Kaufman: Don’t Ignore Current Polls or History

Michael Dukakis lost his 1988 White House bid to George H. W. Bush in a 426-111 landslide. But did you know the former Massachusetts governor had a large summer lead in the polls? In July 1988, a Gallup poll showed Dukakis with a 17-point bulge over Bush the Elder. 

Today marks 17 weeks to Election Day. That’s less time than you realize. Seventeen weeks ago, we already were in the thick of coronavirus and sports had already shut down. 

This is not 2016. Joe Biden isn’t Hillary Clinton, and Donald Trump is no longer an outsider; he has a record. Still, while the world has undeniably changed in four years, current presidential election polling seems eerily similarly to four summers ago. Like Clinton’s last go-around, Biden maintains a sizable national lead among registered voters. 

A July 2016 Washington Post poll showed Clinton up double digits. Fox News had her with a 10-point lead around the same time and now shows Biden with a similar lead in the head-to-head contest. In August 2016, Quinnipiac had Trump down nearly 10, with third party candidates at 14% (they wound up receiving fewer than 5%).

Of course national polls, like the popular vote, are meaningless. Trump will probably lose the 2020 election by three to five million votes due to Biden racking up numbers in California, Illinois and New York. State polls, however, are hardly better for the president.

Pennsylvania’s Real Clear Politics average in summer 2016 found Clinton holding a seven-point spread. Right now, Biden is up similarly.

In the final Wisconsin RCP average, Clinton was up over six points. Most polls show Biden ahead more than six points in the Badger State. 

Michigan polls showed Clinton hovering around a five-point advantage in August 2016. The number rose in the autumn to double-digits before the race eventually tightened. Biden’s current spread there is widening. Trump won the Wolverine State by 10,000 votes. 

It’s delusional to ignore that Trump is in a tough spot due to self-inflicted troubles and events beyond his control. The president threaded the needle perfectly last time by spreading out 77,000 votes in three traditionally blue states. It was a fortuitous “inside straight.” 

Polls show Trump is in trouble in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, but also ArizonaFloridaNorth Carolina — and maybe Iowa and Ohio too. Minnesota, his best chance to add a state he lost last election, looks out of reach

I’m inclined to believe the numbers for now, because trends I witness when reading, talking and traveling confirm them. On the other hand, priggish media and Democrat allies are overconfident about running away with the election.  Skepticism about polling might be in order though, considering recent history.

Michael Dukakis lost his 1988 White House bid to George H. W. Bush in a 426-111 landslide. But did you know the former Massachusetts governor had a large summer lead in the polls? In July 1988, a Gallup poll showed Dukakis with a 17-point bulge over Bush the Elder. 

Because of this, the 86-year-old recently warned the Biden campaign not to become overly reliant on polls as urban mayhemracial animosity, domestic anti-Americanism, university turmoil and Wuhanvirus concerns continue. 

Dukakis’ numbers plummeted following several debacles. One was a porous debate performance whereupon Bernard Shaw asked the candidate if he’d support the death penalty had his wife been raped and murdered. Dukakis coldly said “no” and went into a technocratic explanation.

The governor fell further following a Bush campaign advertisement featuring Willie Horton, a black man who killed a white woman. Horton had escaped from a Massachusetts prison furlough when the killing occurred. The ad portrayed Dukakis as soft on crime. He also had the infamous photo mishap in Michigan, with a dopey grin and a huge helmet aboard an M1 Abrams battle tank. 

In a similar manner, Trump and his supporters have mocked Democrats kneeling and frequently questioned Biden’s mental acuity and strength

“I think Biden now is weaker than Dukakis in 1988,” Boston Globe columnist Alex Beam wrote. “Biden is battling an incumbent president who can wield the levers of power to his own benefit almost any time he wants. And Biden, you can argue, is no Dukakis.”

Dukakis currently is less than a decade older than Biden, and this was 32 years ago. Do the math. While Dukakis presided as governor during a period of economic growth colloquially known as the “Massachusetts Miracle”, Biden has essentially been absent from politics in recent years and will likely pick a radical running mate. 

Karl Rove, who knows how to win and should take over for Brad Parscale, advises Trump to hit the “reset button” ahead of the Republican National Convention next month. Maybe the president’s strong Mount Rushmore speech and remarkable June economic report can help augment positivity.

Or perhaps Biden has an insurmountable lead in key states, and the GOP also won’t avoid a terrible setback in the Senate.

But, with unforeseen events, including Biden going hard left, the race could naturally tighten, and Trump might be within range to hold the needed states. 

There’s time to reset but it’s getting late. “It’s still early” is a cop out used by people who won’t analyze and prefer to rationalize bad news. Heed history (and the calendar).