Following our attempt to comprehend the challenges posed by political tribalism last week, we turn our attention to the electoral contest in the USA that commands attention worldwide. In contrast to the usual boisterous spectacles of delegates for such events, the Democratic National Convention was an entirely virtual affair. In the case of the Republican National Convention our glimpses of three out of four nights at the time of writing, revealed that although scaled down, the display of audience participation — the roll call nominating the President and Vice President in Charlotte, to First Lady Melania Trump's address in the Rose Garden and President Trump’s engagement War room of the White House; to Vice President's Mike Pence's address at Fort McHenry in Baltimore — seem to disregard the strict protocols required in this COVID-19 era in favour of a spectacle of sorts.
Many studies show that political conventions have sometimes created large enough swings to allow a trailing candidate — like President Trump this year — to make a comeback. The Convention season for example was important to George Bush’s win in 1988, Bill Clinton’s in 1992 and George W. Bush’s in 2004. By the time the Republican Convention ends, Donald Trump may yet get a bounce in the polls. Yet in a book, The Timeline of Presidential Elections by Robert Erikson and Christopher Wlezien , they show that it is through campaigns that voters are made aware of—or not made aware of—fundamental factors like candidates’ policy positions. Except for the tribalized factions of political parties, fundamental factors and issues in the final analysis determine which ticket will get votes. In other words, fundamentals matter, but only because of campaigns. See This short book.
Two Visions of America
The question: How important are these fundamental factors in this COVID-19 era and the unprecedented structure of political campaigns?. The traditional reasons why and how people vote in a democracy are twofold. They are normally based on socioeconomic background: income occupation, education, gender, religion ethnic background and family and on psychological factors: party identification, specific candidates and key issues. The contrast with a Dictatorship as we have seen in Belarus, is that people vote but they don’t have choice about who wins. Protests in Belarus have shown the extraordinary courage of ordinary people, their willingness to draw a line in the sand when they feel overlooked or dismissed. Like the Black Lives Matter Movement in US and around the World, many of the recent demonstrations in Belarus have been led by women who have been driven to the protests by the security forces’ savage beatings of their male relatives. Their bravery, in particular, has been a vivid example of what nonviolent resistance can do. In the space of a fortnight, it substantially created "good trouble" that has unsettled and possibly can bring to an end a quarter-century of undemocratic government. Yet in Democracies like the USA, people have a choice, but don’t vote and this many studies ascribed to one of the main reasons why Hilary Clinton lost the 2016 Presidential elections. Can these Party Conventions in the USA in their different bubbles make a difference?
GOFAD has therefore turned to the political polls to see what they are saying:
The Economists Elections Forecast (August 25) that combines state and national polls with economic indicators to predict a range of outcomes, gives a 98% chance to Joe Biden winning the majority of the popular vote by 54%-46% and the 90% chance of his winning more than 270 electoral college votes. Its model expresses a 95% confidence level even taking into consideration that the unfinished Republic Convention could give Donald Trump a bounce and the Presidential and Vice Presidential debates are yet to take place. This prediction is confirmed by the Five Thirty Eight polling averages which are more modest in their predictions of a 75%-80% Biden victory. This latter exercise and its trends before the first national conventions between 1968 and 2020, show that Biden’s pre convention lead at 8% is the biggest for two decades and the second-biggest lead for any Democratic candidate since 1996, when Bill Clinton's was 15 points. It is the kind of margin according to most pollsters from which it is difficult for an incumbent President to overcome.
A different view is presented by Helmut Norpoth, Professor, Department of Political Science SUNY, known as maverick modeler. He predicts another win for Trump. His Primary Mathematical Model has correctly predicted five of the past six presidential elections, and when applied to previous elections, has correctly predicted an impressive 25 of the last 27, missing only the 2000 election in which George W. Bush defeated Al Gore and the 1960 election in which John F. Kennedy defeated Richard Nixon. These were two extremely close and contested votes marred by allegations of voting inaccuracies. Donald Trump in particular, is reinforcing this projection when he makes statements to reporters like “we have a silent majority the likes of which nobody has seen.”
The Campaign messages so far from the Republican Convention focus on how dystopian a presidency will be under Biden against its leadership standing for law and order. They sound warnings of a “vengeful mob” that would lay waste to suburban communities and turn quiet neighborhoods into war zones. This claim is occurring amid the visual images of protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin sparked by a white policeman shooting Jacob Blake, a black man, now reportedly paralyzed from the waist down. The messages are also crafting an alternative reality of COVID-19 with speakers and audiences at the various venues without masks as if chronicling death foretold. Then there are the revisionist history of an economic recovery despite high levels of unemployment, the highest death tolls from the coronavirus worldwide and continuing revelations of dysfunctions in the government, hiding the ugly truths about voter suppression aimed at reviving the slippage in various of its stronghold constituents. Yet it cannot be discounted that these messages according to the polls are gaining traction among blocks of the electorate inspired by conspiracy theorists and bigots like the QAnons and white supremacists with their growing foothold in Trump's GOP. These tentacles of political tribalism are not to be underestimated, particularly when people want to believe the false narrative. One commentator characterizes the Republican Convention as 'a festival of lies' and this is confirmed by the NY Times Fact Checker on the three installments of the 2020 RNC so far.
The Democratic Convention too, according to the same fact check. had its share of over representation of its virtues rather than outright falsehoods. The DNC seemed to recognize that the history of its success is achieved when because the Party's platforms and programmes attract a wide coalition; that translating ideals into action requires building a coalition and incorporating diverse constituencies while building ideological diverse factions and a mixture of ideological biases. Hence it appears that Reagan Republicans may be finding more common ground with Biden than with Trump. In the next 67 days to the elections, this configuration of a democratic coalition may just be what is needed as a contrast with the demonization of toxic tribalism by the Republicans with labels that berate the other group as being “stupid,” “nasty” “evil,” “racist,” “demons,” “scum”.
The buildup of a broad coalition that cuts across race , class, gender and other demographics for leaving no one behind was clearly on display during the weeks of worldwide demonstrations in support of the Black Lives Matter Movement following George Floyd's murder. Now, during the RNC, another shooting of a young Black man in the back by a White policeman in Kenosha, Wisconsin has triggered sustained protests attracting the unprecedented support from sports persons that has brought a temporary halt to basketball and baseball games and withdrawals of tennis players from some scheduled tournaments. In the meantime, both President Trump's address to the RNC on Thursday evening (27th) and 2020 Black Live Matter March on Washington for Social Justice on Friday (28th), will take place after this blog is posted. GOFAD is hopeful that out of this electoral drama in the USA, the lesson that would emerge is that fundamental issues matter and will ‘trump’ tribalism.
Edward and Auriol Greene Directors, GOFAD.