There was a popular cliche early in the Trump presidency in response to each hysterical leftist bleating about the supposed dark night of fascism Trump represented, which went: “Do you want more Trump? Because this is how you get more Trump.” And I have a distinct memory of walking onto Sproul Plaza on the Berkeley campus the morning after the Milo riot in February 2017, where a large knot of people surrounded a speaker from Revolution Books who was attempting to defend the Antifa-led riots—think of it as the left in “dialogue” with the far left. In any case, one person yelled out, “Don’t you get it! Violence helps Trump you moron!”
Which brings us to the current scene. Between the unprecedented coronavirus crisis, the uncertain economic outlook over the next six months, and the large scale rioting this week, the November election has never looked more difficult to predict. All of the usual models and assumptions about political trends are out the window.
But there is reason to think the rioting will redound to Trump’s benefit, in part because Democrats are so weak in their actual and rhetorical responses. The National Journal‘s Josh Kraushaar warns:
I was surprised to see Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, fail to make even a pro forma exhortation against rioting in his heartfelt speech Friday when he called for police reforms and racial reconciliation. It probably wasn’t an accident: President Obama, his old boss, didn’t address the violence raging across Minneapolis in his statement, either. . .
I wondered, more broadly, whether there’s a larger tone-deafness in Democratic political circles these days—a failure to realize that Biden’s success is dependent on voters who don’t share their own progressive values. . .
But if leading Democrats are afraid of alienating their own base to the point they avoid speaking out against wanton violence, they risk courting a fierce political backlash when they’re back in power
About those swing voters, Krausshaar notes some significant findings from a recent survey:
But the most important finding was the ideological makeup of these potential Trump defectors. They identified as economically progressive—supporting higher taxes for the wealthy, a higher minimum wage, and mandated paid family leave—but held markedly conservative positions on a wide array of social and cultural issues.
A whopping 78 percent of these swing voters feel that government should promote family values in society. Nearly two-thirds oppose efforts to ban all guns. And by huge margins, they oppose racial reparations and believe there are only two genders. Put simply, this isn’t a politically correct bunch.
Meanwhile, a lot of people are noting the potential parallels with 1968, when riot-weary voters are thought to have tipped to the “law and order” Nixon. Sounds intuitively right, but are there any social science data to bolster the claim? There’s a brand new article posted online 10 days ago by the American Political Science Review, by Prof. Omar Wasow of Princeton (who appears to be a standard-issue academic liberal) that thinks the riots of the late 1960s definitely tipped the election to Nixon. Here’s the full title and abstract:
How do stigmatized minorities advance agendas when confronted with hostile majorities? Elite theories of influence posit marginal groups exert little power. I propose the concept of agenda seeding to describe how activists use methods like disruption to capture the attention of media and overcome political asymmetries. Further, I hypothesize protest tactics influence how news organizations frame demands. Evaluating black-led protests between 1960 and 1972, I find nonviolent activism, particularly when met with state or vigilante repression, drove media coverage, framing, congressional speech, and public opinion on civil rights. Counties proximate to nonviolent protests saw presidential Democratic vote share increase 1.6–2.5%. Protester-initiated violence, by contrast, helped move news agendas, frames, elite discourse, and public concern toward “social control.” In 1968, using rainfall as an instrument, I find violent protests likely caused a 1.5–7.9% shift among whites toward Republicans and tipped the election. Elites may dominate political communication but hold no monopoly. [Emphasis added.]
There’s a lot of the usual statistical fancy footwork, mumbo-jumbo assumptions, and multiple scenarios that are especially popular in political “science” right now (especially using rainfall as a data proxy—because there are fewer violent protests on rainy days), and some clear ideological bias if you wade through the complete article, but some of the analysis of public opinion trends in the 1960s are well-founded, as is Wasow’s conclusion that Humphrey might have beaten Nixon in the key states of Missouri, Illinois, Ohio, Delaware, and New Jersey (and hence won the electoral college) in the absence of the detected vote shift. These vote shifts occurred mostly among moderate white voters and Democrats, who had been otherwise sympathetic to the civil rights movement.
Footnote: Wasow has been working on this analysis for a long time, and includes this interesting tidbit in his Twitter feed about the article:
I take it that was the reviewer’s way of recommending “reject,” in which case it is evidence that the academy is afflicted these days as much by narrow methodological conformity as well as ideological conformity (something I have been writing about elsewhere: here, here, and here, if you are curious).
Anyway, you can extrapolate to this year as you wish.
[UPDATE: Interview with Wasow here.]
JOHN adds: I would love to believe that the Left’s violent rampages will help to re-elect President Trump, and I am pretty sure–having been there–that the riots of 1968 helped Nixon. But there is one fundamental difference between then and now: Nixon wasn’t the incumbent. 2020 is shaping up as an absolutely terrible year, with the COVID epidemic, the stock market decline, the shutdowns and resulting economic devastation, and now race riots across America. Any president wants to run for re-election on a platform of peace and prosperity. Until early this year, Trump had that platform in spades. No longer. I question whether any development that makes voters think things are going badly can be good for an incumbent president.