Summary

  • John Zogby is a renowned public opinion pollster, author, and public speaker, and founder of John Zogby Strategies.  He provides an analysis of the current advantages and disadvantages that both the Republican and Democratic parties face during the last two months before Election Day.

THE WASHINGTON FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, WASHINGTON, D.C. 

MODERATOR:  Good morning, everybody.  Welcome to the Washington Foreign Press Center’s on-the-record virtual briefing.  Today is the latest offering in our “Elections 2020” series on the major themes, challenges, and demographics two months before Election Day.  I am pleased to welcome our briefer, John Zogby, the renowned public opinion pollster, author, and public speaker, and founder of John Zogby Strategy.  He is also an FPC all-star, as he has been briefing foreign journalists at the FPC on U.S. national elections since about the Truman-Dewey election, right John? 

MR ZOGBY:  That’s right.  (Laughter.) 

MODERATOR:  Today he will provide an analysis of the current advantages and disadvantages that both the Republican and Democratic Parties face during these last two months before Election Day.  We greatly appreciate Mr. Zogby giving his time today for this briefing. 

And now for our ground rules.  This briefing is on the record.  The views expressed by briefers not affiliated with the Department of State or U.S. Government are their own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Department of State or U.S. Government.  Participation in Foreign Press Center programming does not imply endorsement, approval, or recommendation of their views.  We will post the transcript of this briefing later today on our website, fpc.state.gov, and it will be emailed to you.  If you publish a story as a result of this briefing, I kindly ask that you please share a link to your story with us by sending an email to dcfpc@state.gov. 

Mr. Zogby will give opening remarks and then we will open it up for questions.  If you do have a question, please go to the participant field and virtually raise your hand.  If called on, we will unmute you and request that you turn on your video so you can ask your question.  If you wish to be on camera for the entire briefing, please go ahead and turn on your camera now.  And last and most important, as I mentioned earlier, if you have not already done so, please rename your Zoom profile with your full name and name of your media outlet so we can let Mr. Zogby know who is asking him questions.  And with that, I will pass it over to Mr. Zogby. 

MR ZOGBY:  Hi, good morning.  Thank you, Jean, and thanks as always for the Foreign Press Center’s confidence in me by bringing me back so many times.  Thank you to the journalists who are attending and to your colleagues for the enormous amount of interest that you’re showing in this election.  As you will see on the screen, the title of my talk is “The Armageddon Election,” and I just want to begin with a very brief anecdote that goes back exactly 20 years to the Bush-Gore election, which everyone knows really ended in a tie and ultimately had to be settled by a Supreme Court decision of five to four.   

But three weeks after that election, I was polling for Reuters news agency, and I asked the question right before our Thanksgiving – I asked to Gore supporters if Bush were to become president, would he be the legitimate president of the United States?  And 57 percent of Gore supporters said yes, Bush would be legitimate, but 21 percent said that he would not be legitimate.  When I asked the same question of Bush supporters about Gore, 67 percent of Bush supporters said that Gore would not be the legitimate president of the United States. 

That’s when I got the term the “Armageddon election.”  Obviously more Bush supporters would not accept Gore, but the very fact that for the first time in probably since the dawn of our Civil War, there were large numbers of people on both sides not willing to accept the results of a democratically held election.  And so that’s why I’m calling 2020 the “Armageddon election,” because we’re hearing that and we’re wondering about it, and in a democracy we shouldn’t be wondering about whether each side will accept the results of an election. 

So on the next screen, Jean (inaudible) this is what we’re going to today (inaudible).  We’re going to look first of all – got it, Jean? 

MODERATOR:  Yup. 

MR ZOGBY:  There we go.  We’re going to look first of all at the major themes that define this election.  Then from our polling, the polling of others, we’re going to take a look at the top issues in the election.  We’ll look at the Democrats (inaudible) and the advantages but as well the disadvantages that they bring into what amounts to be now 50-some odd days before we actually vote – or many of us actually vote.  Some already have.  The Republicans’ advantages and disadvantages – what are the strategies and the targets for both parties?  And then lastly I just want to briefly address how to look at the polls, how to read them, what matters, and what doesn’t matter. 

So let’s begin, then, with the five major themes.  (Inaudible) welcome any questions that you might have (inaudible) as well as Democrats and Republicans.  The first (inaudible) covers (inaudible) broader issue of climate change (inaudible).  Who do we trust?  Do we trust science, as 70 percent of the American people suggest we should, as pretty much the (inaudible) meaning that we can’t even trust (inaudible) major theme (inaudible) defined?  Has their career (inaudible). 

STAFF:  Hello, John?  Hi.  Would you mind rebooting your – maybe minimizing your – turning off your camera or something like that?  Maybe that would give you more bandwidth.  Your audio’s cutting out. 

