Will this shift result in an electoral backlash for Democrats? President Trump has been pushing the “law and order” message in typical all-caps fury, hoping that swing voters and ex-Republicans now supporting Joe Biden will be turned off by the violence. If that were to happen, it could pose a serious problem for Biden. If Trump gains even a few percentage points, he’ll be within striking distance of winning the electoral college again.
But Democrats shouldn’t panic. Most events of this campaign season — like the conventions, Biden’s choice of Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) as his running mate, the United States reaching 100,000 coronavirus deaths — haven’t fundamentally shifted the presidential polls. So far, neither are the events in Kenosha.
The most positive data for Biden comes from horse-race polling. Before the political conventions, Biden held an eight-point lead in national polls. Now, in the aftermath of a law-and-order-themed Republican National Convention and unrest in Portland, Minneapolis, Kenosha and elsewhere, Biden leads by seven points. That’s a small difference, one that may disappear once the news cycle moves on.
There are also some decent signs for Biden in the polling about the demonstrations themselves. In a recent YouGov survey, 75 percent of U.S. adults said they support peaceful demonstrations but not protests that become violent — which is exactly Biden’s position. Voters prefer Biden to Trump when it comes to improving race relations and crisis management more broadly. Quinnipiac recently found that 58 percent of likely voters said Biden would do a better job of dealing with racial inequality than Trump, and 53 percent thought Biden would be better handle a crisis. And YouGov found that 61 percent of adults said “bringing people together” was a better solution than ensuring “law and order.”
Most importantly, Americans are weighing more than just race and rioting in their vote. Yes, Americans are concerned about law-and-order issues: In a recent YouGov poll, 81 percent said that crime was a “very serious” or “somewhat serious” issue, and 68 percent said large cities such as New York and Los Angeles were not safe. At the same time, only 8 percent of registered voters told Ipsos that crime was the most important issue, while 46 percent named unemployment, the economy in general or health care. Moreover, riots haven’t pushed covid-19 out of the news. According to GDELT’s TV tracker, the word “coronavirus” is mentioned more often on cable TV news than “riot” or “protest” — and 56 percent of Americans say they are uneasy about Trump’s approach to the pandemic. Americans are worried about riots, but they’re considering other factors and giving Biden credit for denouncing them.
Make no mistake: The riots pose a danger for Biden. If riots continue to dominate coverage of the protests, the public will probably become more critical of the broader movement. Trump’s dream scenario — Americans slow the spread of covid-19, the economy recovers and his campaign successfully ties Biden to the looting and rioting — could still come to pass.
But so far, the riots haven’t been a game-changer. In fact, none of the events of the past six months has caused a sudden spike or drop for either candidate. Yes, Biden’s lead slowly increased as the protests gained steam in June and July. And Trump almost certainly lost voters by bungling his response to the pandemic. But individual events haven’t changed the fundamental calculus.
Instead, the Biden vs. Trump matchup has been mostly stable. Voters know the candidates. They know whom they trust on the pandemic, the economy and race relations. If Trump gets sustained good news on the pandemic — or somehow changes how he and Biden are perceived on racial issues — then he might be able to win. But it’ll take more than a few weeks of “law and order” news cycles to turn this race around.