POLK COUNTY — Kris Golly looks into her heart and expresses cheerful optimism that Donald Trump will be re-elected president next week.
Edwin Dover, meanwhile, looks into the arithmetic and predicts with equal confidence that Trump will be defeated by former Vice President Joe Biden.
Dover is a professor emeritus of political science at Western Oregon University and served as the chair of the political science department. Golly is one of the vice chairs of the Polk County Republicans.
They look at the looming election from completely different perspectives and see completely different outcomes.
Golly just knows in her heart that voters will re-elect Trump.
“I feel like the people of the United States believe in him,” she said. “I don’t think he’s going to win because of something he’s going to do leading up to the election. It’s the love he has for America and the American people. People who see that are going to rise up and vote.”
Dover has written six books and numerous papers dealing with presidential elections, voting patterns, news coverage and electoral disputes. He’s been studying election trends since he was a teenager in the 1960s.
He said the numbers look good for Biden and bad for Trump. Polls show Biden consistently outpacing Trump, even in key battleground states.
Yet many Democrats remain jittery. They remember Hillary Clinton leading in the polls in 2016 right up until Election Day when Trump pulled a surprise victory. Dover said 2020 is different. Clinton never led Trump by more than six or seven points. Biden maintains a lead often twice that size.
Clinton was also too confident, Dover said. Encouraged by her poll numbers, she withdrew money from crucial states such as Wisconsin and Michigan and all but abandoned her ground game in those areas. Biden’s forces are not about to make the same mistake twice, he said.
Biden’s lead is also consistent. His approval in national polls rarely drops below 55%. Meanwhile, Trump is consistently in the 40s.
“Despite all the noise, this has been an election where the polling has been remarkably consistent,” Dover said. “That’s exactly the way it’s been since Biden announced his candidacy a year and a half ago. I’ve never seen anything like this.”
Polls usually fluctuate in the weeks just prior to a presidential election, he said, as October surprises hit both candidates. Allegations against Biden’s son Hunter for alleged back-door dealings in Ukraine and revelations about Trump’s secret Chinese bank account and tax payments to the Chinese government would ordinarily affect poll numbers.
There’s been barely a ripple, Dover said.
“People made up their minds a long time ago,” he said. “I don’t see any movement.”
While there were more undecided voters in 2016, he added, it is important to understand the nature of undecided voters. In a local school board race, for example, voters remain undecided because they don’t really know much about the candidates.
“With presidential elections, it’s hard to be undecided,” Dover said. “Undecided voters have decided they don’t like either candidate. The trick is to figure out who they are going to vote against.”
Most undecided voters in 2016 were Republicans, Dover said. They were unhappy with Donald Trump, but they absolutely reviled Hillary Clinton.
Not everyone shares Dover’s assessment of the trends and math.
Nate Silver, the creator of the influential FiveThirtyEight website that tracks and analyzes odds and trends, said prognosticators shouldn’t rule out the chance of another Trump upset.
“I just think people need to be exceptionally careful,” he told the Associated Press last week.
Trump may have a 29% chance of winning, but Silver told the AP that a 0.290 batting average is pretty decent in baseball.
And a 71% chance of winning is not a 100% chance of winning, he added — especially against a sitting president who not only beat the odds in 2016, but has since withstood impeachment and COVID-19 while regularly making statements and taking actions that would scuttle any other political career.
Plus, Trump is already challenging the voting process. His campaign filed a lawsuit last week to stop officials in Nevada from counting mail-in ballots from the heavily Democratic Las Vegas area in Clark County. The lawsuit complains that Republicans haven’t been allowed close enough to workers and machines as the votes are counted.
Political charisma is a double-edged sword, inspiring devotion in some and revulsion in others. Golly feels the former. She voted for Sen. Ted Cruz during the GOP primary in 2016 but quickly warmed to Trump.
“My support has definitely increased just seeing what he’s done for the country,” she said. “It’s so evident.”
Dover said Trump has done more to the country than for it.
The Trump administration separated more than 1,000 parents from their children under a 2017 administration pilot project. A federal judge ordered that the families be reunited, but by that time, the parents had been deported.
Lawyers appointed by the court to identify migrant families who were separated by the administration say that they have yet to track down the parents of 545 children. Fully two-thirds of the parents were deported to Central America without their children.
Given stories like this, the strength of the support for Trump after four years is incredible, Dover said. “That’s what astonishes me, that he has approval ratings in the 40s,” he said. “He should be in the 20s.”
Nonetheless, Golly predicted Trump will win easily next Tuesday.
“On a national level with Trump, many of us — and many of us in Polk County especially — believe it’s going to be a landslide,” she said.
Dover, while confident of a commanding Biden victory, cautioned against Democrats watching the results to expect a clear Election Night decision. Too many ballots will remain to be counted.
“I don’t see the election being called until probably Thursday or Friday unless it’s a real blowout,” he said.
In the end, Golly said, her candidate will overcome the forces among the press, Hollywood and other “elites” who oppose him.
“They want to see America become a socialist country, and Trump doesn’t want that, and we don’t want that,” she said.
Such sentiments represent — literally — a dying demographic in American politics, Dover said. While Golly is not a senior citizen, many of the voters among Trump’s loyal base of supporters in 2016 were 60 or older.
A significant number of them died in the last four years, said Dover.
National demographics spent that time changing, with more liberal baby boomers becoming the nation’s predominant elders. A replay of 2016 would not work out well for Trump.
