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US ELECTIONS

Biden lets Trump ‘run against himself’ and opens wide lead in polls

Expert who forecast midterm election expects Democrats to win in November

Incumbent American presidents almost always get re-elected. Of the 45 presidents, only five have not secured a second term.

But if current polling holds, Donald Trump could soon join his one-term predecessors.

Two national polls by the Washington Post-ABC and Zogby Strategies last week show Mr Trump trailing the Democratic nominee Joe Biden by 10 and 13 points respectively.

In swing states, numbers from Florida, Michigan, Arizona, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, show a heated race but Mr Biden is performing better at this point in the race than former secretary of state Hillary Clinton was against Mr Trump in 2016.

Mr Biden’s lead comes despite being shut up at his family home in Delaware for weeks due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Since March, the former vice president has mostly been running the campaign from his basement, holding online events on Zoom and interviewing potential running mates by phone.

But John Zogby, the head of Zogby strategies polling, says Mr Biden’s home-stay has not hurt his standing.

“Being in his basement is not a problem because we [the public] have adjusted to all these changes. We can’t expect campaign rallies and knocking on doors,” Mr Zogby told The National.

Mr Biden’s lead appears to be less about campaign and more of a referendum on Mr Trump’s record.

“Joe Biden is playing it wisely by allowing Trump to run against himself, and staying a bit behind the scenes has helped him,” Mr Zogby said.

The fallout of the pandemic, which has led to 40 million Americans becoming unemployed, and now nationwide anti-racism protests have hurt Mr Trump’s standing.

Mr Zogby said the next most important decision for Mr Biden will be naming a running mate.

He committed in March to pick a woman, and with anti-racism protests engulfing US cities, the pollster said picking a black woman for the position is now more likely.

“It’s not just about the progressive versus moderate split [within the Democratic party] but also the identity split," Mr Zogby said.

"What is happening moves him in the direction of picking an African-American woman plus the pressure."

Senator Kamala Harris, Congresswoman Val Demings, Georgia politician Stacey Abrams and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms are all African-American women being considered by Mr Biden. He is expected to make a decision sometime around the start of August.

Despite Mr Biden’s current lead, some in the White House are hoping that the protests are another 1968 moment for the Republican Party.

Then Republican candidate Richard Nixon capitalised on riots to defeat former vice president Hubert Humphrey.

But Rachel Bitecofer, a senior fellow at the Niskanen Centre, who was most accurate in predicting the midterm election in November 2018, points to a very different situation today.

“First in the '60s we didn’t have this polarisation, which is an actual measurable thing," Ms Bitecofer told The National.

"Second, white voters in 2020 are more liberal on racial attitudes than they were back in the '60s, especially on issues involving race and criminal justice and third, 1968 Nixon was running as opposition party [not incumbent].

“People look at Mr Trump and see him as part of the problem."

Her forecast gives Mr Biden an edge in winning on November 3 with at least 289 electoral votes (270 required to win).

“The forecasting has always been in favour of Democrats and Mr Biden is one of the more candidates that enjoy a broad appeal,” Ms Bitecofer said.

With the divide growing in the US between liberals and conservatives, she expects the polarisation to continue between now and voting day.

“Five months is a long time and the polarisation not going to change," Ms Bitecofer said.

"The fundamentals have been set in stone for a long time in this election cycle."

The Democrats are also polling ahead in key Senate races such as Arizona, Maine and North Carolina, but it is unclear if they can regain four seats and take the majority in that chamber.

Updated: June 2, 2020 01:34 PM

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