President Donald Trump’s push for a second poll-defying victory is relying on a hallmark of his first — raucous campaign rallies that Trump sees as a crucial sign of voter enthusiasm but that pollsters say may only be cementing his defeat.
Trump held three rallies, all in Pennsylvania, with three more scheduled on Tuesday and as many as five or six a day expected by the weekend. The rallies befit the showman with roots in reality television: blaring music, slick production, video montages, warm-up speeches, Air Force One as a backdrop and the president himself as the headline attraction. Attendees erupt in screams and cheers at his arrival, and local Republicans say it’s unlike any political event they’ve seen.
But the rallies’ impact is far from clear. Republicans say they harvest data from attendees and fire up their base, while Democrats say they get a spike in donations and volunteers, too, and wonder if Trump is merely preaching to the choir.
Holding rallies in defiance of coronavirus health recommendations has fuelled voters’ disapproval of his handling of the pandemic — feeding Biden’s key argument that Trump has mishandled the first major crisis of his presidency. And pollsters say there’s little evidence of a rally boost.
“The rapid-fire Trump rallies, while clearly well-received by the base, have done nothing to tip the scale in President Trump’s direction,” said Tim Malloy, a pollster from Quinnipiac University.
Trump has held five rallies each in Florida and Pennsylvania since his recovery from the coronavirus, more than any other states, along with repeat stops in North Carolina, Wisconsin and Arizona. Democrat Joe Biden has kept a limited travel schedule, holding two events since last Thursday’s debate. And when he does, they are sparsely attended by design, often staged as drive-in rallies, to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
Biden is leading Trump by about 8 percentage points in national polls, according to RealClearPolitics. The two are essentially tied in Florida, a critical state to each one’s potential victory, and Biden has small leads in most battleground states.
Trump has mocked Biden’s small crowd sizes, marveled at his own turnout and cited it as a sign of a looming “red wave.”
Alan Abramowitz, an Emory University professor who studied Trump’s rally impact in the 2016 and 2018 cycles, found they didn’t move the needle in the states where they were held. He expects the same in 2020.
“It doesn’t seem like you’re getting any additional benefit,” he said.
For his part, Biden said in Pennsylvania that the reason his strategy looks different is that “we’re not putting out super spreaders,” referring to events that widely transmit the virus. “Everybody’s wearing a mask and trying as best as we can to be socially distanced,” he said.
Trump appears to bask in the thousands of people who flock to each rally, many from out of state, and the rock-concert atmosphere.
The campaign collects contact information from anyone who signs up to attend, allowing them to identify potential
new voters. Trump has lately taken to asking crowds if they’ve already voted — drawing only scant cheers at his first rally Monday, whereas more cheered when asked if they still had to vote. The crowd erupted when he asked if they’d all vote for him.