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Trump doesn’t have until November to turn around struggling campaign

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  • President Trump is in his weakest position yet heading into his reelection.
  • Unlike previous presidents in his position, he doesn’t have the full four months until Election Day to turn around his chances.  
  • Trump is trailing former VP Joe Biden not only nationally, but in key swing states he won in 2016 and some states that were previously expected to be safely in the GOP column, like Ohio and Georgia. 
  • In most elections, the majority of voters vote in-person on election day.
  • But because of the COVID-19 pandemic, a record number of voters are expected to vote by mail or early weeks before November 3.
  • Experts have estimated to Insider that anywhere in the range from 40% to 70% of voters are likely to cast ballots by mail this fall, in addition to those voting early in-person well before Election Day. 
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

President Donald Trump is in a dire position heading into his reelection as his disapproval ratings continue to climb and voters hammer the president over his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Trump doesn’t have long to turn around his fortunes. Because of the pandemic, more Americans than ever will send in their mail-in ballots and vote early weeks before Election Day, which means Trump has far less than the four months until November 3 to get his campaign on a winning trajectory. 

Last week, Politico reported that Trump has privately acknowledged he is on a fast track to becoming one-term president.

The Washington Post reported on Sunday that Trump’s campaign is “grappling with how to resuscitate his imperiled reelection effort,” including considering “a major staff shake-up” as the campaign’s own internal polls even show Trump falling behind. 

Americans are used to casting their ballots in-person on the day of the election and getting the results relatively quickly. In the 2016 presidential general election, 23% of voters cast a mail-in or absentee ballot, 17% voted early in-person, and 59% voted in-person on election day, according to the US Election Assistance Commission. 

But this year, experts say, that dynamic will be flipped on its head. Due to the pandemic, a majority of voters are expected to cast their ballots by mail or vote early before November 3, and the outcome taking longer to determine.

“What we think of as ‘election day’ is not much more than two months away,” John Couvillon, a Louisiana-based Democratic pollster, strategist, and election data analyst, told Insider, noting that states will start sending out mail-in ballots to voters beginning as early as September. 

FILE - In this May 27, 2020, file photo, a voter drops off their mail-in ballot prior to the primary election, in Willow Grove, Pa. The civic ritual of casting a ballot has been disrupted by a global pandemic and dramatically animated by social unrest. And If the results of a frustrating, chaotic primary in Georgia are a measure, the notion of democracy itself will also be on the ballot in the November election. Congress is now considering sending $3.6 billion to states to help facilitate safe and fair elections as part of another round of relief funds to recover from the coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

FILE – In this May 27, 2020, file photo, a voter drops off their mail-in ballot prior to the primary election, in Willow Grove, Pa. The civic ritual of casting a ballot has been disrupted by a global pandemic and dramatically animated by social unrest. And If the results of a frustrating, chaotic primary in Georgia are a measure, the notion of democracy itself will also be on the ballot in the November election. Congress is now considering sending $3.6 billion to states to help facilitate safe and fair elections as part of another round of relief funds to recover from the coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

Associated Press


This fall, Americans are expected to vote early or by mail in record numbers 

Before the pandemic, the majority of US states offered early voting before election day, no-excuse absentee voting, or both.

Given the volatility of the circumstances surrounding pandemic, it’s difficult to predict the exact breakdown of how Americans will vote this year. But based on the high rates of voters casting ballots by mail so far this cycle, experts including Couvillon have estimated to Insider that anywhere in the range from 40% to 70% of voters are likely to cast ballots by mail, in addition to an expected increase in voters taking advantage of early voting.

Six states and certain counties in other states plan to send mail ballots to every registered voter. Twenty-eight states already allowed voters to cast a mail-in ballot without a documented excuse, and 12 states are allowing voters this year to cast mail ballots without an excuse for the primary, general election, or both. 

Some states, like Michigan, Wisconsin, and Ohio, are planning on sending every registered voter an absentee ballot request form for the November election to incentivize mail voting. Others, like Georgia and Kentucky, are working to roll out online request portals. 

The National Vote At Home Institute, a non-partisan think tank that advocates for the expansion of secure mail-in voting options, found that 45% of voters have voted from home in the 2020 primary elections so far compared to 25% in the 2018 primaries.

Many states are seeing very high and even record-shattering levels of voters casting ballots by mail in primaries held so far, including Wisconsin, Georgia, Florida, Michigan, and Pennsylvania — all of which are set to be decisive swing states in 2020. 

“Voters are indeed flocking to absentee and voting by mail in record numbers,” Wendy Weiser, the Director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, wrote on Tuesday. “Health experts predict that the coronavirus will linger well into the fall, so there’s every reason to expect a similar surge in requests for mail ballots ahead of the November election.”

The deadline to request an absentee ballot is between one to 15 days before election day in most states. But voters can already request their November mail-in ballots in 36 states and the District of Columbia, according to VoteAmerica, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping voters navigate the process. 

In order to avoid overwhelming understaffed election offices with a last-minute rush of absentee ballot requests in mid-October, experts and election officials are encouraging voters to flatten the curve of absentee ballot requests, so to speak, by requesting and returning their mail ballot as soon as possible — preferably weeks in advance. 

“There are actual real-life humans on the other end who have to process these forms…and send things out, which is an elaborate process,” Debra Cleaver, Vote America’s founder, told Insider. “The number-one thing Americans can do right now is to just sign up for vote-by-mail.” 

