This week’s Democratic National Convention grabbed media attention for two key reasons: it was the first time in history that a black woman — California’s former attorney general Kamala Harris — won the nomination to become the Democrats’ vice presidential candidate, and secondly, it had a selection of well-known speakers such as the Obamas, the Clintons and Bernie Sanders.
Obama’s speech caught viewers’ attention in particular, as he tore into US President Donald Trump for “tearing down democracy,” and referred to Trump as “lazy, corrupt and self-obsessed.” He put aside presidential precedent of not criticizing other presidents to paint a grim vision of a second term under the current commander-in-chief.
Past Precedent: Clinton Saved Obama’s Campaign in 2012
Considering Biden’s campaign has been uninspiring so far due to this year’s election being overshadowed by the coronavirus, former President Obama could be the spark that the Democrats need to mobilize voter turnout in November. It’s conceivable that Obama could win the election for the former vice president.
It is a trick that the Democrats have used before. When Obama’s own re-election campaign was in trouble in 2012, he recruited Bill Clinton, who had a 69 percent approval rating that year, to appear on a TV ad that was played 16,000 times in swing states.
Another, featuring a clip of Clinton’s address at the 2012 Democratic convention, triggered a sense of nostalgia among Democratic voters about the 1990s, a time when the Democrats enjoyed balanced budgets and record employment rates, and provided them with the impression that this could happen again under Obama in 2013-17. John Heilemann of New York Magazine wrote that Clinton saved Obama’s 2012 campaign. And now, a charismatic former president with high approval ratings might have to do the same for Biden.
Obama Has Major Political Star Power
Trump, however, has no such advantage. George W. Bush is the only surviving former Republican president and although his last approval rating stood at 61 percent, he has publicly said that he will not endorse Trump. Therefore, the sitting President lacks political star power — and media supporters — on anywhere near the same level as Obama.
Obama enjoys a 55 percent average approval rating according to YouGov, with 64 percent of millennials, a key voter group for the Democrats, approving of the job he did as president. Furthermore, data collected by Public Policy Polling in 2017 discovered that 52 percent of Americans wished Obama was still their president, and it would be interesting to see if there is any recent data available to see if those views still hold true following the recent Democratic National Convention. These strong approval ratings could help Biden as he was Obama’s former vice president.
The latest poll shows that Biden has an eight-point advantage over Trump, and although a lot could change before November, this is not a bad lead coming out of the recent convention.
Trump Hasn’t Lost Yet
Nonetheless, Hillary Clinton also had the exact same advantage Biden did four years ago. NPR predicted that she would win 273 electoral votes in August 2016, and she then went on to lose three months later. The former first lady also had Obama’s endorsement and still lost.
A study reported on by Vox in 2018 revealed that between 6.7 million and 9.2 million Americans switched from voting for Obama in 2012 to Trump in 2016. No one knows how those key electors will vote this year, but considering disappointment in Obama appeared to be their biggest reason for switching, it is unlikely rolling out the former president will cause them to vote for the Democrats this year.
Which Way Will Swing Voters Turn This Year?
Although Trump should be worried that 11 percent of Republican voters plan to switch to Biden this year, the latter should be concerned about the possibility of 8 percent of Democratic voters intending to cast their ballot for the current President in November. This is according to a national survey conducted by The Hill and HarrisX. The truth of these findings — along with voter turnout — will determine who wins in 2020.
Trump must also repeat his performance four years ago in rural states such as Pennsylvania, where he won 71 percent of the vote in 2016. In other good news for the current President, his approval rating is also gradually increasing, with his popularity rising by two percentage points to 40.1 percent as of Wednesday evening.
The Obama factor could work two ways for Biden: the former president could either mobilize Trump’s base as he represents everything the latter’s electors voted against in 2016, or he could mobilize the Democratic base as he could remind Democrats of a time when a president was more “eloquent” and “presidential” than Trump arguably is right now.
But if Obama fails to rescue Biden in the same way Clinton saved Obama in 2012, then it is clear that in the future, the Democrats cannot keep rolling out former presidents to mobilize their bases.
Both parties need fresh talent.