MR ZOGBY:  (Inaudible) through the personal – the loss of (inaudible) and then the loss of his (inaudible).  He understands what it – or I’m sorry, he understands what it means (inaudible) versus (inaudible). 

MODERATOR:  I’m sorry, John.  John, can you hear me? 

MR ZOGBY:  (Inaudible) legitimate sensibility (inaudible) or (inaudible) at least (inaudible) it doesn’t work (inaudible) tens of millions (inaudible) capture giving (inaudible). 

MODERATOR:  Sorry, everybody.  We’re having some audio and connection issues with Mr. Zogby.  We’re going to fix this and we’ll be right back.  I’m so sorry about those connection issues.  One moment, please. 

(Break.) 

MODERATOR:  Thank you, everybody, for your patience.  Are you back, John?  Yes.   

MR ZOGBY:  I am.  And I – again, I apologize.  How – should I turn the video off?   

MODERATOR:  I don’t know if it’s the video as much as it’s just the connection, so let’s go ahead.  I think you’re connected now.   

MR ZOGBY:  Yeah.  Did we get through health care, right versus privilege?  

MODERATOR:  Why don’t we start again on the major themes.  I think it was cutting off pretty good there, okay?  I’m going to —  

MR ZOGBY:  Okay.  Science versus skepticism? 

MODERATOR:  Yep.  

MR ZOGBY:  Okay.  We heard that.  Or just go through all of them again?   

MODERATOR:  I would go through all of them again.  

MR ZOGBY:  Okay.  All right.  Science versus skepticism.  Those who believe, including 70 percent of the American people, that science needs to be trusted not only in COVID-19 but also on climate change, on vaccines, and on the future, versus those who are skeptic of – skeptical about science not only about COVID-19 or vaccines, but who also believe that science and technology are leading us to doom as a human race.  

Empathy versus rage – Donald Trump became the candidate that represented genuine senses of rage felt by the middle class of a system that they feel betrayed them, income inequality, and a genuine populist sensibility, versus empathy, Joe Biden, a representative of the establishment but nonetheless someone who in his own life has experienced as a human loss and suffering, and perhaps the capacity to reach out to people and share their pain.   

I’d point out that of Democrats who have won the presidency felt by – of a system that they (inaudible) income inequality (inaudible), genuine populist empathy (inaudible), but nonetheless (inaudible) his own life has suffering, and perhaps the (inaudible) to people and share their (inaudible).  Of Democrats who have (inaudible) in the last 50 years, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, (inaudible) versus.  Is it time for (inaudible) believe those who’ve lost who were not seen as (inaudible) disruption, work with both parties (inaudible), still a sense of rage that those people and that the swamp needs to be cleared?   

Is it a right as the Affordable Care Act and Barack Obama and Joe Biden and the Democrats believe, or is it a privilege?  Is it something that you have to work for, and if you’ve worked for it, not feel that you may lose it in order to subsidize those who can’t afford it? 

And then Black Lives Matter versus Blue Lives – obviously, the police – Matter.  Obviously, there’s a little – a lot of middle ground between these two, but this campaign is clearly about these polarities.   

And we can move on (inaudible).  Here are the major issues.  Number one is the economy, clearly.  Even though the indicators are showing a decline in unemployment, more Americans going to work, the fact of the matter is when you talk to people and poll people, they will tell you that they are not as well off as they were, and that they’re genuinely frightened.  

I should say that the economy had been Donald Trump’s calling card, and that even with not-so-good approval ratings, poor approval ratings on COVID and other aspects of his presidency, he was getting good marks on handling the economy.  That is now gone, and so that’s the number one issue. 

Distinctly related to the economy, COVID-19, 68 percent, 66 percent in some polls, give the President bad marks for handling COVID-19.  And to underscore that, if it’s 66 percent, that means that there’s about 30, 33 percent of Republicans who feel that way, he is not doing well on this issue.  

Health care is number three.  The issue of accessibility, of costs, of universality, of comfort level, that if people get sick that they won’t get sick twice having to worry about paying their bills.   

Racism is up there, and it’s particularly driven not only by blacks or non-whites, but it’s being driven in particular by younger voters, 18-to-29-year-olds, who already distrusted American institutions and are particularly distrustful of police and the criminal justice system.  I should point out that of 18-to-29-year-olds, there are only slightly more who are white than who are non-white.  

Immigration.  The parties split on whether there should be empathy, understanding, and American tradition of welcoming, even immigrants who come here illegally, versus another American tradition, which is to play by the rules. 

And lastly – and this is driven particularly by young people and by progressives, the many supporters of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren – and that is climate change.  And that’s the science versus skepticism that we’ve seen. 

