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Democrats should obsess less over the polls and pour more into the operational war

08 / 27 / 2020

As the RNC played out this week and as recent polls have reflected some positive movement for Donald Trump, the perennial nail-biting has begun among Democrats. This may soon turn into bed-wetting. It’s a tradition. 

Should they be worried? Of course they should. Any candidate or party must run a race as if they were behind — no matter how large a lead they may be carrying. It is political malpractice to do otherwise.

But fluctuating poll numbers are not what the Democrats should be panicked about. Let’s take a step back. 

In 2016, I remember agreeing with Donald Trump on one thing: He thought it was likely that Hillary Clinton would win. He also believed that the polls that had forecast her leads had credibility. 

And they did. A forecast is not a guarantee. There are no guarantees in elections. 

But it’s a misconception that the polling in ’16 was terribly wrong. In fact, the Real Clear Politics average predicted the national vote more accurately than it had predicted the final Obama margin of victory in 2012. 

The polls also predicted a likely Clinton win in the swing states — but answers in surveys are acts of voting. And this is how Trump pulled his inside straight. 

In spite of losing the national vote by a record 2.8 million ballots, he flipped three swing states by a total of 77,000 votes: Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. Those wins delivered Trump a 304-227 Electoral College victory.  

While it’s true that voters who are passionate about Trump only get one vote apiece, you can count on nearly every last one of them to be cast. 

And it’s that passion-gap that cost the Democrats the 2016 election. 

In Michigan, Trump won by 10,000 votes — while Clinton earned approximately 300,000 fewer votes than Obama did in ’12. 

In Wisconsin, Trump won by 30,000 votes — while Clinton earned 230,000 fewer votes than Obama. 

The Democrats have also flipped governors’ mansions in those three states since 2016, including PA Governor Tom Wolf’s 845,000-vote win in 2018. Trump won the Keystone State by 45,000 votes. 

So the real question is, will the maximization of Democratic turnout at least rise to the level that Obama drove to the polls in 2012. Biden may need more than that, but if he doesn’t get to this floor in the battleground states, he’ll be in serious trouble. 

Not having Sanders or Stein on the ballot will help. A lot. But again, no guarantees. 

Swing voters? Yes, they still matter in the toss-up states. But to what degree is always a mystery. Campaigns will try to persuade them — but they can never control them. And in politics, it is always essential to keep the focus on controlling what you can control.

Towards that end, the Democrats would be wise to focus most heavily focus on two priorities: 

1) Turning out every last voter — EARLY — who even “slightly leans” toward Biden. Motivate and empower the vice president’s supporters to apply for ballots early and then cast them as soon as they receive them. 

2) Beef up the message that this pandemic has changed timetables for states in how they receive and tally ballots — and that America’s republican form of democracy requires that every last vote that’s been cast gets counted accurately. Only then should results be certified. 

Right now, 49 percent of Americans expect that they will have difficulty casting a ballot on Nov. 3. This figure has plummeted from the 85 percent who thought it would be easy to vote in the 2018 midterms.

The old adage of “politics is perception” is more meaningful than ever in Election 2020. There’s a feedback loop going on: Real logistical issues surrounding voting in this election permit the president to make melodramatic pronouncements about solutions to those issues — and this gets reflected in voters’ perceptions about the entire process. 

The president’s remarks are intentional — and public opinion suggests they’re working. 

Democrats have to run more than a persuasion campaign over the next two months; they must wage an information offensive in order to optimize their chances of recapturing the White House.