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Tamara Keith and Amy Walter on presidential polling, convention symbolism

NPR’s Tamara Keith and Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report join John Yang to discuss the latest political news, including what to make of poll numbers showing former Vice President Joe Biden with a substantial lead over President Trump, the political fallout of Trump’s responses to the pandemic and protests over racism and what the upcoming conventions say about the two parties.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    There are less than 100 days until President Trump faces a Democratic opponent on Election Day in November.

    John Yang has this week's analysis of the emerging political landscape.

  • John Yang:

    Judy, to mark that moment, we are joined by our Politics Monday team.

    Amy Walter is the national editor of The Cook Political Report and host of the podcast "Politics With Amy Walter." And Tamara Keith is…

    (COUGHING)

  • John Yang:

    Excuse me — a White House correspondent for NPR.

  • Tamara Keith:

    And host of the "NPR Politics Podcast."

  • John Yang:

    Excuse me. And I…

    (COUGHING)

    (LAUGHTER)

  • John Yang:

    Thank you.

    We are 100 days out. Whoa. Excuse me.

    We are 100 days out. Polls show that Vice President Biden is leading the president in — not only nationally, but also in the battleground states.

    I have so many Democratic voters come up to me and ask me, given what happened in 2016, is this time different than 2016. Tam, what should I tell them?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Well, there are a lot of answers.

    But one thing to say is that this has been a very stable lead for former Vice President Biden. And the other thing that is notable and is different from the case in 2016 is that a lot of these polls are showing him above 50 percent.

    That is to say that he's got a majority of voters saying that, if the election were held today, they would vote for him.

    For Hillary Clinton, she did, at times, have pretty significant leads over Donald Trump, but she was at 45 percent. There was room there, in a way that Biden has a more commanding lead.

    Of course, anything can happen. Anything can change. The Trump campaign insists that the polls are totally skewed.

    But the other thing that is different is the obvious thing that is different. There is a pandemic. It is affecting everyone's lives. And the president's leadership is a major issue in this campaign, and is something that is weighing heavily on voters, as relates to the coronavirus.

  • John Yang:

    Amy, Tam said things can change. The cliche is that 100 days is an eternity in politics.

    What can change?

  • Amy Walter:

    Well, I have been asking almost every single campaign strategist that I talk with that very question.

    And, first of all, it is important to recognize that, 100 days, it is true — it is a little bit less than 100 days until we get to the actual Election Day. But a lot of states start sending out absentee ballots very soon, in about a little over a month.

    The state of North Carolina, for example, sends out its ballots. So people are going to actually be receiving ballots in the mail in a lot of these states before we even hit October. So that is a very important thing.

    The number one issue in my mind is what happens on the pandemic, on the coronavirus pandemic. As Tam pointed out correctly, this is what is driving everything, and it was the major difference between now and 2016.

    But even if something changes, there is a vaccine that is clearly in the works that maybe gets to go out early 2021. Maybe, as schools open, things don't turn out as badly as some people are expecting, the real question in my mind is whether voters are going to give Trump any credit for this.

    He has lost a lot of credibility on this issue. We have seen his numbers sink now to something like 35 percent, 36 percent approval rating on how he has handled the coronavirus. So, the question is, have voters, especially those swing voter voters, just shut the door on Donald and say, you know what, I don't — he mishandled this, he mishandled the George Floyd protests, I'm not going to give him any credit, even if things start to go in the right direction?

  • John Yang:

    Tam, Amy talks about how the pandemic has changed everything. It has even changed the conventions.

    I mean, the conventions are not — are more than just a time for funny hats and confetti guns and balloon drops. They are a time to get organized, a time to generate excitement.

    The Democrats are saying they're going to have virtually a 100 percent virtual convention. The Republicans' plans are still up in the air.

    What difference is this going to make to the campaign, to the fall campaign?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Traditionally, the conventions are multiday prime-time infomercials for the candidates to make their case for the voters, unfiltered, right there.

    And are the networks all going to carry this in the same way? Maybe not. Are they going to have all of these volunteers coming in, getting excited, going back into their communities, the strongest activists in the party? No, that's not happening.

    This is a very different situation, a very weird situation. The other thing I would just point out is that, in some ways, the conventions have become a metaphor. The Democratic Party realized early on that they likely would need to have a virtual convention, and they have been planning for one.

    The Republican Party and President Trump were searching for a place where they could hold a traditional convention, so they could rub it in the faces of Democrats that they had an in-person convention, they weren't afraid, they were strong, they weren't wearing masks.

    And that backfired. And it is not clear that they have a whiz-bang virtual convention in the offing. They may well pull it off, but it is a metaphor for how these things have been going.

  • John Yang:

    Amy, is this putting pressure on the Republicans, now that the Democrats have this virtual plan, this virtual convention plan?

  • Amy Walter:

    When you look back over the last 20 or so years, what you find is, incumbent presidents rarely get a bump from the convention. It is usually the challengers that do. For example, Bill Clinton got a huge bump after the convention, his convention in 1992.

    So the pressure is really on the Biden campaign. And, quite frankly, I think that will be more fascinating, in part because not only have we never had a virtual convention, but never have we gone into a convention where the presumptive nominee has spent so little time actually in front of voters.

    This is going to be the first opportunity for most voters to actually get a sense of who this guy is, and to see him in a — it's a very different kind of environment, but still in a public environment like we haven't seen him before.

  • John Yang:

    Amy Walter, and thanks to Tamara Keith for the assist in the introduction. Thanks.

    That's Politics Monday.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Thanks.

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