A vice-presidential pick. Two unprecedented nominating conventions. A return to protests and violence spurred by the police killing of an unarmed black man.
It’s been a busy month in the US, with traditional political events and unexpected incidents all influencing whether President Donald Trump will win in November.
We last checked in on the race about a month ago (and a reminder, if you want to know how these monthly check-ins are working, the first edition is the perfect place to start), so with two major milestones in the race to the White House now behind us, how is the race shaping up?
As we begin the official sprint to November 3, we asked the ABC’s Washington bureau chief David Lipson to tell us whether the events of August had shifted the needle.
Did the conventions or Kamala Harris’s entry into the race matter?
Lipson said the most significant indicator of the conventions’ impact on the race was not the polls or the fundraising, but just how the campaigns themselves had changed in the weeks since.
“The conventions, like all politics, really boiled down to a battle over trust and character,” he said.
“Biden claimed Trump evidently couldn’t be trusted to handle the coronavirus. Trump claimed Biden couldn’t be trusted to keep Americans in the suburbs safe from violent crime.
“This is why rolling out a COVID-19 vaccine before the election is so important to Trump. This is why Biden moved so fast to cauterize any bleeding of votes on law and order.”
The fact that Biden resumed in-person campaigning the week after the Republican National Convention (RNC) was telling, Lipson said. Biden travelled to Kenosha, Wisconsin, the site of violent racial unrest prompted by police shooting a black man, just hours after Trump did.
“The election is still Joe Biden’s to lose,” Lipson said.
“All he needs to do is hold onto the lead he has, steady as she goes.
“You can expect him to continue to run a relatively small-target campaign, jumping back into the spotlight at opportune times like he did last week.
“Trump’s path to election victory is much more difficult, on paper at least. A significant majority of Americans disapprove of Trump’s handling of the pandemic, so he needs to keep the focus on anything but coronavirus. The real economy remains in tatters, despite the strength of the stock market.”
Lipson said Trump had two key advantages:
- He’s a master at controlling the media narrative and will stop at nothing to keep the debate on the subject of his preference
- He has the power of incumbency and will continue to milk it for all it’s worth, using both the White House as a political prop and his taxpayer-funded appointees to help make the case for him
And as for who will win?
With all that in mind, it’s time to check on our three key indicators for the state of the race, picked for us by experts, to help you make up your own mind about who might win in November.
As always, let’s start with …
National polling averages
One of the phenomena unique to US politics is the concept of the “convention bounce”. That is, after a four-day event celebrating the party, candidates normally see a sharp rise in their polls.
But the COVID-19 pandemic meant the conventions were reduced to mostly virtual and pre-recorded segments (plus a news media distracted by the very same pandemic), and vastly fewer Americans tuned in compared to 2016. So, could the candidates engineer a bounce?
Polls have been varied, but the consensus is that Joe Biden got no bounce from his convention.
And Donald Trump may have received a small bounce of 1-2 points, but it might already be fading.
It’s been reflected in the head-to-head polls, which have tightened slightly.
As of publication, the FiveThirtyEight average has former vice-president Biden up 7.6 points over Trump (50.6 — 43). RealClearPolitics has Biden up 7.1 points over Trump (49.9 — 42.8).
We’re also checking in on Trump’s approval rating as another measure of his re-election chances. Just like the head-to-head polling, Trump’s approval rating has been stable since a sharp decline in May.
As of publication, the FiveThirtyEight average says 52.8 per cent of Americans disapprove of Trump’s performance, while 43 per cent approve. RealClearPolitics has 53 per cent disapproving, 44.3 per cent approving.
Keep in mind: While the protests and violence in Portland and Kenosha were a huge focus of the post-convention news cycle, it’s still a little too early to tell if Donald Trump’s relentless focus on law and order is paying off.
The bottom line: August was a good month for Donald Trump in the polls. But the President is still 7-8 points behind, so he’ll need to find a way to both consolidate these gains and accelerate them in the months ahead.
