five reasons why the 2020 election is different than the 2016 election

As of today we are 90 days away from the presidential election. Many Democratic operatives are (understandably) scarred by the 2016 election, warning many that the party could be headed to a repeat in 2020. However, there are five distinct reasons why the 2020 presidential election is not the same as the 2016 presidential election.

  1. The national environment is different.

In 2016, Donald Trump was able to claim that, as an outsider who had never held office before, he could shake things up in Washington. He was a businessman, not a career politician like crooked Hillary Clinton, and was running because he thought the country (with its growing diversity) was on the wrong track.

Now, we’re in the middle of a once a century pandemic that has killed more than 150,000 Americans and sent our country into an economic tailspin that makes the Great Recession look like small potatoes. The national environment couldn’t be any more different. Where Trump was once the outsider, he now represents the federal government. And while Trump could once claim that he could be an effective president because he had no previous political record and wasn’t like any of the “career politicians,” he now has a record to defend in 2020, a record that includes some pretty terrible aforementioned things.

2. The historical factors are different.

The last election had Clinton competing for a third straight term of Democratic rule in the White House. Historically, it has been very difficult for the same party to maintain control of the White House for three consecutive terms, as it’s only been done once since 1950.

Now, U.S. political history is on the side of the Democrats. As I wrote last week:

Trump’s approval rating is now just 38 percent, around the same number as Presidents Carter & H.W. Bush at this point in their terms. Both were the only presidents to lose re-election for a second term after World War II, so far…

3. Joe Biden is not Hillary Clinton.

When Clinton became the Democrats’ nominee four years ago, there was a well-funded right-wing political and media infrastructure already waiting in the wings to attack her at every turn. This infrastructure was built over the course of several decades, and had been amplifying the same messages Trump used in his campaign against Clinton for eons (she’s untrustworthy, she’s dishonest, she’s secretive, power-hungry, etc.).

Biden, by contrast, has not been the focus of right-wing ire for decades, and the Trump campaign has struggled to negatively define him, as illustrated in this quote from a Republican pollster:

“Biden’s basement Rose Garden strategy has enabled him to play the role of a generic Democratic candidate, without the microscopic scrutiny that he would otherwise have been subjected to,” said Neil Newhouse, a Republican pollster who worked for Mr. Romney. “Joe Biden is not Hillary Clinton, in that he doesn’t have the built-in negatives that Hillary embodied. So, while we can absolutely still define Biden, we have significantly less time to do so.”

4. The third-party vote will (probably) be greatly diminished.

Four years ago, perhaps owing to the high unfavorable ratings of both major party candidates, third-party voting soared to a level not seen since 1996. In 2016, votes for third-parties won almost six percent of the popular vote, and in the swing states of Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Florida, these votes made all the difference for Trump to win.

Now, however, the presence of third-parties on the ballot will (Kanye West notwithstanding) be greatly diminished. In 2016, third-parties who were already established presences. Gary Johnson, a popular former governor of New Mexico, teamed up with former Massachusetts governor Bill Weld for the Libertarian Party’s presidential ticket. The duo got so much media coverage that CNN even gave them multiple town halls in summer 2016. The Green Party, a perennial spoiler in presidential elections, nominated Jill Stein, who was the party’s nominee in 2012.

In 2020, the Libertarians have nominated Jo Jorgensen and the Green Party has nominated Howie Hawkins. Both do not come with the same amount of name recognition that Johnson and Stein had in 2016 on the ballot.

5. The polls are different.

Much ado was made about the death of political polling following the surprising result of the 2016 election, some of which was justified and some of which wasn’t.

A justified criticism of the polling in 2016 is of scattered, low-quality polls in swing states like Michigan, Wisconsin, and North Carolina. There certainly weren’t enough high-quality polls in those states and others leading up to the election, but pollsters have largely corrected their mistakes from 2016 and have been polling swing states with increasing frequency this year and are correctly weighing them by factors like education.

The national polls, however, mostly projected that Clinton would win the popular vote somewhere in the low single digits, which is exactly what she did. Some question whether national polls are worth much given that the Electoral College picks the president, but I argue they can be useful in gauging the national “mood” of the country.

A lot can (and will) happen between now and November, but these five factors in my view are unlikely to change leading up to it.

This Week’s WTF Moment in Congress

Ah, so many to choose from, and so little time. This week’s honor goes to Rep. Louie Gohmert, who tested positive for coronavirus and revealed last Friday that he’s taking hydroxychloroquine to treat it.

I have to admit, Gohmert agreeing that the government should stay out of medical decisions made between people and their doctors was not on my 2020 bingo card.

Reading List

Kobach and Clay go down: Takeaways from a big primary night (Politico)

In primaries yesterday, progressives scored a big win with Cori Bush unseating long-time Rep. Lacy Clay in Missouri’s First Congressional District.

Trump’s Bank Was Subpoenaed by N.Y. Prosecutors in Criminal Inquiry (The New York Times)

Offered without comment.

By Tristan Fitzpatrick

Progressive blogger.

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