Jason Sattler, Opinion columnist
Published 4:00 a.m. ET July 6, 2020 | Updated 2:26 p.m. ET July 6, 2020
The news cycle is jampacked with polls. But have you ever wondered how polls actually work and what they mean?
Request an absentee ballot ASAP, preach patience ahead of what could be an Election Week, and remember Trump doesn't even need to win in order to win.
Soon many Americans will begin wearing out the refresh buttons on their browsers, hoping that an overdose of polls, voter data and the mystical models that interpret them will grant us some certainty about what will happen in the Nov. 3 election. And every click will be a waste of bandwidth. You’d be better off washing your hands for the trillionth time.
No matter how promising the outlook may occasionally look for presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden, remember that President Donald Trump doesn’t even need to win in order to win. He just needs to keep enough voters from casting a ballot to slip through the Electoral College, again.
This election is too important to bet it on America’s limited ability to grok statistics. Here’s why anyone who cares about trouncing Trump should pretend the presidential polls and models have all been canceled:
►No poll can account for the toxic mix of voter suppression, COVID-19 and a president of the United States willing to use every power at his disposal to prevent Americans from voting.
The pandemic sending the U.S. economy back into a medical coma for the second time in months has already crushed voter registration. Despite the White House admitting that we’re likely to face a potentially worse second wave in the fall, Trump has declared a holy war on his favorite method of casting a ballot: mail-in voting, which he has called his “biggest risk” to getting reelected.
Though voting by mail is even more secure than voting in person, Trump is desperate to get voters to have to wait in lines to vote. Why? “Trump’s reelection strategy appears to depend on cutting off channels for voters to have polling places and then sending operatives and right-wingers to intimidate and suppress voters in person,” says Ben Wikler, chair of the Wisconsin Democratic Party.
And with a deadly virus raging and new voter suppression tools at his disposal that the GOP hasn’t had in decades, Trump’s strategy makes a lot more sense than anyone who loves democracy would like to admit.
►Trump will lie, cheat and steal in order to keep the one job that prevents him from being indicted — and his party will help him.
Since this year has already been the longest decade of our lifetime, it’s easy to forget that this president was recently impeached for trying to extort a foreign government into wrecking Biden's candidacy. And every Republican in the Senate, except Utah's Mitt Romney, gave him a license to do the same thing again. It isn’t just the quislings in the Senate inviting Trump to use the nearly unlimited power of the presidency to win in November. Attorney General William Barr — aka the Cover-Up General — has done his best to establish a kingly immunity for Trump.
►Trump will never stop using his favorite strategy: strategic racism. Why is Trump defending the Confederacy more vigorously than the state of Mississippi? He recognizes that if he can keep dividing America based on race, he can still win.
Tickling America's racism bone
While the Black lives matter movement is reaching new heights of popularity and America is more diverse than ever, white people made up the vast majority of voters in 2016 and surely will in 2020. “Dividing the races has been the principal weapon of the rich in the class war they are winning,” says Ian Haney López, author of “Dog Whistle Politics.” And there’s nothing — except, perhaps, golf — that Trump is more dedicated to than tickling America’s overly developed racism bone.
►Trump has recaptured his greatest advantage from the last presidential election — people don’t think he can win. Racism isn’t the only weapon from 2016 has in his arsenal. Polling that shows him losing in the way he deserves to be could lead to a numbing effect, especially after Trump spends more than half a billion dollars to convince voters barely paying attention that Biden is as flawed as Trump, so why not vote third party or just stay home!
Even a joking Kanye West write-in candidacy would be risky. A lot of people too cowardly to admit they want a second Trump term, or too confident Biden was winning, would be able to peel away crucial votes from Biden in states that could be decided by skin-tight margins.
Get those absentee ballots now
If it worked in 2016, there’s no reason to believe it can’t work when Trump has more power and money behind him. And he and the billionaires he has paid off with tax cuts, bailout funds and shredded consumer protections now have far more to lose.
►Even if he loses, it’s not over. Nov. 3 may see the first presidential election in decades where we won't know the winner on election night, or maybe even election week. Trump's constant whining is laying the groundwork to contest this election. Delays will only fuel this effort.
From the Editorial Board: Coronavirus makes voting by mail even more important
What can we do instead of gorging on poll numbers?
First, we need to “flatten the absentee ballot request curve” so there isn't a last-minute spike, says election expert Richard Hasen. If you’re eligible, request your absentee ballot as soon as you can. And make sure everyone else you know does, too.
Support candidates up and down the ballot any way possible. And preach the virtues of patience over polling as we prepare for the results of the only poll that counts — the one Trump will, hopefully, be whining about for the rest of his life.
Jason Sattler, a writer based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, is a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors and host of “The GOTMFV Show” podcast. Follow him on Twitter: @LOLGOP
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