Mexico City Sitting around after a great breakfast and family gathering in Mexico City on Christmas morning, conversation drifted, as it is wont to do, towards politics and the state of play in the coming US election and the prospects for Biden versus Trump. We could have talked about the upcoming election in Mexico or any of a huge number of countries across the world, from India to the 27 of the European Union, but Mexico City is not far enough away from the US to not still keep the coming vote in the front of our minds.
The discussion was set off by handwringing from some quarters over President Biden’s prospects against former President Trump. Polls have not been friendly to Biden, even as the economy has defied expectations, jobs have soared, and inflation has eased. People just aren’t happy about it, and even if OK, don’t credit Biden. Adding to the depression for some is the fact that some recent polls even have Trump leading Biden, including in some of the battleground states, along with piddling support compared to what Biden would need among the young and some parts of the Black electorate. Biden is also being punished by the war in Gaza for his full-throated support of Israel, even as he tries to balance that increasingly with advocacy for humanitarian aid for Palestinians and revival of support for the two-state solution. Given all of that, it was easy to see why some of the family would feel some hopelessness about this situation, even as Trump continues to provide daily outrages, threats about the future, and as many court appearances as TV’s Judge Judy logs.
Family members were challenging my position that the courts can’t decide this contest, only the voters can, pushing me to defend my stance that the court cases and a possible conviction were important, but that Trump needed to be on the ballot and beaten not by judges and juries but on Election Day. My defense was based on indications of earlier polls that seemed to show that any conviction of Trump in any of the pending cases might be sufficient to move voters away from him and back to Biden.
I won’t say that I carried the day completely, though the conversation ended without rancor, which is critical in family Christmas morning debates. What luck to find an op-ed in written by a trio of political pros from lawyers to researchers to pollsters, namely my old friend and colleague from Montana days, Celinda Lake. I dutifully sent the home team a link to the piece without comment, other than a reminder that we had spoken of this the previous day. The trio went through a number of well-respected polls, even while issuing the caveats that polls are just polls, that find that a Trump conviction in any of the sundry outstanding cases would move enough voters in a close race for Biden to win. Importantly, the movement was potentially significant among independent and young voters:
Independents now go for Mr. Trump, 45 percent to 44 percent. However, if he is convicted, 53 percent of them choose Mr. Biden, and only 32 percent Mr. Trump. The movement for voters aged 18 to 29 was even greater. Mr. Biden holds a slight edge, 47 percent to 46 percent, in the poll. But after a potential conviction, Mr. Biden holds a commanding lead, 63 percent to 31 percent.
That’s important. I don’t want to have the last word, but obviously here I will, but I’ll leave you with the additional evidence the trio provide from looking at the impact of even the Jan 6th Congressional hearings on voter activation in the midterms:
We first saw this connection emerge in our testing about the Jan. 6 hearings; criminality moves voters significantly against Trump and MAGA Republicans. But voters also understand that crime must be proven. They recognize that in our legal system there is a difference between allegations and proof and between an individual who is merely accused and one who is found guilty by a jury of his peers. Because so many Americans are familiar with and have served in the jury system, it still holds sway as a system with integrity. Moreover, recent electoral history suggests that merely having Trump on trial will alter how voters see the importance of voting in the first place. In the wake of the Jan. 6 committee hearings, the 2022 midterms saw turnout at record levels in states where at least one high-profile MAGA Republican was running.
As long as Trump is on trial, the verdict on him will be unsettled for many voters, all of which could be more than enough for Biden to win, regardless of what current polls say about his chances. The final story is still to be written, but today, I’ll have the last word on this debate.