A right-wing powder keg: How conservative media is convincing Trump fans that he's winning bigly

A right-wing powder keg: How conservative media is convincing Trump fans that he's winning bigly
Photo via Gage Skidmore.

Over the weekend, NPR interviewed some anxious voters. One, a Trump-supporter, said that his biggest worry was that Trump needed to win in a landslide to keep the left from claiming that the election was stolen. That Trump would win wasn't in doubt.

For those who get their news from the conservative media, there is ample evidence that Trump is cruising to victory. In a National Review piece pushing back on such reports, Kevin Williamson writes that "many conservative media figures are predicting . . . a Trump landslide. This wish-casting is based on increasingly imaginative reading of the political terrain: Comedian Jimmy Failla of Fox News, for example, called a Trump "lawnslide" based on — hold your breath, now — an informal poll of truckers who were giving their estimates of the ratio of Trump yard signs to Joe Biden yard signs." Boat parades, truck caravans, how many people believe their neighbors are supporting Trump and other quicky metrics have all been the basis of arguments that the "liberal media" is lying about Trump's bleak position in the race.

On a press call earlier this month, Trump campaign advisor Corey Lewandowski told reporters that based on the campaign's internal polling, as well as grassroots enthusiasm within Trump's base, it was quickly becoming "mathematically impossible for Joe Biden to win this campaign." Pro-Trump media outlets ran with it.

Serious election observers agree that it's always best to focus on the polling averages rather than individual surveys because the former aren't as noisy or prone to sampling errors. But throughout October, The Washington Examiner columnist Paul Bedard has written a series of posts painting a picture of Trump surging from behind to take a clear lead in carefully cherry-picked polls conducted by firms that are known for their strong pro-GOP "house effect," or lean. Most of them are write-ups of the latest Rasmussen polls. Rasmussen currently has Trump's approval rating at 51 percent, a very different picture than his 42.5 percent approval rate in FiveThirtyEight's polling average or the 44 percent in RealClearPolitics'. On Monday, when Rasmussen's tracking poll gave Trump a narrow lead nationally and pegged Trump's approval at 52 percent, Bedard noted that being over 50 percent is "a key factor to winning reelection. Former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama were both at 50% when they edged out reelection victories."

Trump could win this election--his chances are probably better than the 12 percent likelihood FiveThirtyEight's forecast model gives him due to issues with mail ballots and potentially adverse rulings by partisan courts--but it's hard to overstate how unmoored from reality the view that he's presently leading in the race really is. Trump is the first president in the modern polling era whose disapproval rating exceeded his approval rating in his first month in office and he has remained under water in that metric for his entire presidency, usually by around ten points. The presidential race has been historically stable, with Joe Biden leading Trump nationally by an average of 6 points all of last year, and expanding that lead to around 9 percentage points at present. Biden's also been ahead in the top battleground states for every day of the race.

The shared goal of the Trump campaign and its sprawling propaganda network in presenting an alternate reality of the race is to keep donors writing checks and the Republican base engaged. Amid a raging pandemic, it's not hard to imagine some voters who support a candidate trailing by a large margin deciding they'll sit this one out, especially if they face long lines at the polls to cast a vote.

But in doing so, they're creating a powder keg. The narrative that Trump is poised to win a second term is being pushed by the same politicians and media outlets that have spent years advancing a big, consequential lie that voter fraud is widespread in the United States. Taken together, they are telling millions of perpetually angry Trump supporters that he can only lose as a result of foul play.

This reckless effort to keep their voters engaged is coming at a time when experts are sounding alarms over the potential for violence surrounding this election. In this case, their habitual dishonesty is incredibly dangerous.

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