So we move on now to the Democrats.  Let’s take a look at them.  Here are the advantages that they have:  If you look at the last eight elections, going back to 1992, in six out of those eight elections, Democrats have won enough states to assure them of 242 electoral votes.  You need 270 to win.  That’s a much higher advantage they have than Republicans, who can be assured of 105 electoral votes.  As we know, Hillary Clinton, whether it was mistakes or because she was a damaged candidate, whatever it was, she lost three, four traditionally safe Democratic states.  But you still say with – Democrats have history on their side, if history is relevant.   

Demographic growth:  The growing demographics in this country are Democratic, at least by tradition.  That would include black Americans, who are not growing in population but are growing in their participation in voting; Latinos who are growing enormously; Asian Pacifics who tilt very heavily – 75 percent Democrat, the fastest-growing racial group in this country.  And then broadly speaking, young people, many of whom are non-white.   

In 2016 – though Donald Trump will try to challenge this – in Joe Biden there’s a much less controversial nominee, at least thus far, than Hillary Clinton proved to be.  There is general goodwill towards the Obamas.  They are revered as deities among Democrats and various Democratic constituencies.  Barack Obama and Michelle Obama, much more popular today than they were when they left the White House.  And then lastly is the – Biden’s empathy and experience, which we have alluded to.   

These are Democratic advantages.  Let’s take a quick look at disadvantages.  The party’s always disunified between progressives and the more moderate establishment, which this ticket mainly reflects.  Biden and now Harris certainly have their progressive credentials.  They certainly have the support of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.  But there’s always that lurking shadow as to whether some of Sanders’, some of Warren’s supporters do not have a strong enough identification with Biden or Harris and may stay home to vote.   

That folds into the second item.  There is a lack of enthusiasm among key groups.  Now I will say a poll that I had last week shows that 94 percent who say that they’re going to vote for Joe Biden say that they are not going to change their vote.  Incidentally it’s 87 percent of those who say they’re going to vote for Donald Trump.  So perhaps that lack of enthusiasm is not as real as some would like to think.  However, I will say that the lack of enthusiasm, even if it’s among a very tiny percentage, can certainly impact the outcome of the race, particularly if there’s less enthusiasm in states like Pennsylvania or Wisconsin or Michigan, again.   

Biden’s age:  He would be 78 in assuming the presidency.  I have to be honest – and maybe this is because I’m an older white man myself, or as my kids like to say, just an “old” white man – I don’t see, personally, the problem with Joe Biden.  I think he’s – he looks pretty robust.  However, the Republicans will hammer and hammer and hammer about his age (inaudible) whether Biden, I’m sorry, is fit to be president.  We’ll see if that matters.  

And elitism.  Democrats have this problem that too many of their spokespeople at all levels have this sense that if only voters weren’t so stupid they’d be Democrats, can’t they see that we possess the truth.  That is proven to be a troubling sentiment expressed by Democrats, and it – we’ve seen it during the Gore campaign and we saw it with Kerry, even Obama – trashing Pennsylvania voters, saying that all they care about was guns and religion, and Hillary’s famous “basket full of deplorables” to describe Trump voters.  Hopefully with a fellow like Biden, genuine working-class roots and empathy, that’s something that won’t be much of a problem.   

Now to Republicans:  Well, the biggest advantage of all is that most people still believe that Donald Trump will win.  Could that be a self-fulfilling prophecy?  Even if they’re strongly against Trump, if they believe that Trump is the winner, that could force some people to just stay home or that could be, as I said, a self-fulfilling prophecy.   

We must admit that while during July and the August portion before the national conventions that Biden was leading by double digits over Trump.  That has now dissipated to anywhere from four to eight points of a national lead, but a real tightening in some of those battleground states, notably Wisconsin and Michigan.  Pennsylvania’s only a three-point race.  Florida, where Biden had been leading in July and August, is now, in recent polls, a tie.   

Republican advantage – a solid base.  Mr. Trump himself said in 2016:  I can shoot someone at noon in the middle of 5th Avenue and I’ll still have my base of support.  He hasn’t quite done that, but he’s done some outrageous things, or certainly things that don’t follow tradition, and yet he can always seem to count on that 41, 42 percent solid base.  Now, what he needs to do is build it up four or five points.  Remember, he won by (inaudible) – it’s conceivable that he loses the popular vote by as much as (inaudible) he won with (inaudible) of the vote.  And (inaudible) right the electoral college.   

