February 11, 2020 | Reading Time: 3 minutes
For 2020, Asymmetric Info Warfare
The latest Q Poll is good news, but be careful.
The latest Q Poll came out Monday. It was seriously good news. Last week had been called the president’s best ever. The Washington press corps likes to measure success in “wins” and “losses.” The Senate acquitted Donald Trump. So that meant he “won.”
But even as the president and his confederates were high-fiving each other (and plotting vengeance against the men and women of honor who spoke the truth), the electorate was less celebratory. The new poll by Quinnipiac University, considered to be a superlative survey, has Trump losing to every one of the Democratic candidates.
Josh Jordan, a well-known numbers guy, said: “If these are Trump’s numbers after his ‘best week ever,’ he’s going to have a really bad time in November. Absolutely brutal poll for Trump.” Historian Aaron Astor said: “There is no scenario where a Democrat wins the popular vote by 6-plus points and doesn’t win the Electoral College. So either this poll is just wrong or Trump is losing to every possible Dem after his ‘best week.’”
Bear in mind: States vote for presidents, not people, and we are living in abnormal times.
I don’t mean to pick on Jordan or Astor. They know the Q Poll is just one. But I do think it’s important to bear in mind a couple of things. One: States vote for presidents, not people. Two: We are living in abnormal times. Politics isn’t what it used to be.
If people voted for presidents—i.e., if the popular vote mattered—the Q Poll would be devastating. It measures the nation’s mood, not a state’s. If the president is losing to every Democrat now, given his “best week ever,” yes he should be well and truly freaked. (To some extent he is, according to Saturday’s Times; his campaign strategists are trying to reclaim white suburban voters lost to Hillary Clinton in the last cycle.)
People do not vote for president, however. States do—i.e, only the Electoral College matters. More accurately, a handful of states do. In recent times, one or two or three states determined the outcome (Florida in 2000; Ohio in 2004; Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania in 2016). Polls measuring the nation’s mood can have a distorting effect absent in state-based polling. So please don’t start high-fiving each other just yet. We need to know what voters are thinking and feeling in, say, Pennsylvania.
Astor is right in arguing that a six-point margin in the popular vote would virtually guarantee an Electoral College victory. But that presumes we live in normal times.
The president was acquitted of involving a foreign leader in a global conspiracy to rig the 2020 election. That was after having gotten away with inviting interference in 2016. There’s no way Trump isn’t going to repeat himself. The only question is how.
Unlike the last the two times, the Republicans are fully on board this time. Lindsey Graham and two other Senate leaders are gathering “evidence” against Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, in case the former vice president takes the Democratic nomination. They are preparing to pick up where the Ukrainians left off in smearing Joe Biden into oblivion. (If Biden isn’t the nominee, don’t worry; the Republicans will smear any Democrat.)
Worse, the US Department of Justice has created an “intake process” by which the president’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, can feed federal investigators “information” about the Bidens gathered in Ukraine. The official rationale is anti-corruption, but in essence, this process sets the stage for criminalizing politics.
Bear in mind, a real crime need not be committed. All that’s required to smear any Democratic opponent is the public announcement of an open investigation into an alleged crime. It was an open investigation by the FBI into alleged fraud and corruption at the Clinton Foundation that hurt Hillary Clinton. It was an open investigation into alleged fraud in Ukraine that Trump hoped would hurt Biden.
The “intake process” also has potential to turn a Kremlin lie into reality: that the Ukrainians attacked in 2016, not the Russians, and that the Democrats conspired with foreigners, not Trump’s campaign. Rudy Giuliani’s goal has always been twofold—to smear Biden and legitimize Trump. He might be seen as a legitimate president if more people believed Ukraine attacked America. When Attorney General Bill Barr created an “intake process,” he made room for the institutionalization of a malicious lie.
We tend to think about national politics as if voters are working with the same quality of information and as if voters know what to do with it. That’s a political fiction. Moreover, the boundaries that used to restrain our politics have disappeared. The contest is no longer between two teams fighting according to the same “rules.” Election Day is now a flash-point in an ongoing asymmetric information war.
Let’s not presume these or any polling numbers reflect anything normal.