As of 2019, 39 states offered either in-person early voting or early in-person absentee voting, where a voter fills out their absentee ballot at a polling place before election day. Some of the remaining states, like Kentucky, are expanding no-excuse early voting in response to the pandemic.

In 32 of those states, early voting starts two weeks before election day or earlier, with eight of those states beginning to hold in-person early voting as far in advance as 40 to 45 days before Election Day.

While the proportion of Americans voting early or by mail is substantially increasing in the primaries, we don’t know the exact timeline and trajectory of when Americans will cast their ballots this November, given the unprecedented nature of the pandemic.

But even applying the most conservative estimates and assuming that the percentage of Americans casting ballots by mail or early in-person increases by only a factor of one-and-a-half times over 2016 levels, that would result in about 60% of the electorate filling out and casting their ballot before election day. 

If a substantial chunk of those voters vote or mail in their ballots well in advance before Election Day, as officials hope voters will do instead of waiting until the last minute, that would give Trump a matter of weeks, not months, to make his closing arguments in order to gain back the support he needs to have a fighting chance at reelection. 

FILE - In this June 20, 2020, file photo, President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at the BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla. The coronavirus pandemic isn't going away anytime soon, but campaigns are still forging ahead with in-person organizing. The pandemic upended elections this year, forcing campaigns to shift their organizing activities almost entirely online and compelling both parties to reconfigure their conventions. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File)

FILE – In this June 20, 2020, file photo, President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at the BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla. The coronavirus pandemic isn’t going away anytime soon, but campaigns are still forging ahead with in-person organizing. The pandemic upended elections this year, forcing campaigns to shift their organizing activities almost entirely online and compelling both parties to reconfigure their conventions. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File)

Associated Press


Trump is in a time crunch to convince Americans why he deserves a second term

Trump is badly trailing former Vice President Joe Biden not only in national polls by 9.5 percentage points on average, according to FiveThirtyEight’s tracker, but in all the key battleground states he narrowly won in 2016. As FiveThirtyEight noted, Biden’s polling lead is more substantial and consistent than Hillary Clinton’s lead over Trump in 2016. 

Biden leads Trump by 9.1 points on average in Michigan, 8.1 percentage points in both Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, 7.2 percentage points in Florida, and 3.3 percentage points in both Arizona and North Carolina.

In a national Politico/Morning Consult tracking poll released Wednesday, voters preferred Biden over Trump to handle the coronavirus crisis, healthcare, protecting Medicare and Social Security, race relations, and uniting the country by double-digit margins, and preferred Trump and Biden about equally on handling the economy and bringing back jobs.

More concerning, Biden is leading Trump in several states he easily won in 2016, including Georgia, which Trump won by 5.1 points in 2016 and Ohio, which Trump won by 8 points, and is tied with Trump in Iowa.

These states, until the pandemic struck, were considered to be reliably in Trump’s column. But the Trump campaign recently placed an $18 million ad buy in Ohio and reserved over $457,000 in TV ads in Georgia for the week of June 27-July 3, according to Medium Buying.

“[Trump] is in a fairly deep hole,” Couvillon, the Democratic pollster and strategist, told Insider. “When you see Trump spending money in states like Ohio and Georgia, that is a very defensive move. And there are far too many states where Biden is either ahead or is very competitive. That is something the Trump campaign has to be very concerned about — you don’t really have much of an opportunity for expanding the map if you’re a Republican, whereas Joe Biden has multiple paths.”

The president is also hemorrhaging support among the key demographic groups that powered his 2016 victory.

Senior citizens aged 65 and older, who have been a core component of the Republican base for decades and voted for Trump by 12 points in 2016, backed Biden by a margin of two points in a recent national New York Times/Siena College poll.

Independents, which Trump carried by four points in 2016, backed Biden by a margin of 21 points in The Times/Siena poll. White voters, who backed Trump by a margin of 20 points in 2016, supported the president by a margin of just one point. And women, who voted for Clinton by a margin of 13 points, backed Biden by 22 points.  

The Trump campaign, however, is banking on their years-long headstart in crucial swing states to give them an edge. 

“While Joe Biden’s campaign just realized they should hire staff around the country, the Trump campaign and RNC have had a permanent presence in key states for years, where we are talking about the success of President Trump’s America First policies,” Trump campaign spokeswoman Samantha Zager told Insider in a Wednesday statement.

Zager also emphasized that “with early voting taking on a unique role this cycle, we’ve asked for more – and earlier – debates with the Democrat candidate, especially as Biden hides in his basement to avoid accountability with voters.”

At a Tuesday news conference in Wilmington, Delaware, Biden said he would readily agree to the standard three presidential debates, saying he could “hardly wait” to compare his cognitive capabilities to Trump on the debate stage. Biden’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment from Insider. 

In order to have any chance at another term, Couvillon said, “Trump really does have to articulate a rationale for why he wants to be president for a second time.”

When Trump had the opportunity to do so in an interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity, the president failed to clearly lay out a positive vision for a second term, saying, “I know everybody, I have great people in the administration” before digressing to criticize his former national security advisor John Bolton. 

 

“I never count an incumbent president out. But the stars aligned just-so in 2016,” Couvillon added, referring to Trump winning the electoral college while losing the popular vote thanks to razor-thin margins in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, “and I’m seeing far too much Democratic enthusiasm thus far to see the stars align again that way.”

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