The Morning Jolt


The Surge of Support That Hasn’t Come

Democratic vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris arrives to speak to reporters with Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden after participating in a briefing in Wilmington, Del., August 13, 2020. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

On the menu today: You’re going to be hearing a lot about Kamala Harris helping Biden in the polls, with no evidence to support that assertion yet; why you shouldn’t be that worried about the postal service, despite what Trump says in television interviews and Democratic claims of a conspiracy to suppress vote by mail; and a question of how much GOP officials remember how to speak to voters’ concerns.

No, Kamala Harris Is Not Generating a Surge of Support for Biden

Politico declares:

In less than a week as his running mate, Kamala Harris is showing signs she can act as an accelerant to his bid — and give the campaign a new dimension to excite voters heading into the Democratic convention this week. In the few days since Harris joined the ticket, Biden has seen surging fundraising, promising polls and the rare sight of a hometown crowd — despite not being able to hold a rally.

But the only specific reference to polls after that is, “snap polls now show Democrats more likely to cast their ballots for the ticket.” We are told that Harris is generating a polling surge for Biden, but not shown it.

Biden selected Harris on August 11. Over on RealClearPolitics, only a handful of the most recent public national polls were conducted entirely after news of the selection broke. The NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll did ask respondents if they feel positive or negative about Harris; the survey added questions about Mike Pence and Harris for the calls on August 11 and 12 and called back to respondents from the first two nights. Harris’s numbers are pretty good — 39 percent feel positively about her, 35 percent feel negatively about her. Pence scored 39 percent positive and 44 percent negative, and Trump scored a 40 percent positive, 52 percent negative.

That NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey put Biden ahead, 50 percent to 41 percent. The last NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey, conducted July 9 to 12, had Biden ahead . . . 51 percent to 40 percent.

Fox News also conducted a poll last week but noted that “over half of the interviews were completed before Tuesday’s announcement of California Sen. Kamala Harris as Biden’s running mate.” They did ask a similar question about feelings about Harris and found similar numbers — 44 percent positive, 40 percent negative. Overall, they found Biden ahead, 49 percent to 42 percent. The Fox News poll conducted in July found Biden ahead . . . 49 percent to 41 percent.

The CBS News poll released Sunday was conducted August 12 to 14. That survey found 31 percent of Democrats described themselves as “enthusiastic” about Biden’s selection of Harris, 29 percent said “satisfied, not enthusiastic,” 30 percent said “dissatisfied, not angry,” and 10 percent said “angry.” A separate question to all voters found 36 percent are glad Biden picked Harris, 23 percent wished he had picked someone else, and 41 percent said it didn’t matter.

The CBS News survey asked, “if Joe Biden is elected President but cannot finish his term, do you think Kamala Harris would be qualified to serve as President, if necessary, or not?” Unsurprisingly, 91 percent of Democrats said yes, 85 percent of Republicans said no, but the numbers among independents might worry the Biden-Harris campaign – 45 percent of independents said “yes,” 55 percent said “no.”

This CBS News survey found Biden up, 52 percent to 42 percent. The previous CBS News survey found Biden up . . . 51 percent to 41 percent.

Late Sunday evening, CNN released something of a shocker, showing Biden ahead by only four points, 50 percent to 46 percent, when the previous poll had Biden ahead, 55 percent to 41 percent. As some observed last night, the CNN poll has bounced around more than some of the others — with Biden’s lead moving from eleven points in April to five points in May to 14 points in June to four points now. But any way you want to slice it, the CNN poll doesn’t point to a surge triggered by the selection of Harris.

And Monday morning, the Washington Post/ABC News poll put Biden ahead, 53 percent to 41 percent among registered voters — that’s down a bit from the 14-point lead he had last month, and a bit higher than the ten-point lead from two months ago. Again, no sign of a Kamala Harris-generated surge.

If you really want to squint, you could argue that since adding Harris, Biden is losing ground — but these one or two percentage-point shifts here and there are probably just the ebb and flow of what has been a stable race. (The CNN poll stands out as an exception.) Biden’s ahead, and he’s been ahead for a very long time. Sometimes Biden is only ahead by about five points, and sometimes he’s ahead by close to ten points. One of the reasons I’m skeptical that Kamala Harris is generating a measurable surge for Biden is that Biden is probably at or near the ceiling for a candidate in a heavily polarized country. Harris could be a fine pick and still have little or no impact in the numbers, because there just aren’t that many undecided or persuadable voters out there left to win over.

But I think some people inside and outside the Biden campaign really want to see the electorate loving the selection of Kamala Harris, and so they are sort of trying to will the evidence of that love into existence.

And for the inevitable “national polls are meaningless because we use the electoral college!” crowd . . . only one state pollster has completed a survey since the Harris selection: East Carolina University’s survey of North Carolina. That survey finds a 47-47 tie between Biden and Trump, and the previous survey in June found Biden ahead by a point. Again, no sign of a Harris-driven surge, with the slight bit of movement suggesting Biden might have lost a little ground.

Beyond that, we simply don’t know if there has been any shift in the state polling since the announcement of the Harris selection. My suspicion is that the state polls will look like the national polls — not much change at all.

Neither Snow nor Rain nor Heat nor Gloom of Night . . .

