Image Credit: Gage Skidmore
Earlier last week, Democratic Presidential candidate Joseph Biden won all eight states in the latest primary elections, officially garnering enough votes to be considered the party’s nominee for the Presidency. In a statement following the announcement, Biden said that the country needed clear direction. "This is a difficult time in America’s history. And Donald Trump’s angry, divisive politics is no answer. The country is crying out for leadership. Leadership that can unite us."
He faces a Republican campaign still battling with the impacts of current events. The damage wrought to Trump’s popularity by the Back Lives Matter movement, and the administration’s approach to the coronavirus pandemic has yet to be fully understood, and could lead to further drops in an already significant downward curve for the Trump campaign. According to FiveThirtyEight’s calculations from multiple polls, Trump is currently the least popular he has been since the controversial assassination of Irani General Qassem Soleimani in January. The goal for the Biden campaign will be to capitalise on President Donald Trump’s slumping approval ratings.
Over the past week, Trump made several clear attempts to double-down on the support of his voting base. The President, who typically spends Sundays on his golf courses, made two visits to church within a 24-hour period, first visiting a historic church near the Whitehouse, and then laying a wreath for Pope John Paul II at a shrine on Tuesday.
Despite winning 81% of white evangelical voters in 2016, Trump would find his visits marred with controversy, as religious leaders condemned his action on the Black Lives Matter protests that are currently enveloping the country. Doubling down on law and order rhetoric is something of a gamble for the President’s November prospects: divisive rhetoric exploits partisan divides, banking on the hope that his winning coalition in 2016 will be sufficient to get him re-elected.
Meanwhile, the Biden campaign made efforts to appeal to voters beyond their base. In absence of physical rallies, the campaign now holds daily ‘stump speeches’ online, and has made attempts to attract less engaged voters through an app, and numerous emails to fundraise from grassroots voters. Democrats win when turnout is high, and current events present an opportunity to attract disengaged voters.
The Biden campaign has a vested interest in making November a ‘race’ election: much of the Vice President’s core support comes from the African-American community. Polling data from the primary shows that Biden’s core support derives largely from the groups that voted a wave of Democrats into office in 2018: black and suburban white voters. Against Sanders, his most dominant performances came from states with high black populations: Virginia, North Carolina, and Alabama.
Biden, and other Democratic leaders must now walk a thin line between supporting police reform, which is popular with voting Americans, and avoiding detailed discussion of the destructive action of many of the protests, which are not.
A poll by Yahoo News and YouGov found that whilst 61% of American adults believed that race was a “major factor” in George Floyd’s alleged murder, just 43% attributed the unrest following Floyd’s death to “a genuine desire to hold police officers accountable”.
It remains to be seen how the campaigns will change once physical events are permitted to take place. According to RealClearPolitics, Biden currently leads Trump by one of his highest margins ever, around 7 percentage points. Furthermore, with the prospects of an incoming financial crisis, the Trump campaign may yet have greater polling challenges to face.