The US economy
Last month was a shocker, with the second-quarter GDP contracting 32.9 per cent, the worst since records began in 1947. The next round of GDP figures will be released on September 30, so no updates on this front yet.
But the rest of the economy has shown signs of life in the past month.
Personal income in July increased by a slim 0.4 per cent (improving from a 1.1 per cent drop in June).
There was also positive news on the unemployment front, with the number of unemployed Americans falling 2.8 million to 13.6 million.
The raw unemployment rate also fell by 1.8 points to 8.4 per cent. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics noted that it was the fourth consecutive month both measures had improved (while still remaining markedly higher than in February when the coronavirus pandemic took a sledgehammer to economies around the world).
Congress has returned after its summer recess this week, and all eyes are on whether a deal can be done to pass another round of coronavirus stimulus, especially with the election looming.
Keep in mind: The strong US economy was the bedrock upon which Donald Trump wanted to build his 2020 re-election campaign. Coronavirus blew that up in March, but there have been steady gains in recent months as the President campaigns on a message of “I can build that economy again”. The economy also remains one of the few measures a majority of voters rate Donald Trump positively on.
The bottom line: While the highs of early 2020 remain a distant memory, the US economy is showing a steady, sustained recovery. And that bolsters the re-election chances of the President.
Finally an update on…
The coronavirus pandemic
We’ve spoken a lot about the conventions, and while they may not have shifted the needle in terms of the national polls, they told us much about how these two campaigns will treat arguably the defining issue of the 2020 election.
For four days, Democrats laid out the case against a President who they said had failed in his most basic duty — protecting Americans. In his acceptance speech, Joe Biden called Trump’s response to the coronavirus “unforgivable”.
For four days, Republicans laid out their own version of reality that was heavy on claims the President acted swiftly on the threat of the virus (which was strongly refuted by fact-checking units at major US outlets) and promises of a vaccine by year’s end.
When it comes to the numbers, we’ve seen some improvement compared to the dire situation only a month ago.
From highs of more than 75,000 cases every day, the US is now reporting an average of roughly 38,000 per day.
There are more than 6.3 million confirmed cases of coronavirus in the US, an increase of more than 1.6 million since we last checked in.
Deaths are on a small, but noticeable, decline.
The US has recorded almost 190,000 coronavirus deaths, up roughly 40,000 since our last update.
Keep in mind: Despite improvements in the past month, the US still has the highest number of coronavirus cases and deaths in the world, according to Johns Hopkins University. And experts have warned the President of the dangers of promising a vaccine that does not yet exist.
The bottom line: Coronavirus numbers in the US have fallen from record highs in the past month, but have plateaued at levels higher than the previous wave in June and July.
What do our voters say?
With eight days of political programming targeted directly at them, we’ve checked back in with our three American voters to see if they’ve been swayed by the conventions. Like always, we asked them: “Will Donald Trump be re-elected in November?”
First up is Republican Mike McMullen:
Up next is Sarah Becker, a Republican who says she will not vote for Trump at the 2020 election:
Our Democrat Mark Kellman, wasn’t able to chat this month. Like many Americans, he was dealing with a family emergency made more complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic. But he’ll be back next month to tell us how he’s feeling as the election draws closer.
So, will Donald Trump Win?
With the conventions in the rear-view mirror, we’re in the home stretch of this campaign now. It’s been a good month for Donald Trump across our key indicators, but they show he still has plenty of ground to make up if he’s going to convince voters to give him a second term.
As always, we’re chatting with readers right now in a live blog. Come join your fellow US politics fanatics and hit us with your hot takes about the conventions. We’re also discussing what to expect from the debates, which begin in just a few weeks.
If you want to be notified when we publish our next edition, plus get lots of inside knowledge about the campaign trail from our Washington DC bureau, you can sign up for alerts from ABC News on Messenger by tapping here.