like ‘you guys are winning, we’re losing’ and I just think there is a timidity to the idea that this can’t be a huge victory for Joe Biden … If I ran the Democratic party I would say ‘Look, this is ours, there is more of us than them, we just have to go and take it … rout them, rout them from the field and know that you are just.
It’s true that since 1988 the Democratic candidate has won the national vote in six of the seven presidential elections (and is almost certain to do so again this time). And yet they have won just four of those times.
The US electoral system, with its allocation of winner-takes-all electoral college votes, is so disjointed from the national vote that 538’s Nate Silver estimates that if Biden was ahead 1% in the popular vote he would only have a 6% chance of winning the election.
Add in legitimate concerns about voter suppression (both before and after the election) and Biden supporters won’t believe the victory is won until he has his hand on the Bible delivering the oath of office.
And even then …
After all, we are talking about a country in which Walmart has announced that it is temporarily taking ammunition and guns off its shelves out of fear of violence in the wake of the election result. It is such a stunning announcement you kind of gloss over that this means guns and ammunition are normally on the shelves of Walmart stores.
We’re also talking about a country where 40% of Florida voters in a recent poll said they thought Donald Trump was “compassionate” and 43% thought he was “truthful”. Words no longer have meaning at such times.
In the past month everyone has been waiting for an “October surprise”.
But the Trump party’s (that rancid combination of the Republican party and conservative media) attempt to smear Biden by way of his son were as arousing to voters as watching Rudy Giuliani “tuck in his shirt” while lying on a bed.
Only the deluded and the desperate cared.
But what about good economic news that will turn voters back to Trump? Late this past week there were reports of “record” GDP growth figures, with headlines that in the September quarter America’s economy grew 33%.
America for some bizarre reason likes to annualise quarterly growth. The economy actually grew 7.4% in the September quarter after falling 9% in June – both figures were records.
The US economy remains 3.5% smaller than it was before the pandemic took hold. There are also 11 million fewer Americans employed than there were in February. That is not a boom.
But nothing – neither the polls, the economy, nor the horrendous spread of the virus – will give Biden supporters any sense that the election is his to win.
And fair enough – the stakes are too high.
A Trump victory would signal the failure of the US democratic experiment and the triumph of authoritarianism. Given his administration’s utter inability to deal with the virus it would also mean not only many more deaths but also a brake on the global economy for many years to come.
It would also end hopes for limiting climate change at a global level.
On the other side of the ledger is the hope a Biden administration with a Senate majority might be able to undo some of the damage and do some good over the next four years.
There is no balance, and so we hold on, hoping there remains some good news for 2020 to deliver.