It’s Still Worth Panicking About the Election

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S1: Four years ago, when Donald Trump was first running for president, Slate’s Jim Newell wrote this article titled, Of course, you should be panicking about the election.

S2: Yeah, you know, I I forgot about that piece and I reread it last night. And, you know, I think most of my pieces are garbage, but that one holds up pretty well, I think.

S3: Reading this story now, Jim comes across as Slate’s own hilarious Cassandra. He laughs off the idea that Hillary Clinton has the election in the bag. Actually, he says, if you’re worried, go get some more people worried. He says, and I quote, stress vomit on their faces, anything to get their attention.

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S2: Yeah, as you said, you know, beautiful writing, just lots of vomiting imagery. What made you write that piece? Well, it was like around September, I felt like I just kept running into people who are like, there’s no way Trump is going to win. Right. And I was like, what are you talking about? You know, like, of course he could win. It’s a polarized country. Democrats have been in power for eight years. The other side’s could be six. Hillary Clinton is not popular. Like I just thought it was a weird mindset this election to they’re like, should I be worried, you know, that Trump could win again? I was like, of course, you should be worried that Trump can win again.

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S1: Yeah, you heard that right. This year, in spite of all the polls showing a solid lead for Joe Biden, Jim Newell wants to encourage you to channel your inner dread, put it to work.

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S2: You know, there have been some interesting polls this year showing that even when bided in the presidential preference poll is up 10 percent or whatever, pollsters then ask, who do you think will win your state or who do you think will win the election?

S4: And Trump is leading in those polls, even though Biden is looking in better shape than Clinton was.

S2: You know, there’s still kind of cautiousness among operatives, pundits, campaigns and reporters about, you know, saying that’s over, saying that Trump can’t win. Some people might call that PTSD. Yeah, there’s certainly a lot of trauma. And I. I think it’s healthy.

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S4: Today on the show, we take one more look at the election data with Jim Newell, especially the data that makes us a little uncomfortable.

S1: Jim says it’s good for you.

S3: I’m Mary Harris. You’re listening to what next? Stick with us.

S1: Jim wants you to know there is a logic to his panic, but not necessarily evidence for it, not if you’re looking at the polls anyway.

S2: I mean, when I say you should panic, it’s not because I’m seeing something in the data that, you know, there’s a rational reason for to be panicking specifically. I’m just thinking it’s a very good ethos heading into an election where Donald Trump could win another term, like on an Internet.

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S1: It’s a good state of mind. It’s a cleansing panic.

S2: But like on an intellectual level, if you look at the data, I mean, it’s maybe even a little more in Biden’s favor than it was a month now. Why do you say that Biden’s margins are wider than Clinton’s at this point? Biden consistently posting, you know what, seven to twelve point leads. You see Biden’s own approval rating, which is really one of the more shocking things for the election. It’s above water. Yeah. Is that rare? It’s really rare. You know, I think Obama, when he won re-election in twenty twelve, he was maybe barely above water, like right around. So like fifty fifty one. Yeah. Yeah. But it was you know, I guess that’s more likely for an incumbent. But, you know, here we’re defining someone right off the bat. And I know Joe Biden’s been around for a while, but I just figured after hundreds of millions of dollars of ads, it would be hard to see someone get into the mid 50s and approval rating in the heat of the election. But Joe Biden’s managed to do that.

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S1: You know, you mentioned him last time. There were all these sort of little tremors in the election cycle that would affect the polls, little surprises, the Access Hollywood tape. And it’s funny because in this season, it’s not like there haven’t been surprises, like people talk a lot about like a big October surprise. But to me, you say the race has been steady, but I feel like it’s been the 12 days of Christmas when it comes to October. Surprises, like things just keep happening from, you know, Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away to the president getting covid. All these things have happened. And it seems to be what you’re saying is that that actually hasn’t affected the polls at all.

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S2: It really hasn’t. Well, I mean, you know, Trump getting hospitalized for covid and having the first debate of all of these big shocks that have happened, you know, over the course of a month, those things did noticeably hurt him a little bit. Hmm. I’m just looking at the real Clear Politics polling average here of the the national polls September. Twenty eighth, he had a six point eight point lead over Trump and then September twenty ninth was the first debate. And that was the one where everybody agreed it was it was a wildly ugly scene. And that was mostly of Trump’s doing. He had a strategy of interrupting Joe Biden and trying to go on the attack and make himself the alpha. And it just completely backfired on him. And you saw that in poll results. It was what Republican strategists saw, too, that he was just too hot. And then later that week, he’s in the hospital with covid. So six point eight percent in September. Twenty eighth a week later on October 5th, Biden’s lead is up to eight and a half. So it looks like he gains a couple of points. Yeah. And then on October 11th, Biden is up 10 points. So that was something where it did actually affect it. It just didn’t affect it in a way that made it more competitive for Trump. It made it much worse for him. And it’s tightened up. It looks like a couple of points now. It’s back to around nine, nine points. But, you know, every data that stays at like nine points is a day loss for Trump because he now has two weeks left and he needs to close that as much as he possibly can.

