Zoom quirks, fireworks, and impassioned speeches to empty rooms stole many headlines during the Democratic and Republican party conventions. But more importantly, they set the tone for the rest of the 2020 elections.
While both Parties pitched their conventions to garner attention, they mostly serve as a declaration of intent for their campaign, rather than a hook to attract new voters. With about a week behind both campaigns, Morning Consult polls showed the presidential race as mostly static in key states with the conventions not significantly altering the state of the race.
With Joe Biden at the helm, the Democrats made the case for decency, moderation, and reaching across the aisle with appearances from conservatives like former Ohio Governor John Kasich, Bush’s Secretary of State Colin Powell, and late Republican Senator John McCain’s wife, Cindy.
In contrast, Republicans made the RNC a celebration of President Donald Trump’s first term in office, and the party laid down its game plan for 2020: law and order.
Republicans also made their own short pitch to Democrats but failed to attract any big-name Democrats to the RNC stage. Instead, the RNC had a notable Trump feel, all four of the President’s adult children speaking as well as several significant others and the First Lady.
With their strategies taking the forefront — Trump doubling down on his four years in office, and Biden making the election a referendum on the current administration — a roadmap begins to emerge as to which voters each campaign is targeting and whether their strategies will work.
1. Law and Order at the RNC
With Black Lives Matter protests now spanning three months, Trump has positioned his presidency as the law and order campaign. Trump has pointed to cities and states with Democratic mayors and governors that have seen increased confrontations between law enforcement and civilians.
Republicans regularly lambast Portland and Chicago, among other cities for losing control of public safety. The President deployed federal agents to both cities, Portland for its protests and Chicago for violent crime.
At the RNC this manifested itself both in the content of the speakers and also the selection of speakers themselves. Mark and Patricia McCloskey, also known as the Saint Louis couple that pointed guns at Black Lives Matter protesters, delivered a speech on the second night of the RNC that claimed Democrats want to “abolish the suburbs.”
The infatuation with suburban white women as a key voter demographic is not exactly new, it’s a narrative that developed after the 2016 election, drawing on the broader history of American political strategy in both parties.
However, Trump has leaned into the narrative by routinely referencing suburban housewives, and he went so far as to tweet, “I am happy to inform all of the people living their Suburban Lifestyle Dream that you will no longer be bothered or financially hurt by having low income housing built in your neighborhood.”
The law and order messaging culminated in his acceptance speech at the convention when Trump said, “if the Left gains power they will demolish the suburbs, confiscate your guns, and appoint justices who will wipe away your Second Amendment and other constitutional freedoms.”
Directly following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, the Black Lives Matter movement received historically high favorability ratings and broad support. An astounding 54% of Americans believed the burning of a Minneapolis police precinct was justified.
In recent months, conservatives and some liberals have turned their back on the movement. In a recent POLITICO/Morning Consult poll, Black Lives Matter saw a 9% decrease in national approval rating.
With this said, many voices of authority have questioned Trump’s tactics regarding suburban voters. Yet, according to national averages, Trump has seen a small but noticeable bump after both conventions, despite still being far behind Biden nationally.
Nearly two months out from the elections, key swing state projections may still change. But even with ample time left, Trump faces an uphill battle in several states he won in 2016.
2. Swing State Strategies
The DNC was a hullabaloo of speakers and stories that attempted to establish Joe Biden as a decent man with the ability to restore faith in America. There was some discussion of policy, but it was the omission of specific policies that caught the attention of some left-wing voters.
While Sanders spoke on the Convention’s first night, there was more room for Republicans than Sanders Democrats at the DNC.
These personnel decisions laid out the Biden campaign’s priorities, and how they think they can win the key demographics in certain swing states.
Thus far, it has been the Biden campaign’s “let Trump do the talking” strategy that has paid dividends in the polls. Trump has had a much more prominent presence in national media from the coronavirus pandemic, economic recession, and civil unrest. The Biden campaign is hoping to reap the benefits of their referendum on the Trump presidency in states Trump flipped from blue to red in 2016.
According to Meet the Press, Democrats have registered more new voters than Republicans in four key battleground states: Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania. Trump won all four states in 2016, and flipped Florida and Pennsylvania after they went to Obama in 2012.
Of the four, Pennsylvania has seen the biggest increase in Democratic voters over Republican registrations, with 132,695 more Democratic registrations than Republicans in the 922,000 new voter registrations since 2016.
On the heels of the DNC and after a small boost for Trump in the polls, Biden made his most public appearance since the convention with a trip to Pennsylvania. Biden attempted to counter Trump’s growing law and order narrative by providing his version of tough on crime politics, albeit within a much different moment for the Democratic Party.
“Rioting is not protesting. Looting is not protesting. Setting fires is not protesting,” said Biden. “It’s lawlessness, plain and simple, and those who do it should be prosecuted.”
While the explicit messaging may anger activists on the ground and left-wing voters both in and outside of the Democratic coalition, the Biden campaign clearly views Trump’s law-and-order messaging as a potentially effective campaign strategy for the Republican campaign.
During his speech in Pennsylvania, Biden also asked viewers, “Do I look like a radical socialist with a soft spot for rioters? Really?”
3. Where Will Swing Voters Fall?
In the wake of the DNC, some have raised alarm bells about the Vice President’s strategy. After the convention, a poll showed that only 5% of Republican voters say they plan to vote for Biden with Donald Trump also leading by 10 points with Independent voters.
A growing rift among Democratic strategists is fomenting with some arguing for a broader appeal to non-traditional voters while others look to focus on the same suburban voters Trump is attempting to win over.
The tenuous relationship between Biden and the left-wing of the Democratic coalition will likely take front and center after the presidential election, regardless of election results. With Justice Democrats adding several to the ranks including Cori Bush and Jamaal Bowman, and Pelosi-endorsed candidates including Joe Kennedy III losing primaries to more progressive candidates, an ideological battle is shaping up in the Democratic Party.
Biden’s push for decency and moderation may be a correct calculation to get him across the line in November but it leaves ample room for multiple groups within America’s left, right, and center to redraw the political landscape.
Even in defeat, it is unlikely the Trump wing of the Republican Party will dissipate, especially with the nascent Right then able to pin economic woes and coronavirus aftermath on a Democratic administration.
The burgeoning Left within the Democratic Party could also receive more room to maneuver if Biden wins the election, unshackled by the necessity to support Biden to get Trump out the Oval Office.
Whether a larger political center emerges could be dictated by how voters respond to the likelihood that in either administration the economy will recover more slowly than the 2008 financial crisis. The Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics projected 6 million jobs will be added from 2019-2029, a growth rate of 0.4%, nearly a percentage point lower than the recovery from the Great Recession.
The potential long-term economic uncertainty to unfold over the next four years, while greatly challenging for any President, may also provide increased firepower for political interests outside of the White House to redraw the political landscape of America.
Via Unsplash by Tiffany Tertipes