Biden rides his luck to top US presidential polls

Biden rides his luck to top US presidential polls

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A screen grab of Joe Biden as he holds a virtual town hall with pandemic frontline workers from his home in Wilmington, Delaware. (Shutterstock)

While there is no evidence he ever said it, the great Napoleon Bonaparte is reported to have quipped: “I know he is a good general, but is he lucky?” As is the case with most good jokes, there is a deeper truth to what the emperor was getting at. The intangible quality of good fortune plays an outsized role in history; one that is extremely difficult to analyze but is no less real for this. And I am beginning to think that de facto Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden is lucky.
Rarely has a man trapped inside his basement had a better run of good fortune. First, his overall numbers vis-a-vis Donald Trump have crept up, giving him a small lead — but one that is outside the margin of error — in the 2020 presidential race. Last week’s RealClearPolitics average of polls found Biden with 48 percent support, compared to the president’s 43 percent.
Moreover, the slight uptick in the polls the president received at the start of the coronavirus crisis — a standard “rally ‘round the flag” bump that presidents traditionally enjoy in times of peril — has all but evaporated. The RealClearPolitics average finds the White House with an approval rating of 43 percent, while fully 52 percent disapprove of Trump’s general performance.
This is the best of news for Biden, as the small post-virus “Trump bump” briefly threatened to upend a basic political truth of the Trump years: His revolution has only ever had minority support in the country. Now it is clear that even the pandemic cannot change the basic fact that the Trump presidency is ripe for the plucking.
Even more important is the recent polling in the battleground states, as the American presidential election is determined by a series of state-by-state contests, rather than overall national tallies. There is good news for Biden here too. According to RealClearPolitics, Biden leads Trump in most of the states that are critical to victory in 2020. Biden is up on average 2.7 percent in Wisconsin, 3.8 percent in Pennsylvania, and 0.2 percent in Florida, while Trump leads Biden by only 1.3 percent in North Carolina. All these numbers, mostly very close and within the polling margin of error, put Biden (almost) in the driver’s seat as the presidential race begins to heat up.
Why is Biden leading the national polls, and why is he ahead (admittedly by a nose) in most of the battleground states? Frankly, Napoleon’s quote explains this as much as anything — luck is playing a disproportionate role here. First, the pandemic has taken away Trump’s signature issue: The buoyant health of the American economy under his watch. For the past three years, the president could rightly brag of bullish economic growth and soaring stock markets. In a stroke, the coronavirus has upended this indelible narrative, which was Trump’s strongest argument for re-election. While the electorate does not (yet) seem to be actively blaming him for the horrendous economic shock that is the most important corollary of the crisis, the coronavirus has effectively taken away the president’s most potent re-election weapon.
Biden’s second stroke of luck involves his own party quickly — and surprisingly — unifying behind his candidacy. The Democrats’ overwhelming desire to defeat the hated Trump first sidelined Bernie Sanders’ insurgent candidacy (seen as too risky), and then compelled Sanders and his left-wing supporters to grudgingly make their peace with the more moderate Biden, and quickly. To put this in perspective, Sanders has endorsed the former vice president three full months earlier in the election cycle than he did Hillary Clinton in 2016. Having a surprisingly unified Democratic Party amounts to a major stroke of luck for Biden.
Biden’s third morsel of good fortune is that, trapped as he is by the virus in his basement in Delaware, the former vice president is simply not receiving the thorough vetting the press would usually bestow on a prospective presidential nominee. The unsavory dealings of Biden’s feckless son Hunter have subsided as a major issue, at least for now.

Even the pandemic cannot change the basic fact that the Trump presidency is ripe for the plucking.

Dr. John C. Hulsman

Likewise, the decades when Biden championed China’s rise — a potentially disastrous record given Beijing’s culpability in the spreading of the virus worldwide — has received only scant attention. These real negatives could well be revisited closer to the election but, without the time needed for this negative narrative to be drilled into the psyche of the American people, its damage will be greatly lessened.
Of course, Biden has far from won. He is barely ahead in most of the battleground states and it would not take much to upend his small lead. He is going to be hugely outspent by Trump in the race. At the beginning of April, Biden had raised only $57 million, compared to Trump’s whopping $244 million. And, to put it bluntly, Trump is a great campaigner, while Biden is (at best) a rickety one. The ghosts of Hunter Biden’s taking advantage of his family’s name, and Biden’s disastrous courting of Beijing, may well still come home to roost, which would surely cost him the presidency.
Saying all this, Biden has been lucky — a quality not to be underestimated as the presidential race comes to a head.

  • Dr. John C. Hulsman is the president and managing partner of John C. Hulsman Enterprises, a prominent global political risk consulting firm. He is also senior columnist for City AM, the newspaper of the City of London. He can be contacted via
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