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S1: I want to talk about one more indicator that we haven’t mentioned, which is over the last week or two, we have started to see some pretty prominent Republican politicians. Begin to slowly edge themselves away from the president. We had Ben Sasse where this audio came out of him talking about how he disagreed with the president.

S5: I’m worried that if President Trump loses as looks likely, that he’s going to take the Senate down with him.

S1: So I just wonder what you make of that, whether you think that’s a valuable data point.

S2: Yeah, well, it tells me that their internal data says the same thing that the public data says, which is that Trump is a sinking ship and they need to distance themselves. I mean, that you have people like Cornyn who’s in Texas and, you know, his race has been getting the most attention this year. He’s against MJ Hagar. Yes.

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S6: And, you know, I think that point I think that race is going to be within a few points in the end. And I think John Cornyn is having to to moderate a little bit. And he’s he’s having to keep his distance from Trump. So whenever I see things like that, it kind of gives me confidence that the public numbers I’m seeing are what’s actually being reflected behind the scenes. And what I have gotten, you know, just from operatives vaguely, is they’re not seeing a wide a wildly different situation than what we’re also seeing in public.

S7: So why worry we’ll get to that after the break.

S1: There have been these little check engine lights blinking, I feel like if you’re a progressive looking at this election, I’ve been reading a bunch of stories in the last week about the fact that Republicans have been able to register more voters in the last few months than Democrats. Can we talk about that a little bit and how that might impact who wins this election?

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S2: Yeah, this is something that I have tried to ask people about, and it’s difficult to get a clear answer on what precisely it means. I mean, if you look at a couple of things that happened earlier this year. One, Republicans did invest a lot more in field early on, and they also during covid, Democrats pretty much ceded the field. Republicans still kept knocking doors, still kept going out in person, trying to register voters, whereas Democrats kind of took a hiatus from that and tried to do as much as they could digitally. Last month, the Biden campaign reversed itself. It started letting people go door knocking and to do door to door canvassing seems a little late. It does seem a little bit late. I mean, if the miracle Trump comeback happens, this is something where they’re going to get a lot of retroactive criticism. I mean, they kept saying that everything we’re doing digitally is fine. It more than makes up for in person canvassing, which is overrated to begin with. Maybe that is true. And they just felt like they had to do canvassing because they didn’t want to you know, they want to cover themselves in case something went wrong. And they want to show, oh, we put everything else on the field eventually. But it is something where it gave Republicans a little bit help registering new voters.

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S1: And part of the reason why strategists seem to be paying so much attention to these voter registration numbers is that Republicans seem to be up in swing states like we’re talking about Florida, Florida, Pennsylvania.

S2: Yeah, I mean, when we say up, I think both of those states we’re talking about narrowing the gap that Democrats already had. I don’t think they’ve surpassed Democratic registrations. But, you know, some of this could also be, say, ancestral Democrats who have been registered Democrat for a long time, reregistering as Republicans, but they were already going to vote for Trump. Exactly. So it could just be the registration numbers getting up to speed with the way with the political realignment that’s been happening. I think that, you know, I have trouble getting a straight answer out of what this means. I mean, I think it’s the one bright spot for Republicans in an otherwise gloomy situation. But I don’t think that this meaningfully shows something that polls aren’t. I think it’s just one of these ground game things where in a close race, you know, it could maybe make a half point or so difference as a lot of these ground game techniques do. It’s not going to help much if if the polls are correct and he’s down by as much as he’s down.

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S1: Another thing that could possibly help Trump is that he’s making inroads with voters. Republicans have been trying to attract for years.

S2: So one of the really interesting things that maybe isn’t as remarked upon is that the racial voting gap between the two parties is changing. You’re seeing Joe Biden doing better with not just white seniors, white college graduates, but also with white non college graduates who are Trump’s base. You’re seeing that happen this cycle. But also, Trump is doing better with black and Hispanic voters, specifically black men and Hispanic men, specifically Hispanic men in Florida. It’s not something like, you know, it’s 50 50 now or something among black voters. We’re talking about trumpeting maybe 10 percent among black voters, but it is one of his only real areas of improvement. And in Florida, I mean, his improvement, it’s concentrated among Cuban-Americans, Venezuelan Americans. But he’s also narrowed the gap a little bit with Puerto Ricans. And that’s, you know, part of what’s keeping him really competitive in Florida.

S1: Hmm. Another, I hesitate to call it a bright spot for Republicans, but another place where you can really see Republicans using their energy to get the outcome they want is in the courts because we have this record number of cases moving forward where Republicans in various states are trying to block folks from being able to turn in ballots for a variety of reasons. I wonder which of all of those cases you’re paying especially close attention to.

