AP featured image
Jill Biden, wife of Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden introduces him during a campaign stop in Council Bluffs, Iowa, Saturday, Nov. 30, 2019. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

The sky is black with polls announcing a Joe Biden landslide. There’s a new one every day. He’s up by 10. No, it’s 12! He’ll win by 15!!

Yeah, sure he will. I’m sorry, I don’t believe this. Oh, I believe that actual people are telling actual pollsters that they are going to vote for Joe Biden. My problem is with believing that they actually know who Joe Biden is, or that they aren’t just telling Trump — whom they love and are going to vote for no matter what — to get off his duff.

My suspicion that something goofy is going on is triggered by a couple of things. First, the winning margin. To hear the press tell it, Joe Biden — you heard that right: Joe Biden! — will soon be elected President by the largest margin since Lyndon Johnson trounced Barry Goldwater. Sorry, that doesn’t pass the smell test. This isn’t the same country it was when Johnson and Reagan were racking up 49-state blowouts. For the last 20 years, our elections have been extremely close… in many cases decided by a few hundred votes in a handful of states. Obama’s 7-point win over John McCain was a landslide by modern standards. Four years later, he won by 4 points. The country is much more closely divided today.

Second, we have wannabe Socialist revolutionaries cavorting about, setting fires and pulling down statues. Voters hate that stuff, and they always blame the Democrats for it, because Democrats are always cheering for it under their breath. The other day when CNN offered the “news” that Biden’s lead was widening as protests spread throughout the land, I laughed out loud. That’s not how it works. I know that’s not how it works, and no CNN is going to convince me otherwise.

So what’s going on? I’ve done a lot of market research. I’ve learned The Hard Way that you cannot assume that everyone who gives you the same answer is doing it for the same reason. When I read that Joe Biden is ahead because “people think this” or “people think that,” I know for a fact that that is wrong. It’s never that simple. There are always segments in there who sound like they are telling you the same thing, but they don’t mean the same thing by it. If you don’t poke around in there to get to the next level of detail, by going back and asking more pointed questions, you can be righteously fooled.

It’s not hard to guess some of the segments that are telling the pollsters that they are going to vote for Joe Biden. The first and obvious one consists of people who are actually going to vote for Joe Biden. They’ve looked into it, they know what they are doing, and they’ve made up their mind. I figure them for 30 to 35% of the electorate. Maybe I’m off by ten, but not by twenty.

The second segment of poll-reported “Joe Biden voters” consists of people who don’t pay much attention to politics, didn’t watch any of the primary debates, but have a sense of who Joe Biden is and what he represents. If you ask them today who they will vote for, they will say, “Joe Biden.” I call these the brand-name voters. They aren’t voting for Joe Biden the human, they’re voting for Joe Biden the brand name. They haven’t actually seen Joe Biden in twenty years, but they have this vision of a fairly glib silver-tongued devil who fits the mold of a “mainstream Democrat.” He’ll do; they’re going to vote for him. Elizabeth Vaughn discusses this same issue here. I think there are more of these people than the “analysts” suspect. It used to be taken for granted that most voters didn’t pay attention to politics until after Labor Day. It’s true that the 24-by-7 cable news networks have created a segment of news junkies, but collectively they don’t amount to more than about ten million people out of 120 million voters.

This far in advance of an election, there are always voters who use pollsters as a communications device. They’ll register their displeasure with the incumbent by telling pollsters that they hate the guy, or will vote to throw him out. When in fact they have no intention of doing any such thing. These are the folks who always cause the polls to tighten up as an election approaches. In most years they are worth 5-7 points.

There might be a few other segments out there, but those are the big ones.

By my reckoning, this election is shaping up to be another squeaker, like 2016, or 2000, or 2004. Joe has his solid 30 to 35 per cent, plus a slug of brand-name voters worth another 10 to 20 points depending on how they shake out. Joe might win, Joe might lose, and Joe might tie.

The big unknown in this election is the brand-name voters. Most of them will watch the televised debates. Usually such people see what they expect to see, and their brand name preference is affirmed. They go on to vote for the actual human that they told the pollsters they would. If that happens this year, Joe Biden could well win, although not by the margins being kicked around now.

However. This might be one of those years where those folks get surprised. That happened in 1980, when the press had “branded” Ronald Reagan as a war-mongering hothead who would get us all killed. People who tuned in to the debates expecting to see a calm and collected President Carter debate a warmongering hothead were surprised. Reagan went from 39% in early October to winning with 51% of the vote a month later.

As most politics junkies are aware, people who are fine with Joe Biden the Brand Name may well be shocked when they see what Joe Biden the Human has become since the last time they really paid attention. We’ve all seen it: the Democrats are trying to sell the country a doddering old man who is swirling around the bowl of senile dementia… by hiding him from the electorate. And maybe they figure they can wind him up so well for three particular nights that he will still make it. But this is The Real World, things rarely go according to plan, and we might see as many as half of Joe’s “brand name” voters decide that they just can’t. If Joe goes off into space for ten or fifteen seconds during one of those debates, it’s over.

Even if, by some miracle, Joe is able to hold it together long enough to get through the debates, it’s still going to be a fight. I think it’s safe to lop five points off of Joe’s ten-point lead in the magic polls to account for the Trump voters who at this point are just yelling at Trump. Take another two off because all the national polls this far out from the election are taken among registered voters. Such polls on average overstate Democratic support by around 2 points. That leaves Joe with about a 3-point lead. Ask Hillary if she thinks you can still lose with that lead. And that scenario assumes that Joe loses zero brand-name voters during the debates, which he can only do by performing like someone who actually has his wits about him.

Trump supporters can’t be complacent, but neither should we worry. Although I don’t expect it, I think the prospects for a blowout Trump win are a lot better than they are for a Biden landslide. There’s Biden’s “senility trap door” that could open at any time, and it does sound as if John Durham will drop at least a few hammers before Summer ends. Nobody knows what those might hit.

@bobhahn on Parler