And the last item: potential inroads among non-white and younger voters.  I have a poll out just Tuesday – today’s Thursday – that I’ve done that’s on our website, and essentially what it shows is that young black men have a higher percentage that are supporting Trump than I thought was possible – it’s up to 30 percent.  If that is true, and it’s true in the sense that it’s the same as what other polls are showing at least for now, that means that Trump could get as much as 14 or 15 percent of the non-white vote, (inaudible) particularly (inaudible) every vote that they can get.  And the same holds true with younger voters as well, who are slightly (inaudible) considerably — 

MODERATOR:  Excuse me, John?  

MR ZOGBY:  Yes?  

MODERATOR:  Sorry, you just cut off around that percentage, so if you could repeat that, what that percentage may be, that would be great.  Sorry about that.  

MR ZOGBY:  Okay.  And is that the percentage of black voters, young black?  

MODERATOR:  Yes, yes.   

MR ZOGBY:  Okay.  The young black voters showing about 30 percent who support Donald Trump, at least at this point, and that is underscored by a few other polls that are out there as well, so not just my poll.  Something’s going on among younger voters at least for now, and we’ll have to continue to watch that and examine it.   

Okay, next, the Republican disadvantages – there we go.  So disadvantages: well, the economic and the health crises.  Look, unemployment may be getting better but a lot of people are not feeling it.  We have a serious health (inaudible) and (inaudible) suggests the President hasn’t handled it (inaudible).  Really, let’s face it:  70 percent of the American people say that the President hasn’t handled it well.  Despite the fact that this is a tighter race – in my most recent polling, 45 for Biden and 42 for Trump – remember Trump is still polling in most of the polls only around 42 percent.  A lot of it has to do with the fact of his handling of both the economy and the health – the COVID-19.   

Related to that, the President has low polling numbers overall and on handling key issues. Sixty-eight percent of voters say that the country is headed in the wrong direction.  The person at the top always gets the credit or the blame, and those are not good re-elect numbers.  Now, can Donald Trump win the presidency?  Of course he can.  He did last time with very unfavorable ratings.  But the fact is that even though he’s voting about disruption and rage – or running on disruption and rage – is he seen as the President of the United States, the guy in charge, as somebody who could handle this better than the guy who’s not in charge?  The numbers are not playing in his favor right now, and that leads into:  Is there a sense that there’s just too much disruption?  Maybe it was romanticized four years ago in the sense that Trump beat the opposition, the establishment, but when – can you be the sitting president and fight the establishment all at the same time?   

So briefly, let’s go to the strategies, and I’ll be pretty brief on these.  There we go.  For Joe Biden the issue is to build upon the strength of the Obama coalition: younger voters in general, particularly young women, African-American voters, Latino voters, and finally what we call the “creative class,” mainly suburbanites and folks who moved into the city who work in the broad knowledge economy who have generally tilted liberal on social issues.  If Trump – or if Biden can bring out the African-American voters in numbers that Obama was able to but that Hillary was not able to, if Biden can bring out the support of young women, particularly young white women the way Obama did, then it could look very good for Joe Biden.   

Biden may be also able to add to his base by capturing white women and voters over 65.  He had been cutting into Trump’s support among white women and was actually leading among voters over 65.  That was a group that Trump won in 2016, but as of now, what we’re seeing is that voters over 65 in particular are now tied.  We’ll turn to look at that in a second.  And he needs a large turnout of young voters, especially white women. 

Now, the strategies for the Republicans:  We’ve seen this: create doubts about Biden among younger non-white voters that he’s part of the establishment, that he is linked to the Obama years and the Obama years were not very good for younger voters.  Paint the Democrats as socialists – that’s part of the strategy to regain his lead among voters over 65, and particularly among young – or among white women.  

Blue Lives Matter is a means to win back white women and voters over 65, portray the Democrats as the party of chaos, as the party of rioting, party of disruption.  Attack Biden’s age; we continue to see that.  And then finally, tout the Trump record on COVID-19 and the fact that the President, as he will say, was on top of it right from the very beginning and was in charge.  Those are the strategies. 

Finally, we’re going to look (inaudible), I think. 

MODERATOR:  John, we just – you just cut off that last part.  You said, “We are finally,” and then that was it, though I think it’s – you’re on your last bullet there.   

MR ZOGBY:  (Inaudible) one more (inaudible) or don’t you have that? 

MODERATOR:  You were about to go on to – you said, “Finally,” and I think you were on the last bullet about Trump’s record before COVID-19.   

MR ZOGBY:  Oh, yeah.  There should be one more slide, how to read —  

MODERATOR:  No, but we missed your last bullet about that, I believe. 

MR ZOGBY:  Oh, yeah.   

MODERATOR:  Did you want to talk about Trump’s record before COVID-19 again? 

MR ZOGBY:  Oh, all right, okay.  We – I’m sorry, you missed that. 

MODERATOR:  Yes.   

