For years now, there has been a jarring disconnect in our politics: Even as President Trump’s numbers have systematically been bad to awful, public and pundit impressions of his political strength have run in the opposite direction.

This has been visible over the last few months, as Trump has consistently trailed presumptive Deomcratic nominee Joe Biden in polls, even as more voters have also regularly told pollsters that Trump is likely to prevail.

But over at FiveThirtyEight, Geoffrey Skelley looks at new polling that shows this is changing.

For example, in polling by the Economist/YouGov, the percentage of voters who expect Trump to win has fallen from 45 percent to 40 percent, while the percentage who say Biden will win has moved up to parity with Trump.

Other polling has shown this even more dramatically, as Skelley notes:

USA Today/Suffolk University found a more substantial drop in Trump’s numbers. In late June, 41 percent of voters said they expected Trump to win, whereas 50 percent said the same in the pollster’s late October 2019 survey. Conversely, 45 percent said Biden would win in June, an improvement from the 40 percent who picked the Democratic nominee in October.
Republican pollster Echelon Insights has also observed a downward trend in Trump’s numbers: In a survey completed last week, 33 percent of likely voters said they expected Trump to win, which was down from 39 percent in the pollster’s June survey. Meanwhile, the share who thought Biden would win ticked up to 43 percent in July from 40 percent in June.

Those are real swings, and importantly, they are largely being driven by shifts among independents:

In USA Today/Suffolk’s June survey, 47 percent of independents picked Biden versus 35 percent who chose Trump, a reversal from the October 2019 poll, when 54 percent of independents expected Trump to win compared with 30 percent who said the Democratic nominee would win. And looking across the Economist/YouGov data since early May, the share of independents who expect Trump to win has slid as well, from the low 40s to the mid-to-high 30s.

As Skelley concludes: “On the whole, it seems voters are now less confident in Trump’s reelection chances.”

Why the shift? Well, the coronavirus crisis, the resulting economic calamity, and the civil unrest sweeping the country have all grown worse. These have exposed Trump as an increasingly diminished, floundering figure who blusters ceaselessly but visibly is either in over his head, has zero interest in addressing these epic challenges in a constructive way (he often appears to want to exacerbate them), or both.

Meanwhile, Biden has grown steadily more visible on all these fronts in a far more constructive, unifying and empathetic manner. He’s also running a good campaign, and Trump isn’t. This contrast may be encouraging voters to start envisioning a Biden victory as a real possibility.

What’s more, public impressions of Trump’s strength may reflect pundit attitudes that are also shifting. Because Trump shocked the political world in 2016, many pundits have defensively continued to presume that Trump wields almost Houdini-like political powers, even though large scale GOP losses in 2017, 2018 and 2019 should have undermined that belief.

But now, with the former vice president boasting surprisingly large leads, many pundits have begun to dissect the weaknesses of Trump the candidate, as well as of his campaign and his strategy, particularly after Trump replaced his campaign manager. That background noise might be diminishing voters’ sense of his chances.

It’s likely that these pundit dissections will get more brutal, because the actions of Trump’s own campaign are revealing in this regard.

Take this new Bloomberg Politics report on Trump’s TV ad spending. His campaign is shelling out far more than expected on ads attacking Biden in states such as Georgia, North Carolina and Ohio, which Trump won in 2016 by eight points. Even a few months ago, you would have gotten laughed at for suggesting those states would be seriously in play.

Data points like this make it impossible for Trump’s advisers to argue with a straight face that he isn’t seriously on the defensive. (You’d think his gullible supporters would find this spending difficult to square this with Trump’s nonstop claims of “fake polls," but that’s another matter.)

Obviously none of this means Biden is assured to win; Trump could still end up prevailing. But there is one person who recognizes that even perceptions of Trump as very beatable are absolutely lethal: Donald Trump.

Trump doesn’t just dismiss all polls showing him losing as fake. He also regularly claims the backing of a nonexistent “SILENT MAJORITY,” even as his propagandists hype college football stadiums in the South cheering Trump into representations of “Real America” and exaggerate his base’s depth and reach into a force with almost mystical potential.

Trump lost the popular vote in 2016 and has never once come close to cracking majority approval. But you cannot overstate the importance Trump and his propagandists ascribe to the illusion of his political invincibility, both to keep his base energized and to keep the opposition demoralized.

And so, if polls keep showing that more and more Americans believe Biden is going to prevail, look for the Trumpian rage tweets to really explode.

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