As you hear fearful tales of red-hatted MAGA supporters simply driving away with mail trucks, here’s a data point worth keeping in mind, courtesy Russell Berman over at The Atlantic:

From a sheer numbers perspective, none of the experts I spoke with doubted that the Postal Service could handle a vote-by-mail election, even if every one of the nation’s more than 150 million registered voters stuck their ballot in a mailbox. As one noted to me, a presidential election might be a big deal, but in postal terms, it’s no Christmas. The Postal Service processes nearly 500 million pieces of mail every day, and it annually handles more than 3 billion pieces in the week before Christmas alone. “I don’t worry about their capacity,” Amber McReynolds, the former director of elections in Denver, who now runs the National Vote at Home Institute, a mail-balloting advocacy group, told me.

No matter how many Americans choose to vote by mail this year, those ballots will present a smaller and simpler logistical challenge than handling the nation’s Christmas cards. This doesn’t mean that everything is hunky-dory at the U.S. Postal Service, but it does mean that the election will not be ruined by a postal service incapable of handling an influx and a higher number of ballots cast by mail than usual.

I would argue a bigger question is whether state and local election facilities and staff will be as prepared for an influx of mailed ballots as the U.S. Postal Service will be.

Second, you should read our piece by Tobias Hoonhout and the U.S. Postal Service’s response to recent inquiries from Congress.

Third, this explainer by Nick Harper lays out that Postmaster General Louis DeJoy is attempting to steer a financially troubled postal service into the right direction by reducing overtime, increasing pressure to stay on schedule, and reduce errors and duplicate work. These decisions may or may not always be the right choices, but they are not a deliberate effort to disrupt voting by mail or to sabotage the election. The USPS started removing blue mailboxes that were the least used, an attempt at efficiency that some on social media painted as an effort to disrupt mail service — although some have argued that the removed boxes were used frequently, and the Postal Service announced any additional box removals will be put off until after the election to prevent panic. (Y’all know that if you leave a package or letter in your mailbox with postage, your postman will take it and put it into the system, right?)

The short version is that every decision the USPS management is making has a reasonable non-election reason to justify it — which is not quite the same as saying none of these decisions could have bad consequences for voting by mail.

The argument about whether the U.S. Postal Service will be able to handle the influx is no doubt complicated by the fact that the president declared, in the middle of a television interview, that he sees vote by mail as akin to voter fraud, and that he refuses to provide additional money to the postal service because he sees it as part of a Democratic plot to steal the election:

They want $3.5 billion for something that will turn out to be fraudulent, that’s election money basically. They want 3.5 trillion — billion dollars for the mail-in votes, OK, universal mail-in ballots, 3.5 trillion. They want $25 billion, billion, for the Post Office. Now they need that money in order to have the post office work so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots. Now, in the meantime, they aren’t getting there. By the way, those are just two items. But if they don’t get those two items, that means you can’t have universal mail-in voting because they’re not equipped to have it . . .

That’s one of them, that’s right. How would you like to have, Maria, how would you like to have $3.5 billion, billion, for mail-in voting, billion? So, if you didn’t have it — do you know how much money that is? Nobody has any idea, you know people, oh, $3.5 billion. They want $25 billion for the Post Office because the Post Office is going to have to go to town to get these great ridiculous ballots in . . .

You know, there’s nothing wrong with getting out and voting, you get out and vote. They voted during World War I and World War II, and they should have voter ID, because the Democrats scammed the system. But, two of the items are the Post Office and the $3.5 billion for mail-in voting. Now, if we don’t make a deal, that means they don’t get the money. That means they can’t have universal mail-in voting, they just can’t have it. So, you know, sort of a crazy thing. Very interesting.

Does Trump want Americans to vote by mail in November? His comments above suggest he doesn’t.

This year, most Americans will have the option of voting in-person or absentee, and in many states, early. (You can check the details for your state here.) For what it is worth, Dr. Anthony Fauci said Americans can vote safely in person, as long as they follow the precautions they’re using (hopefully) everywhere else — wear a mask, social distance, wash your hands, etc.

While I’m not a fan of voting really early in normal circumstances, considering the unique situation of this year, my advice would be that if you intend to vote early, do so as early as possible. Once you know your ballot is in the machine, you’ve got less to worry about. Pay attention to the details about deadlines, signatures, etc. Casting your ballot through “in-person absentee” (which yes, sounds like a contradiction) or “early voting,” where you go to a polling place ahead of time, means you won’t have to rely on the Postal Service at all.

ADDENDUM: An intriguing observation deep in Brian Reisinger’s detailed, thorough examination of the fortunes of Wisconsin conservatives and that state’s GOP:

Franklin, the Marquette pollster, says that in addition to education and health care turning swing voters against Republicans, there were signs that conservative unity had faltered after eight years in power and two years without Obama to battle. Media coverage of conservatives jockeying over policy priorities or who was a bigger Trump supporter was on the rise. Among Republicans, operatives felt the base fell asleep with less to fight for, while the grassroots felt campaigns weren’t engaging them like before.

Both the president and his foes are both quite happy about a political environment where everything revolves around him, what he’s doing, what he’s saying, and what anyone thinks of him. When Republican politics turns into a contest of who is the biggest fan of the president and who’s the most loyal, how many once-engaged voters find it all . . . irrelevant to their lives?


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