MR ZOGBY:  Yeah, Trump’s record on COVID-19 is mixed.  We’re going to see to what degree the book Rage by Bob Woodward has an impact.  But Trump, during the Republican Convention, tried to make very clear that he was on top of COVID-19 from the beginning and that he was very supportive.  Critics are going to charge that that’s fake news, but Trump will certainly try to tout his record on COVID-19. 

There we go.  In reading polls, very briefly, look for the party breakdown in the sample.  In other words, if – generally speaking, in a sample, 38, maybe 39 percent of the sample should be Democrat; 33, 34 percent should be Republican.  If you see a wider differential between Democrats and Republicans, I would say don’t trust it.  It – and I have seen some showing Republicans only at 23 or 27 or 29 percent of their sample.  That’s just clearly wrong. 

Secondly, watch for movement among independents.  This election will be won or lost by support among independents.   

Thirdly, check out key groups.  Now, here’s a rule:  Democrats need blacks, they need Hispanics, they need the creative class, they need women, and they need the young.  Here is the number to look for:  Among blacks, if a Democrat is polling less than 90 percent, that’s trouble.  If at this point in time and then heading into the election, if there are 10 percent or more who are undecided among blacks, that’s troubling for a Democrat.  Same can be held for women and for young voters.   

Among Republicans, it’s all about getting 60, 65 percent of evangelicals, 80 percent of conservatives, and 60 percent of white women.  If for some reason Republicans are not – the Republican is not polling at that level, that could be trouble for them. 

Lastly, in a sentence, turnout model.  We pollsters – and this is where we differ, are different from each other – we have to assess today, tomorrow, November 2nd, who is going to turn out to vote.  That involves a little bit of artwork, and some of us have doing it – been doing it longer and doing it better than others (inaudible).  We have to have a certain number, we figure, of women, of older voters versus younger voters.  Again, there are (inaudible) and some history involved there to get at our turnout models. 

I think I’m going to end right there. and (inaudible).  I do it with my son Jeremy (inaudible).  And then we have a (inaudible).   

MODERATOR:  Apologies, everyone.  Hopefully the audio will come back real soon.   

MR ZOGBY:  (Inaudible.) 

MODERATOR:  Sorry, everyone.  Please be patient.  We’ll be right back here.  We’ll figure this out.   

MR ZOGBY:  (Inaudible.) 

MODERATOR:  John, are you back?   

(No response.) 

MODERATOR:  John, are you there?   

(No response.) 

(Break.) 

MODERATOR:  John, are you with us? 

MR ZOGBY:  Okay.  Oh, I apologize again.  Did we get through it? 

MODERATOR:  Yes.  You were just on your last slide talking about your podcast, so — 

MR ZOGBY:  Okay. 

MODERATOR:  — we can share that information with our group if you want to move on to the Q&A. 

MR ZOGBY:  Yeah, let’s do that. 

MODERATOR:  Okay.  All right.  Our first question – and again, thank you for all your patience – our first question will to Mr. Balde from Guineenews.  I’m going to unmute you now, sir, and please, go ahead. 

QUESTION:  Yes, John, good morning. 

MR ZOGBY:  Good morning. 

QUESTION:  It’s really my honor to talk to you despite all these technical difficulties.  You are a trusted pollster in the United States – I believe in North America – for 22 years.  I’ve always heard about you. 

My question is regarding Black Lives Matter and the aftermath of George Floyd.  Two days ago, I think on September the 8th, Newsmax was citing you as saying that Trump was overwhelming – was outperforming Biden by 14 percent two days ago.  That was on September the 8th.  I want to know if you stand by this assertion and what the impact of Black Lives Matter and all this police brutality have as impact on the polling recently. 

MR ZOGBY:  Okay, good.  Thank you very much for your kind comments and good question.  First of all, let’s be straight that Joe Biden, according to my poll with Newsmax, is leading 81 percent to 14 percent for Trump among black voters.  That’s been consistent with several other polls that I’ve done as well as by a few organizations – Emerson College, Rasmussen, and so on.  It means that – first of all, that Joe Biden should not be polling 81 percent among blacks.  He should be polling about 90 percent.  We saw that even Hillary Clinton’s 89 percent in 2016 was not enough to overcome Donald Trump, particularly in states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, North Carolina, where there are larger black turnouts.  If Donald Trump ends up with 14 percent of the black vote, that could be real trouble for the Democrats. 

To give you an example, Barack Obama got 96 percent of the black vote in 2008, 93 percent in 2012, and of a much larger turnout.  So there were even more black voters.  Hillary Clinton was substantially less turnout.  So – and I noted that it was young black men, and this is something I’ve got to probe more deeply into, and to see if that number actually holds. 

