Congressional Corner With Tim Vercellotti | WAMC

Congressional Corner With Tim Vercellotti

Jun 17, 2020

Will President Trump win a second term?

In today’s Congressional Corner, Tim Vercellotti of the Western New England University poll and professor of political science, speaks with WAMC’s Alan Chartock.

Alan Chartock: Here we are in the Congressional Corner with our friend Tim Vercellotti, one of the brightest people I have known ever. He's the director of the Western New England University Poll, professor of political science, and we're lucky to have him. Okay. Hey, Tim, talk to me about Trump's current polling and what it portends for November.

Tim Vercellotti: All right. Well, it's good to be here, Alan. So the latest polling in the presidential race has been pretty unfavorable to President Trump. We've seen in the past few polls, Joe Biden by 8 by 14 by 7 by 6 by 10. Pretty healthy national leads, but we do want to offer some caveats here. Number one, these are all registered voter polls. Many of the national surveys have not yet started to screen for likely voters which is a smaller group of people. And typically when you cut it down to likely voters, Democrat candidate Democratic candidates tend to lose a point or two. But as it stands now, Biden's got a pretty healthy lead this far out, five months out from the election.

Well, how would you compare him to how Hillary was doing? Because, you know, Trump keeps saying, well, here, I was losing to Hillary and I beat her. So how would you do that? And national polls? Of course, we know Hillary won the national vote, she didn't win in the key states.

That's right. Yeah. Well, if you break down the polling data, we see that Biden is running ahead of where Hillary Clinton was at this point in the race four years ago, among college educated white voters, but more importantly, among white men without a college degree. And that is a demographic that Hillary Clinton struggled with in 2016. So he's got an edge there. If you break it down by polling in states, we also see that Biden at the moment has about a three point edge in the key swing states that Clinton lost in 2016, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. He's also currently got about a three point lead, if you aggregate the polls in Florida, and in Arizona, also two states that President Trump won in 2016. And although the polling has been sparse, the race does appear to be close in North Carolina, Georgia and Texas. Those latter two, if Biden is competitive and forcing Trump to spend in those states, it would be a pretty significant election for the Democrats.

Okay, so is Biden winning, or is Trump losing? I know that that's a sort of difficult question, but seems to me every time he gets up there opens his mouth and says some despicable lie or something like that, it really puts him into a very vulnerable position. Whereas Biden’s philosophy has been keep it keep it cool.

It's so interesting to look at the dynamics of this race, because they are the opposite of what you typically see with an incumbent and a challenger. The incumbent typically deploys a rose garden strategy, doesn't take many risks, and the challenger is the one out there in the public eye. In this regard, until very recently, Joe Biden did most of his campaigning from the basement of his home in Delaware and left the spotlight to President Trump. And in doing so, left Trump out there to take all kinds of positions that have been controversial, that have been provocative, that really have eaten away at the President's standing. The most recent job approval for Gallup shows Trump at 39% approve. That's pretty much the floor of his job approval since the inauguration. And so Biden's strategy of just laying low has been very effective up to now.

I would certainly agree with that. We'll talk about the Biden veep stakes. Obviously everybody wants to know who he is going to choose as his vice president for running me. And he's got some problems, doesn’t he?

He has to make a tough choice. First he committed during the primaries to putting a woman on the ticket as the vice presidential nominee. And as such, it's largely assumed that his shortlist right now has at the very top of the list for women two senators, Elizabeth Warren from Massachusetts and Kamala Harris, from California, Congresswoman Val Demings of Florida, the Orlando area. Actually, I misspoke. There are three senators on the shortlist, Amy Klobuchar from Minnesota. The challenge is in terms of choosing a running mate, Biden has to take into account the growing pressure to put a woman of color on the ticket. We've seen extraordinary forces at work in politics these past few weeks. And so that would suggest that Kamala Harris's stock is rising, as well as that about Demings, who's also African American. If you look at the betting markets, they are at the top of the list, and betting markets aren't always good predictors. They don't always track public opinion polling, but we don't have many metrics right now. Those are the two front runners one would argue and each of them while they have many, many good points in their favor, they have some issues as well. So for Kamala Harris, she was Attorney General in California before entering the Senate. And there were sentiments, and this came up during the primary season, that she was too much in the direction of law and order in terms of crimes and sentencing and crackdowns. And, and so it's difficult in this current climate for a lot of people on the left of the Democratic Party to embrace Kamala Harris. Val Demings, on the other hand, she spent most of her career in law enforcement, rising to the rank of police chief in Orlando. The challenge for Congresswoman Demings is she's only at the end of her second term in the House of Representatives. She sits on key committees, judiciary, and the Select Committee on Intelligence and speaker Nancy Pelosi named her one of the prosecutors, a house manager in President Trump's impeachment trial. But as someone who would need to be prepared to serve as president, she hasn't had the national exposure and experience that you typically see from a vice presidential nominee.

That's right. We call this the who’s she phenomena. In other words, in other words, everybody knows the other guys, but they don't know her yet. So, let me talk to you about the electoral map in November. Which states matter most and which are in play.

The states that matter most at this point, you can't look away from the three that Hillary Clinton lost to Donald Trump and they essentially decided the presidency, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. In each of those states, Joe Biden is running about three points ahead of President Trump. But again, these are registered voter pools. These races will tighten once you drill down to likely voters. Beyond those three states of folks are paying attention, as they always do, to Florida, somewhat to Ohio, it's Ohio is looking better than it has in previous cycles for the Democrats and Arizona, which is looking very promising, not just because of Biden's poll standing out there, but there's a big Senate race out there as well. The current senator Martha McSally is running to complete the rest of John McCain’s term, but she is badly trailing Mark Kelly, an astronaut and husband of Congresswoman Gabby Giffords. The race there has Kelly up by about 10 points. And if Democrats are flooding the zones turning out to support Kelly, that's good news for Biden and Arizona could flip. The second tier of states one might focus on, North Carolina where there's also a tight Senate race, possibly Georgia but that's the state that tempts Democrats cycle after cycle and then eludes their grasp. Those would be the key states to watch right now.

We've been talking to my friend and a guy I admire very much, Tim Vercellotti. And Tim is a political scientist, a pollster of the first order. And Tim, when we come back, let's ask you some more questions.

I look forward to it.