President Donald Trump trails Joe Biden by 10 points in national polls. He’s getting badly outspent due to a depleted warchest. And his contraction of the coronavirus has yet again turned a harsh light on his handling of a seven-month pandemic.
A good number of rank-and-file Republican voters and local party officials see no cause for concern. They’re still convinced Trump is winning.
Far outside the political media centers of Washington, D.C. and New York, the Trump voters who propelled the reality TV star to a shock victory in 2016 once again see him on a glide path to victory that will stupefy only a hostile media and out-of-touch elites.
The frenzied crowds he’s attracting as he returns to the trail and the Trump banners flying in their neighborhoods measure enthusiasm that can’t be accurately tracked by surveys, they argue. The cascade of negative stories from his downplaying of the pandemic to his private insults of military service members are shrugged off or disbelieved.
And remember how wrong many of the state-based polls were last time? They certainly do.
“They said that in 2016 too. All the polls said he had no chance,” said Jay Wetz, a 75-year-old Indiana transplant who cast an early ballot for Trump in Phoenix last week. “That’s what I see again. … He’ll win Arizona. He’s the man, that’s why.”
When recited a set of recent polls showing Trump down 7 to 10 points in Wisconsin, Richard Kucksdorf, a GOP chairman in rural Shawano County, appeared to revel in the doomsday data for his candidate.
“Good for them. Make it 10%. Make it 15%. Who cares what the polls say? I certainly don’t,” Kucksdorf said. “Do I think that’s what’s going to happen on Election Day? No. I believe 25% of Black Americans and 50% of Hispanic Americans are going to vote for Trump. … I think he’s going to win in a landslide.”
An alarmingly visceral and hardened distrust of the media among Republicans has created a parallel political universe around the country: One where a Trump defeat is almost unfathomable, especially when that possibility is perpetuated by sources they have viewed as hostile for the last four years.
“Take no offense,” offered former Pennsylvania GOP Gov. Tom Corbett in a recent interview, “Nobody believes you guys.”
In 2016, Trump won just 8% of the Black vote and 28% of the Hispanic vote, according to exit polls. But Trump supporters often cite a projected increased share of the minority vote as evidence the president will perform better than he did in 2016, when he lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton but still managed 304 electoral votes.
Some surveys indicate Trump is winning larger shares of Black and Hispanic voters this time around, but still find him losing overall handily, due to his hemorrhaging with other key groups such as white women and seniors.
Sam Murray is a 72-year-old white woman from Phoenix who is sticking with the president, doesn’t believe the polls or the reporting that Trump disparaged Americans who died in wars as “suckers and losers.”
As she waited in a line outside a recent event for former Vice President Mike Pence, she remained confident in Trump’s ability to carry Arizona, even as polling averages found him trailing the traditionally red state by 4 points.
“Look around the country, do you think Joe Biden gets something like this? Joe Biden gets more Trump people outside of his than he does his own people,” Murray said. “The African-American vote is going up for Trump. I’ve got Latino friends that love Trump because he’s not letting everybody cross the border. He doesn’t have open borders.”
The highest levels of the Trump campaign have also consistently disparaged the public polls, contending that the data regularly underrepresents GOP voters and fails to incorporate their ongoing voter registration gains.
“Our internal numbers continue to show a different story,” claimed Corey Lewandowski, a senior adviser to the Trump campaign, on a Monday conference call with reporters. While he declined to disclose any of the campaign’s polling, he went on to boast that it’s “becoming mathematically impossible for Joe Biden to win this campaign,” an assertion that was roundly ridiculed by Democrats.
But creating the impression of winning is a hallmark of campaigns, even when the writing appears to be on the wall. It’s just that in the Trump era, the Republicans who dare express any level of anxiety about the state of the race with less than three weeks to go are doing so largely without their name attached to it.
With Democrats disproportionately dominating the early vote — nearly 12 million ballots have already been cast — Republicans are facing more discouraging reams of data they’ll need to counter.
Even that, to some Republicans, can be turned into an advantage.
“If anything these polls are more harmful to Democrats,” said David Buell, a former GOP official in Nevada’s Washoe County, who sees Trump in a better position to win his state this year than in 2016. “If I’m a Democrat I think we’ve got it made, what do I need to go out and vote for in the middle of a pandemic?”
Democrats remain markedly more dour about Biden’s chances, even with all of the indicators in their favor. But if there is a difference between the 2016 atmosphere and now it’s that the party seems anything but complacent.
“There’s a chance he’ll win, because there’s enough people— I don’t know what they see in him, especially people without money,” said Nancy Caternolo, a 69-year-old Phoenix resident who cast her ballot for Biden early to make sure it’s counted as soon as possible. “If [Trump] wins, I will be taking to the streets myself. I’m not going to be violent, but I will be taking to the streets myself. Because I’ve had it. Everybody has.”