To your other question about Black Lives Matter, I don’t think there’s any question that what it has done is galvanize liberals and the left and blacks as well, but liberals and the left in particular who may have had some doubts about the establishment of the Democratic Party but who now see that that part of the system is clearly broken.  If you look at the demonstrations, large majorities of those demonstrating for Black Lives Matter look to be white and look to be young people.  So that could end up being a blessing in disguise for Biden and Harris, who, let’s say, previously were not showing or generating much enthusiasm among progressive voters.   

I hope that helps. 

QUESTION:  Thank you. 

MR ZOGBY:  There’s a long way to go, though.   

QUESTION:  Okay. 

MODERATOR:  Great, thank you.  For our next question, we’ll go to – and apologies if I mispronounce your name – Nikhila Natarajan.  Thank you. 

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Hi, John.  Thanks for this.  So I was struck by your answer to the first question, and I’m just trying to pick up from there.  When we see all these national polls and you see this general trend of a 8-point, 9-point gap, and then I’ll layer what you said to the first question onto that.  My question then becomes:  Where could this go get a little weird?  Because the way you’re framing it, an 83 percent lead among black voters isn’t enough.  It’s not enough.  You need that over 90 percent.  And then you compared it to earlier times of history where even up close to 90 wasn’t enough. 

So then the question becomes:  What do national polls not tell us?  What should we be looking at, really?  Thank you.   

MR ZOGBY:  That’s a very sophisticated and very good question.  First of all, the national polls are good in that they give the broad direction of what is going on, and then we do have a popular vote.  Most times the winner of the popular vote is the winner of the Electoral College.  It’s been an anomaly, in fact, that there are times even recently that that hasn’t worked. 

But then each state is different, and so let me give you the historical example.  If you go back to 2016, the national polls had Hillary Clinton leading, and frankly, the day before the election they were spot on.  The average in the national popular vote was just about what the victory was.  Some were off a point in one direction, a point or two in another direction, but close enough. 

But if you looked at the state polling, which I happen to think was even better, what you had seen – New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa – you had seen 10 days before the election Hillary Clinton leading 9, 10, 11 points in each of those states.  And if you tracked each state every single day, her lead dissipated – dissipated until the day before the election.  There was – she had a 3-point lead in Pennsylvania, but it was 11.  She had – she was losing North Carolina but had been leading by 7 or 8.  She had been leading by 9 in New Hampshire and was tied.  Same with Michigan and Wisconsin.  The trend line was very clear.  So you’ve got to watch both national polls and states. 

Secondly – and I made this point earlier, but I will reiterate it – there are voters who will tell us, “I’m not sure who I’m going to vote for.”  Obviously, that can be a perfectly legitimate sentiment.  However, there are some groups that should be more decided than other groups.  So take blacks, for example.  Historically, let’s just say 90 to 10 is how it ends up, give or take a point.  If I see 10 percent of blacks undecided, I don’t think they’re going to vote for Donald Trump.  That tells me if they haven’t made up their mind about Biden-Harris, maybe they’re not going to vote.  That’s one of the things that happened in 2016. 

Now, on the flip side of that, evangelical Christians, about 30 percent of evangelical Christians are liberal, okay?  So that’s going to include African Americans, progressives, and so on.  But if I see a high percentage of evangelical Christians saying “I don’t know who I’m going to vote for,” well, most of those votes should be going to Donald Trump.  They’re not going to go to Joe Biden pretty much under any circumstances.   

So there’s a lot that polls don’t tell us on the surface, but that the seasoned mind knows what to look for and what you should be seeing.  Does that help?   

MODERATOR:  She got muted.  Sorry. 

MR ZOGBY:  Okay, thanks. 

MODERATOR:  But that was a great answer.  At least for my part though, I think you satisfied Nikhila.  

So for our next question, we’ll go to Bingru Wang of Phoenix TV.  If you can unmute yourself, please, Bingru.  Go ahead, Bingru.   

QUESTION:  Thank you.  My question is:  What is your assessment that the gap between Trump and Biden in the battleground states have been narrowing?  Is it because Trump’s approval rating has been increasing or Biden’s approval ratting has been decreasing, and why is that?  Thank you. 

MR ZOGBY:  Very good question, and it has been tightening.  I think it’s because now that both sides have had a chance to hone their message, you’re seeing that Donald Trump actually is able to score some points on the whole issue of law and order, on safety and security.  And that I do believe is a reason for his gaining support, where he had lost it previously among voters over 65.  Voters over 65 are the most conservative age cohort, but the fact that they had been on the front lines of the COVID-19 virus, they were the ones who are most susceptible and vulnerable to the virus, Trump had lost quite a bit of support.  He is able to regain some of it on the safety, security, the message of the Democrats being socialists.   