“If only the people who voted last time voted this time, Clinton would pick up three states,” Dover said.
Biden picked up 1.5 million new voters in Florida this year through sheer attrition wrought by mortality, he said.
This is nothing new, Dover added. The Woodstock generation changed the face of American politics forever.
“Boomers have shown a significant change of viewpoint from other generations for years,” he said. “Who thought senior citizens would be listening to the Beatles?”
Dover said he understands how some GOP voters feel uneasy.
“There’s a real backlash against progressivism,” he said. “They’re finding they’re not part of the growing world. There are a lot of people who are frightened and insecure, and the Republican party for the last 20 years has been courting them.”
Yet the world is changing all the same, he added. A child born the day Ronald Reagan left office would be 31 years old.
“We have a whole generation born after Ronald Reagan,” he said.
When he taught at Western, Dover said, many of the freshmen in his classes were more aware of John F. Kennedy than Ronald Reagan. “Reagan was just a mystery,” he said. “I might as well have asked them to compare Ronald Reagan to John Tyler.”
For many older Republicans, Reagan remains their lodestar. “A lot of the Republicans are living in the Ronald Reagan generation,” Dover said.
The GOP needs to catch up with the 21st century and younger voters, he added. “They’ve lost a generation.”
They may also be losing a lot of their fellow Republicans. Dover noted that Republicans are also defecting from their party in astonishing numbers.
Former President George W. Bush and former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steel both announced they’re voting against Trump. Cindy McCain, the widow of the late Sen. John McCain, made a similar announcement. So did Sen. Mitt Romney.
“There are major defections, and you’re starting to see this in a lot of ways,” Dover said.
Golly said she and her fellow conservative Republicans often feel belittled and patronized by liberals who seem to think conservative equals stupid, but added it’s not a big problem. Conservatives know they’re intelligent, she said.
“We don’t give them a lot of heed.”
The Dallas resident emphasized that she is speaking solely for herself and not as a member of the Polk County Republicans. She has been active on conservative issues in the community beyond the local party politics.
Golly and her husband Jon were among the plaintiffs in an unsuccessful 2017 lawsuit against the Dallas School District’s policy allowing transgender students to use locker rooms and bathrooms matching their gender identity.
The couple brought the lawsuit, dismissed by a federal judge in 2018, as members of Parents for Privacy. Defendants included not only the school district but U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and former Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
U.S. District Court Judge Marco Hernandez dismissed the case. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed Hernandez’s dismissal of the case on Feb. 12 this year.
Dover is also politically active. He was the president of the Western Oregon University Federation of Teachers where he was also the chief negotiator in the labor union’s collective bargaining negotiations.
Both Golly and Dover feel they will be vindicated next week, but Dover predicts another portent of a bleak November for Trump and Republicans can be seen in a massive turnout for early voting — twice as much as in 2016. Dover said this thwarts Trump’s Election Night strategy to declare a victory that evening then dismiss any subsequent voters counted as fraudulent.
However, early votes are already being counted. “His strategy kind of fell apart,” he said.
Dover said he puts little stock in fears that Trump will not leave the Oval Office peacefully.
“Trump has consistently demonstrated he has a big mouth, and when you call him out, he runs away,” he said. “I think he’ll back down if people stand up to him because I think he’s a coward.”
However, even with Trump gone, Dover said the effect of the Trump administration will be felt for years to come. He would certainly leave a more conservative Supreme Court with even more conservative judges sprinkled throughout the federal appeals courts.
If Democrats take control of the Senate, said Dover, they could add justices to the Supreme Court. Or they could just change the rules. Lawmakers could require seven justices to strike down laws as unconstitutional.
Should Biden win next week, Trump and his administration will still have until Jan. 20 to leave their final imprints, That concerns some Democrats.
“That’s a real wild card,” Dover said. “The biggest question is whether Republicans in the Senate will back him.”
In addition to a defeat for Trump, he said the numbers portend a good possibility that Democrats will take control over both houses of Congress. Two-thirds of the seats up for re-election are held by increasingly unpopular Republicans.
The Oregon Legislature could also experience a blue wave.
After census figures come out next year, Eastern Oregon may lose seats in Salem because of dwindling population.
“They’re going to lose a seat or two because nothing over there except Bend is growing,” Dover said. “The rest of that area of the state is just stagnant.”
Republicans could no longer thwart legislation on such issues as greenhouse gas emissions by simply walking out of the Capitol.
“That may not happen in 2021,” he said.
Golly said she isn’t worried.
“I think redistricting is probably going to be an important thing if it’s done right and fairly,” she said.
Democrats and the press are often unfair, Golly said. The press has been particularly biased against Trump, she added. Golly herself only catches the news in bits and pieces.
“We don’t watch a lot of news,” she said. “We watch YouTube videos.”
However, she remembers watching Jim Acosta, the chief White House correspondent for CNN, with disdain.
“He was pretty awful,” she said. “He wasn’t giving facts, he was giving his opinions.”
She said other news organizations, including the Itemizer-Observer, also display left-wing bias. Republicans will still prevail, she added — especially Trump. “I think that, honestly, it’s that love for the country and the people that will win.”
Dover said Biden will prevail, and none too soon.
“I think there’s something wrong with Trump,” he said. “I think this guy has some kind of mental disorder. I’m not a mental health professional, but it’s like with your car. You don’t have to be a mechanic to know there’s something wrong with it.”