US Election: Will the protests and violence help Trump?

Democrat Presidential Nominee Joe Biden
Joe Biden returns to in-person campaigning today
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The election odds are virtually tied as Betfair punters back the emerging Trump narrative around polls and violence. Paul Krishnamurty is sceptical...

"The experts are right to urge caution. There has been a dearth of A-rated polls during the conventions and I'm waiting for to see some before drawing firm conclusions."

Later today, Joe Biden will resume in-person campaigning with an address in Pennsylvania, in which the Democrat nominee will doubtless emphasise his working-class roots in Scranton. It doesn't require a crystal ball to predict his wider message.

Many had hoped that Biden would head straight to Wisconsin, where the town of Kenosha has suffered rioting following the shooting by police of Jacob Blake and two protesters subsequently shot dead by a 17-year-old vigilante. Instead, Trump gets first crack at delivering a presidential style address in the traumatised state. Again, we need not get the crystal ball out.

Trump close to reassuming favouritism

All this takes place amid deep uncertainty regarding the state of the race. Record sums continue to pour in for Trump, who has almost resumed favouritism on Betfair. According to this morning's odds, Biden has a 51% chance of victory compared to 48% for Trump.

One of several plausible explanations for this monster gamble is the violence in Kenosha and Portland. Trump's ever impressive online propaganda machine is bombarding social media with selective, edited or even fake footage. Setting the agenda, framing the narrative, as they did so frequently in 2016.

Is the race tightening?

Plus another popular narrative is emerging, that the race is narrowing in a meaningful sense. Various polling experts seemed rather irritated about this last night.

The experts are right to urge caution. There has been a dearth of A-rated polls during the conventions and I'm waiting to see some before drawing firm conclusions about how they played out.

What we have seen is a tightening with Morning Consult, from 52-42 to 50-44. A change within the margin of error and Biden is on 50%, which would be extremely hard to beat even without winning many of the undecideds. Yougov have the race down to 47-41 - here, there's simply too many don't knows.

However ABC/Ipsos offer a different take, based on public perceptions of the conventions and candidates. They record Biden's approval up 5% during the conventions, whereas Trump fell 1% to an absymal 31%. The Democrat Convention got 52% approval, compared to a mere 37% for the Republicans.

Biden needs to raise his voice

Regarding the violence, I'm in two minds about Biden's strategy. He has condemned it, repeatedly, as throughout his long career. But as the above tweets illustrate, this won't prevent Trump saying the complete opposite. The President, this one especially, has a much louder voice. There's a very strong argument that Biden should have gotten ahead of the news cycle by visiting Wisconsin immediately.

We will, however, see how these speeches pan out. Assuming Trump doesn't transform overnight, we know he will not bring a conciliatory, unifying message. He will overtly make political capital out of the riots. He should, but I'll be surprised if he does, take up Biden's challenge and condemn violence on both sides, including the 17 year-old vigilante shooter, known to be a Trump supporter.

Rather Trump will more likely revel in the chaos. A smart politician, seeking to profit from riots, would know where to draw the line. This campaign, from the president down to his advisors, barely disguise their glee.

This plays straight to Biden's claim that his opponent is the problem. That Trump wants violence. He will surely visit later in the week and do the opposite - grieve, mourn, show empathy, call for racial unity. Reiterate that this is Trump's America, not his. That the reason he returned to the presidential fray was horror at the 2017 Charlottesville riots, after which Trump called white supremacists 'very fine people'.

We simply don't know how the violence will affect public opinion, that has been largely entrenched for years. It is certainly true that the Right tend to poll much better than the Left when it comes to law and order. Also that this is Trump's preferred territory. If Biden allows himself to be defined as 'soft' or in favour of 'defunding the police', trouble lies ahead.

Trump tactics could well backfire

I am extremely sceptical that this will work. We may live in a post-truth world but it takes some believing that Biden meets any of those criteria. He's a career moderate, with Republican friends and dozens of endorsers.

Reports emerge every day of Trump supporters involved in, or deliberately agitating for, violence. He's refusing to disavow Qanon - the online conspiracy cult labelled a 'domestic terror threat' by the FBI.

It is on his watch that social unrest has exploded. He fanned the flames in plain sight. That's why his ratings dropped further following the George Floyd protests. Tear-gassing peaceful protesters to enable a photo-op with a bible outside a church he'd never visited was a 20th century, analogue stunt.

Claiming to be the 'Law and Order' president is a hard sell when so friends and allies are in prison. Michael Cohen, the fixer who served time paying off Stormy Daniels on Trump's behalf, releases a lurid, tell-all book next week. A competent candidate and campaign should be able to flip Trump's narrative 180 degrees with ease.

We will learn much in the next few days about whether Biden is that candidate or his team up to the job. Can he campaign effectively? More pertinently, does he understand how to navigate the new politics Trump created? Or will 'Sleepy Joe' and other derisory taglines begin to carry a ring of truth?

Follow Paul on Twitter and check out his website, Political Gambler.

2020 US Presidential Election: USA - Presidential Election 2020 (Next President)

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Tuesday 3 November, 11.00am

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