I think the same thing with what we’re calling now safety moms, mothers who predominantly in the suburbs and white, but also to some degree middle class and black, who are worried about the perception of and the reality of violence in the streets.  You’ll see Trump hammering on that, and I think that what he’s been able to do is make some gains there as well. 

So I think that that’s mainly what’s been going on in those battleground states, and enough to suggest to me that we’re looking at another very close election, at least from the vantage point of today.   

MODERATOR:  Great, thank you.  Our next question will go to Simon Ateba.  Simon, I’m going to mute you.  Please, go ahead. 

QUESTION:  Okay, thank you for – can you hear me? 

MODERATOR:  Yeah. 

MR ZOGBY:  Hi. 

QUESTION:  Yeah, thank you for taking my question.  This is Simon Ateba from Today News Africa in Washington, D.C.  COVID-19 has killed 191,000 Americans.  And in recent days, we’ve seen the messaging of the Republican change – shifting from the COVID-19 to law and order.  And I know that you made this presentation before yesterday’s revelation that President Trump actually knew that the virus was deadly, but he hide it – he hid it from the people.  What impact do you think the COVID-19 will have on this election now that it’s become the main issue again, especially as we go into the fall and the CDC warning that more people will die?  Yesterday 11 – more than a thousand people died again from the disease.  What do you think will be the overall impact of the recording where he says — 

MR ZOGBY:  I’m going to be – thank you for that.  I’m going to be —  

(Interruption.) 

I – good or bad news for Donald Trump, he always is able to define the agenda.  So even if it’s bad news about him, he’s able to set up the bully pulpit, bash the press, charge fake news, but it’s all on his terms.  And he has been very successful at that.  So essentially – I’m going to simplify this answer.  If the issue – if we’re talking close to the election about Black Lives Matter, then Donald Trump will be able to speak to white voters, to safety moms, to older voters, and to scare them and dominate the conversation and talk about socialism and violence in the streets.  If we’re talking about COVID and the economy, that would be on Joe Biden’s terms.  And that is the message that Biden needs to win. 

Now, certainly not ignoring Black Lives Matter, but he has to segue away from Black Lives Matter to ensure that he can prevent Donald Trump from winning over some of those safety moms and some of those older voters, and to remind them that the real issue here is the economy and the – and COVID-19.   

MODERATOR:  Great.  And for our next question – again, I apologize if I mispronounce your name – it’s Alex Raufoglu from Turan News Agency.  Alex, I’m going to unmute you.  Please, go ahead.  Whoops, sorry, we did it at the same time.  Please go ahead and unmute yourself and ask a question.  Thank you. 

QUESTION:  Great, thank you, Jean.  And John, it’s great to see you again, albeit virtually this time.  This is Alex Raufoglu from Turan News Agency of Azerbaijan.  You mentioned some of the advantages that are presumably helping the President, and it looks like he has two favorite subjects these days: the economy and China.  So where does foreign policy fit in this picture after all?  Events such as the Belarus protests or Arab-Israel relations – how much impact do they and will they really have in the days and weeks ahead?   

And if I may fast forward to November 4th, can you please share your prediction* about the Election Night scenario, given what appears to be the almost certain problem that because the mail-in votes are going to be counted on Election Night and there may be an appearance of one winner on the Election Night itself, and that may change radically in the days to come?  So you’re going to have people on Election Night maybe on the Democratic side angry, feeling that they have been robbed of the election victory, and as the days go on, maybe Republicans will start feeling like the election was stolen.  In your judgment, what – which candidate is more likely to accept the (inaudible) the result in that scenario?  Thank you so much. 

MR ZOGBY:  Okay, thank you.  Wow.  All right, so in terms of foreign policy, it does not appear among the top seven or eight issues.  However, when we look at specific groups, target groups, it may have a greater impact.  So I’m thinking the UAE and Israeli detente, let’s call it, and the possibility of Oman and Bahrain and Saudi Arabia joining in possibly before the election – that’s the sort of thing that could have a real impact on evangelical voters, and may even turn a few liberal Jewish voters who ordinarily would never back Donald Trump, but turn them over on the – onto the Republican candidate as opposed to Joe Biden.  Less likely for the – that Jewish voter scenario, more likely to help Donald Trump among white evangelical and conservative-leaning voters. 

On the issue of, say, Belarus, obviously China, that sort of thing, anything that smells of success for this administration can send the message that, hey, no matter how disruptive I’ve been as President and no matter how unorthodox I have been, I get the job done.  Now, of course, he’s got to do that.  He’s got to get that job done.  But it neutralizes certainly one of the negatives that’s perceived, especially if it’s bigger news – a very unlikely deal with North Korea or a peaceful settlement in Belarus.  Hard to see that happening, but if it does happen, even more power.  So it could turn a few votes into the – in the President’s favor.   

