Why the stability of the 2020 race promises more volatility ahead

The durability of both support and opposition to Trump shows how the motivation for voters’ choices is shifting from transitory measures of performance, such as the traditional metrics of peace and prosperity, toward bedrock attitudes about demographic, cultural and economic change. The immovability of the battle lines in 2020 captures how thoroughly the two parties are now unified — and separated — by their contrasting attitudes toward these fundamental changes, with Trump mobilizing overwhelming support from the voters who are hostile to them, no matter what else happens, and the contrasting coalition of Americans who welcome this evolution flocking toward the Democrats.

“That is certainly what gives Trump a floor: By stoking those cultural war fires you are going to win over a certain share of the electorate that has this more racist and sexist and xenophobic views,” says Brian Schaffner, a Tufts University political scientist who has extensively studied the correlation between political preferences and cultural attitudes. “But it also prevents him from winning over these other people who would otherwise be conservative or be open to voting Republican, but simply can’t stomach that culture war stuff he is so focused on.”

In the near term, this alignment has produced a campaign dynamic in which Trump consistently trails Biden, but not so severely that despite all the controversies that might have capsized an earlier incumbent, he cannot squeeze out another narrow win in the Electoral College.