S2: So, I mean, they kind of pivot to this because when I was talking about how looking at the data in the polling, I don’t see much like under the hood there that that really shows a big red blinking sign.

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S6: What does keep me awake is just the unique nature of this election, the pandemic, the mail in voting. I think that is what causes me to panic is just that the verdict that voters have reached could not be represented in the ultimate count because of the unique nature either. You know, legal cases get in the way or absentee ballots being checked everywhere, or Trump sues to stop the counting, that whole realm of things or the things that really worry me.

S1: Jim says one specific legal case out of Pennsylvania that was ruled on just this week really started to ring alarm bells for him.

S2: So the Supreme Court declined to take up a case from Pennsylvania where the Pennsylvania Supreme Court had decided that mail in ballots could be counted if they were mailed by Election Day, postmarked by Election Day and received up to three days later. What concerned me about that, even though Democrats were celebrating that, that the U.S. Supreme Court had not overruled this right. Because they technically won was it was four four. So it was the three liberals and John Roberts versus four conservatives. And that terrified me because you then have four conservatives ready to just overturn a state Supreme Court decision to allow ballots to be counted for a few more days and they’re going to get another conservative justice in a week from now. So, I mean, those are the sorts of things that really worry me because, you know, the general scenario that people are worried about is Democrats are going to take up a huge a very strong early voting lead and then they’re supposed to be really strong and mail in ballots. But Republicans are going to take up a big election day in person lead. So the fear is that if Trump is leading in Pennsylvania at midnight on election night, you know, he could then try and say the election is rigged and sue to try to stop the counting of ballots. And the election’s over, too. Yeah, and the election’s over already. And, you know, he could try to make it seem, you know, declare victory and push through the courts. And I and I, it just makes me nervous that there were already four conservative justices who are kind of willing to side with a Pennsylvania state, Republicans who are, you know, not necessarily having democracy’s best interests in heart here. And there’s going to be a fifth conservative vote. And, you know, I don’t know how she would vote. She certainly did not want to talk about how she would vote. And we’re talking to Amy CONI buried here. Yes. Who did not want to talk about how she would vote in any case, especially any election related case in her confirmation hearings. You know, I don’t have any behind the scenes look, but this Pennsylvania court, the Supreme Court was sitting on it for a couple of weeks and they didn’t have any long opinion that came out with it. It just seemed like there was a lot of negotiating going on there with John Roberts trying to work a deal that didn’t ruin the legitimacy of the court. And now you throw one more judge onto the mix and, you know, these things could come out a different way in another week because cases like this will be coming long past the election, we assume.

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S1: Oh, yeah. We started this conversation talking about freaking out about the election and whether we should be freaking out, and the more I’ve thought about it over the course of this conversation, I just wonder, like I put it to myself this way. What is the value of not freaking out, it’s it’s not very valuable. Exactly. Thank you. You just made the you made the case for panicking. The most valuable thing is freaking out freak out.

S2: Why are all these people, these people who ask me, you know, should I be freaking out? You think you’re entitled to not freak out right now? It’s freak out season. Like you should be freaking out.

S1: Well, you know what I look at as evidence, I look at what happened with Amy CONI Barrett and her nomination process because she got nominated and a lot of Americans said, we do not believe this seat should be filled very clearly, very firmly in polling. And then we saw this process where Democrats in the Senate kind of went along with everything and decided to have a pretty normal hearing process, meet with her, ask her questions. And here we are. A month later, we got a poll just this week saying a very, very slim majority of Americans saying like 51 percent. They’re like, all right, Amy, Connie Barrett sounds good. And I’m like, you know what? We didn’t freak out about her. Right? And here’s what happened.

S6: Yeah, I think Democrats were really cautious about creating another Cavanaugh like situation where it could polarize the electorate more and fire up Republicans at a point when they already had a lead in polls. So they were very disciplined in that hearing about sticking to their message, which was. This is another vote to get rid of the Affordable Care Act, but I think generally there they’re thinking during those hearings was don’t rock the boat, the vote, the vote or the vote, don’t rock anything. I think Democrats saw that a 10 point lead and didn’t really want to rock the boat and wake up a lot of Republican voters who otherwise might be pretty disenchanted. And so, you know, this the cost of it now it’s cheese appears to be slightly net supported to be confirmed to the court.

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S3: Jim Newell, thank you so much for joining me. Yeah, thanks for having me. Jim Newell is Slate’s senior politics writer. And that’s the show, if you’re a fan of what we’re doing here. What next? One way you could give us a hand is to tell your friends what we’re up to, send them a link, get them subscribed, and then once they’re hooked, tell us all about it. You can find me on Twitter at Mary’s Desk. We’ll even give you a shout out on the show. What Next is produced by Mary Wilson, Jason de Leon, Daniel Hewett and Elena Schwartz are guiding lights are Alison Benedikt and Alicia Montgomery. And I’m Mary Harris. You can catch me on Twitter at Mary’s Desk. In the meantime, I will get you back here tomorrow.