China, again, that’s one of those situations where we have two candidates who are diametrically opposed with each other.  And so there’s no middle ground on China.  So we’ll have a different policy depending on who is elected.   

Now, Election Night.  There is a very real possibility of what we might call the blue shift, that Donald Trump and Republicans triumph on Election Night because they are the ones least likely to say that they will be stopped from voting physically at polling booths.  Democrats much, much more likely to vote by mail-in.  And so you may very well have the situation where Trump appears to be victorious, even significantly so on Election Night, and then as the counting plays out over days or a week or so, it looks more then like a change of some sort.   

In each case, I think what’s troubling to me is that the President has not committed to bending to the will of the public.  And by the same token, you have Nancy Pelosi saying to Joe Biden, look, the President is a liar; don’t trust anything he says; don’t even debate him and give him legitimacy.  And then Hillary Clinton saying under no circumstances, Joe, should you concede this election.   

I personally am troubled by that, and I don’t think it bodes well for us.  You have to have a winner, and you have to have a loser.  And I don’t know that – we’ve had Gore concede in 2000.  We had Kerry concede in 2004.  I don’t know if that’s going to be the scenario.  And I see some chaos and disruption, sadly, in 2020.   

MODERATOR:  Thanks, John.  I think we’ve run over on time due to our technical issues, so I think one, maybe two more questions, and then we’ll wrap this up.   

So for our next question, we’ll go to Yashwant Raj from Hindustan Times.  Please, go on ahead and unmute yourself and ask your question.  Go ahead and ask your question, please.  Okay, I think we have some connection issues with him.  We will come back to you.   

For our next question, we’ll go to Pearl Matibe from Open Parliament of Zimbabwe.  Pearl, if you want to go ahead and unmute yourself. 

QUESTION:  Thank you very much, John.  I really enjoyed your presentation today.  I want to take you back to the issue of comparing 2016 to this election and more specifically on people who change their minds.  And granted, anything can happen in 30 days before the election, but if you take a look back at 2016, we saw Hillary Clinton with the lead in the group of people who might change their minds, and then that didn’t turn up the way we expected come Election Day.   

So what is different this year?  What could change?  I mean, if you look at, for instance, the Quinnipiac poll, we see right now Biden is leading in key states, in Pennsylvania specifically as well, again, in this specific group of people who might change their minds.  So what’s different this year?  Thanks, John. 

MR ZOGBY:  There are a few things.  Thank you for the question, Pearl.  I think the biggest thing is that both candidates were distrusted in 2016 consistently throughout the campaign: 36 percent said they trust Hillary Clinton to tell the truth; 37 percent said that they trusted Donald Trump to tell the truth.  Let’s just call that a wash.  But it should have been an edge for Hillary Clinton.   

And so fundamentally, as more questions were raised about Hillary Clinton, the famous Comey letter and intervention, for those particularly undecided or who were soft supporters of Hillary and always had questions about her, the fundamental point was, “I just don’t know that I trust this lady” – I’m putting those words in their mouths – “even though I don’t like Donald Trump.” 

I remember the Hillary people were saying look, when it comes to that stark choice among those undecided on Election Day, who am I going to vote for?  The very thought of Donald Trump becoming president is going to make them vote for Hillary.  And I remember saying back then, that’s not what I’m hearing.  I’m hearing the exact opposite.  When it comes to the stark truth, I’m not going to vote for Hillary because I don’t trust her; I’ll vote for Trump and cleaning the swamp or disruption.   

I think what’s different today is that 31 percent trust Donald Trump to tell the truth and 52 percent trust Joe Biden to tell the truth.  And so at least on that, if there is a stark choice that has to be made, that’s probably in Biden’s favor.   

Now there may very well be factors that are not in Biden’s favor – enthusiasm, the establishment that he represents, and his age, mental acuity, or whatever it may be – but at least on the question of trust, I think he does have an advantage over Hillary in 2016.   

MODERATOR:  Great.  And we’ll try to give Yashwant one last opportunity here to ask his question, and then we’ll wrap things up.  I’ll unmute you.  Please, go ahead. 

Okay. If you hear me, please email me your question.  I’ll make sure Mr. Zogby gets it.  

MR ZOGBY:  Yeah, please do.   

MODERATOR:  Okay.  I want to thank everybody for their patience today and working through all our technical issues, but it’s been worthwhile for sure.  It’s been an excellent briefing, as always, from Mr. Zogby.  I thank you again for your time and thank you everyone for your wonderful questions and for participating.  And we look forward to hosting more briefings this election season all the way through to the big day.  All right, thank you, everybody.  This briefing is concluded.  Have a great day, everyone.   

 

U.S. Department of State

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