PLUS: The politics of wildfires
View in your browser
Tuesday September 15 2020
US election
Hello and welcome to this week's US election newsletter from The Times and The Sunday Times.

It’s 48 days until the presidential election. That might make it sound like there’s still some way to go until we discover whether Donald Trump will be the first president in almost thirty years to lose a re-election bid.

But it is crucial to realise that the denouement of a presidential election is as much a process as it is an event.

Election day is November 3 but postal votes have already been sent out, and presumably therefore returned, in North Carolina. From Friday, voters in Minnesota and South Dakota can vote in person under early voting procedures, and from Saturday so can the people of New Jersey, Vermont, Virginia and Wyoming.

Polling by Redfield & Wilton last week suggested that 15 per cent of voters intend to cast their ballots in person before election day and 37 per cent plan to vote by mail, compared to about a quarter who voted by mail last time. It means that more than half of voters could have cast their votes by November 3 (although in some states postal votes can be returned on election day itself).

Put another way: there’s not as long left for President Trump to turn this contest around as it might seem.

Little wonder that the Trump campaign was so eager to add an earlier debate to the current schedule of three televised head to heads, the first of which is on September 29. He is relying on those debates to provide an election-changing jolt to his campaign.

In public, Team Trump is bullish about the president's chances. Plenty of his supporters are privately adamant of another surprise victory again. And if there is any candidate entitled to dismiss punditry playing down his chances, it is Donald Trump.

In one of his 17 interviews for Bob Woodward’s new book, Rage, Trump pointed out that about a fortnight before the election an ABC poll gave Hillary Clinton a lead of twelve points. “I think I’m in a much better position than I was then,” he told Woodward.

Maybe, but maybe not. The reality is that if both campaigns could choose which position to be in at this point, they would select Biden’s. Yes, Clinton often commanded large leads too, but the polling was more volatile then.

A defining characteristic, perhaps the defining characteristic, of this race is its stability. The FiveThirtyEight average of national polls currently gives Biden a lead of seven points — exactly the same margin as at the start of this month. It is down on a lead of just over eight points at the start of August, but the trend is now flat.

Crucially, there are fewer undecided voters than there were in 2016. As few as 3 per cent of likely voters, according to two recent polls, do not know how they will vote. So as much as Trump will try everything to win voters round over the next seven weeks, his better hope of victory seems to lie in a systematic polling error meaning his support has been understated.

But do not be fooled by the solid Biden poll leads into thinking that the Trump electoral coalition will slip away quietly — even if this year it does not prove to be a winning coalition.

Last week in Minnesota The Times found lifelong mineworkers in the industrial heartland of what not long ago was the most Democratic state in the country who made the switch to Trump and still feel left behind by their old party.

Similarly in Pennsylvania The Sunday Times was told again and again by 'rust belt' voters of their enduring support for the president.

Even if Trump loses, his reshaping of the Republican Party's support base will last: more working class, more northern, angrier.

And whatever the election result, we can be confident that upwards of 40 per cent of voters will back Trump.

America's deep divides will not go away, whoever swears the presidential oath in January.

In your inbox, every Tuesday
If you've been forwarded this newsletter by a friend, make sure you sign up to receive it weekly:
Henry Zeffman and Josh Glancy
Washington Bureau – The Times and The Sunday Times
The politics of wildfires
Henry Zeffman
As he surveyed the damage from weeks of west coast wildfires Gavin Newsom, California’s Democratic governor, declared that debate over climate change was now “over”.

“Just come to the state of California. Observe it with your own eyes,” he said last week. “The debate is over, around climate change. This is a climate damn emergency. This is real and it’s happening.”

For President Trump, though, the debate is not “over” at all. The wildfires, he contends, are attributable to poor forest management. “You’ve got to clean your forests - there are many, many years of leaves and broken trees and they’re so flammable,” he said last month.

For his part Newsom concedes forest management failings, but insists that they are “not the point” in this instance.

His disagreement with Trump reflects deep partisan differences over how seriously the US should take climate change.

Clearly climate change is not a priority for this administration. Within six months of his inauguration, Trump announced that the US would withdraw from the Paris climate agreement. Domestic oil production is at a record high. Environmental regulations have been rolled back, including some which aimed to constrain the coal industry. A clean energy plan is in place, but its targets are less ambitious than ones introduced by Barack Obama.

Political climate
Insofar as this relates to the election, the reality is that many voters who care deeply about the issue are already Democrats. Polling by Pew Research Centre shows that concern about climate change has risen substantially over the past decade — but mainly among one party. In 2009 44 per cent of Americans said that global climate change was a major threat to the well-being of the United States. This year, that figure had risen to 60 per cent.

Among Democrats, the rise in that period was from 61 per cent to 88 per cent. Among Republicans, it was a far smaller shift, from 25 per cent to 31 per cent.

So in his scepticism of far-reaching efforts to combat climate change, Trump is really just reflecting the prevailing winds among his party’s support base — indeed opinions which prevailed years before he recast the Republican Party in his own image.

Nevertheless, Joe Biden put climate change at the centre of his campaign yesterday, delivering a speech in Delaware on the issue in the context of the wildfires.

Why? Well, one reason is that even if there is only about one third of Republicans seriously concerned by climate change, that may offer a small number of potential switchers to be peeled away. Given how tight the margins which determined some swing states were last time, an afternoon spent potentially winning round just a small sliver of Republicans is an afternoon well spent.

Base instinct
But the Democratic grassroots would also expect nothing else. Opposition to Trump’s climate policies was one of the most reliable applause lines at the various candidates’ rallies during the Democratic primaries. Every candidate seemed to have a regular quip jibing at the president's apparent distrust of scientists.

One of the first olive branches Biden offered to the left after claiming the presidential nomination was to ramp up the radicalism in his climate plan. He has promised to eliminate carbon pollution from power plants by 2035 and net-zero emissions altogether by 2050. Like proponents of the ‘Green New Deal’ he casts his plan as a way to create new, more environmentally-friendly jobs.

Should Biden win the presidency, Newsom and his fellow west coast governors would welcome these measures.

But unless there is a sea change in Republican attitudes, the climate change debate is far from “over”.
Recommend a friend
Forward this newsletter to your friends and let them know they can sign up to receive it here:

We'd love your feedback
Please email thoughts and suggestions to
Follow us
Facebook Twitter Email
You have received this email as part of your membership entitlement.

If you no longer wish to receive these communications, please follow this link to edit your email preferences. You will continue to receive newsletters with exclusive benefits and updates, Times+ newsletters, offers and promotions and market research emails, provided you have not unsubscribed from those individual communications.

This email is from a member of the News UK group. News Corp UK & Ireland Limited, with its registered office at 1 London Bridge Street, London, SE1 9GF, United Kingdom is the holding company for the News UK Group and is registered in England No. 81701. VAT number GB 243 8054 69.

To see our privacy policy, click here.