New York Times 'Analysis': Heads Trump Wins, Tails Biden Loses
On Wednesday, the New York Times published an analysis of the results from the Tuesday elections. You would think it would be a positive piece, wouldn’t you? There were Democratic wins across the board. Abortion amendment passes in Ohio! Democrat wins governor's race in deep red Kentucky! Democrats take control of Virginia legislature, fending off move by Governor Sweater-Vest to restrict abortion! Democrats win back a seat on the Pennsylvania supreme court!
Where’s the dark cloud over those results? Well, it’s in the Wednesday Times piece by Nate Cohn in a subscriber-only newsletter called – are you ready? – "The Tilt." Here’s the title: “Tuesday Was Great for Democrats. It Doesn’t Change the Outlook for 2024.”
Of course it doesn’t! They may as well have headlined the good news for the Democrats on Tuesday, “But Her Emails!” Given Tuesday’s results, how does Cohn find a rock in the oyster instead of a pearl? Why, he starts out by putting the Tuesday election in the category of special elections, in which Democrats have had good results ever since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. Cohn tells us that these are so called low-turnout elections, which “favor highly engaged voters,” and it’s because of this that the Tuesday results were so good for Democrats.
There’s a problem with this analysis, however. The election in Virginia to pick state senators and representatives was not a special election; nor was the election in Kentucky to pick a governor. Even though a late poll in the state suggested the election was a dead heat, Governor Andy Beshear beat Republican Daniel Cameron by 67,174 votes. In 2019, Beshear beat his Republican opponent, incumbent Governor Matt Bevin, by only 5,136 votes. As expected, turnout was down in Virginia from the 2021 election, when elections for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general were on the ballot. Democrats held their margin of control in the state Senate, and gained control of the House of Delegates, but according to the Washington Post, the two races that determined control of both bodies were won by Democrats by comparatively wide margins: by three percent in the race that flipped the House, and by three percent in the race that kept the Senate in Democratic control.
Cohn spent a good deal of verbiage reconciling Tuesday’s strong Democratic results with Biden’s poor showing in the Sunday Times/Siena poll that showed him trailing Trump in six battleground states. “The polls and the election results are surprisingly easy to reconcile,” Cohn wrote. “The surveys show millions of voters who dislike Mr. Biden but remain receptive to other Democrats and support liberal causes. The polls also show Democrats with particular strength among the most highly engaged voters, who dominate low-turnout elections like Tuesday’s, while Mr. Trump shows his greatest strength among the less engaged voters who turn out only in presidential races.”
He’s defending the Times/Sienna poll that Democrats don’t like because it shows their guy appears to be weak one year out from next year’s presidential election. He points to political polling before the Tuesday elections that predicted wins by Democrats. In Kentucky, polls varied, but they showed Governor Beshear ahead by two percent to eight percent. He won by five percent. In Ohio, before the election, the abortion rights amendment had about 58 percent support among probable voters. It won by 57 percent. As Teagan Goddard put it in his Political Wire blog, “There were no surprises.”
So, if Democrats did so well on Tuesday in a special election for a state constitutional amendment and in off-year elections for governor and a state legislature, why the terrible results in the Times/Siena poll last Sunday? Cohn puts it this way: “Well, the implication is that the polling shows millions of people who dislike the president but support abortion rights and other Democrats.”
Do you see what’s missing from both the Times headline on Cohn’s story and his analysis of the Tuesday results favoring Democrats?
The name Donald Trump.
Polling was accurate about Democratic support for abortion rights in Ohio, although in order to reach 57 percent of the vote on the constitutional amendment, a whole lot of Republican votes had be in there somewhere. Polls were accurate in the Kentucky governor’s race and the Virginia race to control the legislature.
Where polls get twisted is when Trump’s name is there. I think the results of the Times/Siena poll don’t show Trump’s support as much as they show questions voters have about Biden with inflation high, two brutal wars being fought overseas, and Donald Trump absolutely dominating Republicans in the presidential primary. He is not just the presumptive nominee. There isn’t anyone else Republicans are even close to supporting. So, when a poll comes down to a choice between Biden, whose strength with older Democrats appears strong but questionable among younger voters, and Trump, who has his whole party by the throat, you can see where the numbers are going to go.
Cohn’s analysis in his aptly named column, “The Tilt,” really goes wrong when he writes a column about the Tuesday election in which he, in the words of Talking Points Memo editor Josh Marshall, “says the results confirmed the findings of their poll.”
Tuesday’s strong results by Democrats don’t confirm a poll that says Trump is ahead in an election that is a year off in the future. Only a newspaper that spent thousands of inches trying to hang something called “Whitewater” around the neck of President Bill Clinton in the 90’s, and just as many thousands of words embroidering “But her emails” into every mention of Hillary Clinton in 2016, would see actual election results favoring Democrats confirming poll results favoring Donald Trump. I mean, there are polls and there are elections, and the only one that counts is the one where actual voters walk into a booth and mark a ballot.
Lucian K. Truscott IV, a graduate of West Point, has had a 50-year career as a journalist, novelist, and screenwriter. He has covered Watergate, the Stonewall riots, and wars in Lebanon, Iraq, and Afghanistan. He is also the author of five bestselling novels. You can subscribe to his daily columns at luciantruscott.substack.com and follow him on Twitter @LucianKTruscott and on Facebook at Lucian K. Truscott IV.
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