Trump is running out of time for a comeback

Early Returns

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Sunday marked 100 days until the election, so I'll break my general rule of thumb — which is to ignore the horse-race polls until after the conventions — for a day. And what those polls say is pretty simple: Former Vice President Joe Biden has opened up a solid lead over President Donald Trump.

How solid? Checking the averages: FiveThirtyEight estimates an 8 percentage point lead, RealClearPolitics says 9.1 percentage points and the Economist puts it at 8.4 percentage points. How big is that lead? Big enough. Even if the polls are a bit off and Trump is actually doing better, and even if he still has an Electoral College advantage and everything breaks in his favor, there's no way he wins if the polls look this way in November.

But of course it's July, not November. The good news for Trump is that despite everything that's gone wrong, even a modest rally would put him close enough that a normal polling error and an Electoral College edge could be enough to win a second term.

The bad news for him is that it seems unlikely he can do that. Trump has trailed Biden in head-to-head polling throughout the campaign, long before the pandemic and ensuing recession. It's anybody's guess what will happen with the virus by November, but it's hard to believe that it will no longer be a dominant issue — and Trump's polling on the pandemic is bad and getting worse. 

The economy is a bit more complicated, but public opinion has trended against Trump there, too. I still think that a president could have sold high unemployment as an unavoidable consequence of the successful fight against the virus, but that would've required showing a lot more success, and a president who had built trust with the electorate and knew how to show empathy. At this point, it seems more likely that Trump will be punished for his handling of the economy. 

In fact, the polls so far may even be understating Biden's lead. Biden gets about 50% of the vote in head-to-head polls, but Trump's disapproval rating has been at or above 55% for a while, and has almost always been higher than 52%. It's true that some people voted for Trump in 2016 despite not liking him, but it's a lot tougher to win votes from people who think you're currently doing a bad job as president. And don't forget: Polling errors could go in either direction, and there's no guarantee that Trump will wind up having an Electoral College advantage. 

There are enough unusual things going on this year that it's worth being skeptical of anyone making confident predictions. Still, everything in the polling right now looks grim for Trump. And he's running out of time to do anything about it.

1. Zilvinas Svedkauskas, Chonlawit Sirikupt and Michel Salzer at the Monkey Cage on the Russian disinformation effort.

2. A must-read from my Bloomberg Opinion colleague Francis Wilkinson about attempts to stop Trump's lawlessness.

3. Jess Bidgood on the dangerous possibility of a contested election.

4. Jamelle Bouie on the "silent majority."

5. And Zack Stanton on child care and the pandemic.

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