It’s been a relatively quiet week in the campaign.
No unseemly squabbling in a TV debate. No bombshell coronavirus diagnosis. It’s all been a bit dull.
Yes, there’s been Donald Trump’s unlikely ‘recovery’ from Covid-19 and his subsequent claims of immunity. And there’s also been the ‘scoop’ over Hunter Biden’s alleged activities, but such ‘bombshells’ have been normal in American politics for… almost four years now. It’s become a lot harder to shock in this campaign, and there’s an air of uneasy exhaustion about the two men.
In the cowboy films, any period of calm would be met by a narrowing of eyes and the murmuring of “too quiet,” with the expectation of imminent attack. Joe Biden’s followers must feel the same. It’s quiet. Generally, that suits their man, who has been The Quiet Man for most of this campaign, in the, not unreasonable, expectation that the attacks are mostly Trump taking aim at his own feet.
But is it “too quiet”?
The weekly voting intention numbers from the data gathered by Impact Social, from their exclusive tracker of social media sentiment, suggests there’s stirring in the numbers that might well show that maybe, just maybe, this is a false calm ahead of some significant movement.
The analysis follows the sentiment and conversations of 40,000 swing voters—from the disgruntled supporters of each party to the swingers who will vote but are still deciding who for. Impact Social measures two sets of conversations—where Biden is the subject and where Trump is, and tracks the topics which surround them and the sentiment, positive or negative, around it.
Each week, and indeed each month and year of this electoral cycle, Trump dominates the conversation, and willfully so. He has clearly always seen public attention as the main driver of his ambition, and that old trick still works to an extent—with 112,000 posts centered on him, from 30,000 of the self-appointed commentators. Biden was the focus of 102,000 posts in comparison, though from 36,000 unique authors—a more ephemeral relationship with (currently) more voters. That may even be a strategy—to be a vaguely positive figure to a bigger number of people.
For Trump, a man who can countenance neither losing nor prolonged silence, this must be a confusing moment, with calmer waters proving invigorating for his numbers. In the previous, rather more fervid, five weeks, the sentiment around Trump has been in severely negative territory—generally between -18 percent and -23 percent. This last seven days has seen Trump begin to climb out of that canyon, improving by 9 percent points to a mere -14 percent. Not exactly triumphant, but a chunky move towards positivity.
In fact, all the numbers moved, if sluggishly, in the same direction. There were more online discussions that were positive about Trump (a rise of 3 percent) and a bigger drop in the sentiment of anti-Trump discussions (from a whopping -41 percent to merely ‘sizeable’ -35 percent). In short, he impressed more and annoyed less of the floating voters.
If Trump is to pull off an unlikely victory, it’s this sort of trend he needs to uphold—and the behaviour which has brought it about. Can he continue in this relatively calmer manner? It’s unlikely, and too late, for a new mature Trump to begin to hold complex policy discussions with his rival and it’s unlikely we’d know where to look if he did, but this (probably) brief period of ‘not that outrageous’ seems to have revived his campaign.
Meanwhile, Biden’s determinedly low-key positioning has seen his numbers remain steady throughout—if not definitively positive—he stays within narrow rails on his positive numbers (21-23 percent) and his negative (24-27 percent.)
The issue for both is what this might do to their strategy. For Trump, seven days is unlikely to be a long enough trend to persuade him to change his approach. A man for whom the social media spotlight drove him to the White House in the first place is not likely to calm it all down quite yet.
For Biden, it must feel that he’s got enough petrol in the tank to see himself to the finish line. But with three weeks left, if this pattern continues then both men will get nervous and will have a decision to make. What’s driving those trends and is it in their nature to be able to steer them? If need be, can Biden enliven and can Trump dump the rhetoric?
Another week of numbers like this, and Trump may feel he has a chance—which gives both men a choice.
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