As gun ownership soars in the United States, there’s a new climate of fear in town, and it’s not Covid-19.
Coming in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, Donald Trump’s approval ratings in early June were at their lowest in almost three years, while Joe Biden simultaneously enjoyed a healthy lead of ten points over the incumbent in most polls by the end of that month. The outlook was indeed bleak for those on the Trump train, but that gap has since narrowed to an average of 7.5 points, putting the president within striking distance of his Democratic contender.
Trump, of course, doesn’t have to win the popular vote, but will rather concentrate his efforts on the key swing states that can once again hand him the Electoral College. In a poll of likely voters taken on 3rd September, Biden currently leads Trump in Pennsylvania by 8 points (52% – 44%), whilst in Florida Trump is closer, trailing Biden by only 3 points (48% – 45%). Worryingly for Republicans, pollsters also noted that, among likely voters in both these key states, only 5% might change their mind.
These polls, coupled with similar numbers in Wisconsin and Michigan, could indeed spell doom for the president, but a number of key factors are mitigating against their reliability in the lead up to November’s ballot.
The first is the toxic level of intimidation some voters now feel when expressing their views, making the work of polling companies all the more difficult as people reflexively keep their preferences private for fear of the mob, or even just to avoid awkward conversation. This was a major reason polls were so skewed in the lead up to the Brexit and Trump hammerblows against the establishment in 2015 and 2016, and we cannot discount now that some Trump voters in particular might prefer to hang up the phone when polled rather than whisper their support for the most vilified man on earth.
The economy is also bouncing back in the US, with positive job numbers released on Friday indicating the worst effects of the coronavirus lockdowns, when 22 millions jobs were lost, are now being overcome. Unemployment is now at 8.4% in the US, a significant improvement on July’s 10.2%, as the Department of Labor confirmed 1.37 million jobs were added in August. With the economy consistently ranking as voters’ greatest concern, this steady recovery will inevitably boost Trump’s fortunes at the ballot box, provided a deeper recession can be avoided.
The greatest chink in Democratic armour however is surely the violence spreading across America, with Antifa activists moving from the inner cities to suburbia on a crusade that might now become the greatest self-sabotage mission in living memory. The changing mood among the American public is best evidenced in the soaring rates of gun ownership, as those on the left of the firearms issue embrace a Second Amendment that only recently seemed so problematic.
Over 2.5 million Americans became first-time gun owners in the first half of 2020, with 10.3 million guns being bought in the same turbulent period.
Now that their personal safety is in doubt, middle America, so often outraged when Trump’s brazen character shines through, is suddenly confronted with an apparently existential threat that many believe only one man can control.
There may be riots again if Trump wins, but Americans know that the tacit support by Democrats of those currently looting and burning has brought this form of protest into the mainstream, and that a Biden presidency is less likely to restore law and order in the long term.
The scenes from Portland, Kenosha and even Washington DC, where diners were harassed for not raising a fist in solidarity with Black Lives Matter, have indeed struck visceral fear into the hearts of many, with the Trump campaign undoubtedly able to make hay of what could be a ready-made springboard to victory.
1) In a scene that played out several times Monday, a Black Lives Matter protest that began in Columbia Heights confronted White diners outside D.C. restaurants, chanting “White silence is violence!” and demanding White diners show their solidarity. #DCProtests pic.twitter.com/fJbPM76vb0
— Fredrick Kunkle WaPo (@KunkleFredrick) August 25, 2020
As increasing numbers of liberal commentators sound the alarm about this violent folly, it remains to be seen if the riots will abate until after electoral matters are taken care of. Whereas the coronavirus panic did untold damage to the Trump campaign, Democrats are hoping their own Achilles heel of rioting will be bandaged in time to stave off the re-election of President Trump.
Much more can happen however in the coming eight weeks as both sides become increasingly desperate to leverage every possible crisis afflicting their very broken society.