Skip to content
The Morning Dispatch: One More Week on the Trail
Go to my account

The Morning Dispatch: One More Week on the Trail

Plus: A closer look at recent political unrest in Nigeria.

Happy Tuesday! We will never speak of last night’s Bears game again. (Editor’s note: Oh, yes we will.)

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • The Senate officially confirmed Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court Monday evening by a 52-48 vote. Justice Clarence Thomas administered the constitutional oath to Barrett in a ceremony at the White House following the vote.

  • The ceasefire between Armenia and Azerbaijan brokered by the White House over the weekend did not last long, with the two nations accusing each other of violating its terms just hours after it was supposed to go into effect on Monday.

  • NASA announced on Monday that it has confirmed the existence of water on the moon’s sunlit surface for the first time. The amount of water is “100 times less than what’s found in the Sahara Desert,” NASA said in a blog post, but “discovering even small amounts raises new questions about how this precious resource is created and persists on the harsh, airless lunar surface.”

  • Authorities in Southern California have ordered about 100,000 people to evacuate as a fire envelops 11 square miles in Orange County. Two firefighters were seriously injured battling the blaze, which a local utility company believes its equipment sparked.

  • Markets slid on Monday, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average falling 650 points and all 11 sectors of the S&P 500 experiencing losses. Analysts blamed rising coronavirus cases and dimming stimulus prospects.

  • The Supreme Court on Monday voted five to three to reject the six-day absentee ballot receipt extension in Wisconsin that a U.S. District Court judge issued last month. Absentee ballots in Wisconsin will need to arrive on or before Election Day to be counted.

  • British pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca announced yesterday the COVID-19 vaccine it is developing in conjunction with Oxford University is showing a promising immune response and low levels of adverse reactions in adults. AstraZeneca vaccine trials were paused in the United States until last week so the FDA could investigate a possible side effect.

  • The United States confirmed 66,127 new cases of COVID-19 yesterday per the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 Dashboard, with 5.6 percent of the 1,181,685 tests reported coming back positive. An additional 474 deaths were attributed to the virus on Monday, bringing the pandemic’s American death toll to 225,689. According to the COVID Tracking Project, 42,917 Americans are currently hospitalized with COVID-19.

A Tale of Two Campaign Strategies

It’s no secret that Donald Trump loves his campaign rallies. Just minutes after returning to the White House from Walter Reed Medical Center earlier this month, he tweeted that he’d “be back on the Campaign Trail soon!!!” A few days later, he was.

With just a week left of voting, Trump’s schedule is packed; he’s holding up to three rallies a day in an effort to juice turnout in swing states. The president will make campaign stops in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Nebraska today, hitting Nevada and Arizona tomorrow. Vice President Mike Pence hasn’t let exposure to several COVID-infected staffers keep him off the trail, either. His office says he tested negative for the coronavirus both Sunday and Monday.

The Trump campaign’s crisscrossing of the country stands in stark contrast with the Biden team’s approach. The former vice president went nearly the entire spring and most of the summer without holding in-person events outside of his home state of Delaware, opting instead for what is colloquially known as a “front porch” campaign. And Team Trump has mocked him relentlessly for it. “He said he doesn’t do these kinds of rallies because of Covid,” the president told a crowd of supporters outside an airport hangar in Pennsylvania on Monday. “No, he doesn’t do them because nobody shows up.”

“It is now established that Joe Biden prefers campaigning from the comfort of his basement in Wilmington, DE, instead of traveling the country meeting voters and making the case for his candidacy,” a Trump campaign memo from June reads. “This is obviously a tactic to help him avoid errors and embarrassing, lost trains of thought, while also conveniently preventing the press corps from asking him any questions in person.”

The former vice president has his own rationale. “The big difference between us, and the reason why it looks like we’re not traveling,” Biden said on Monday, “we’re not putting on superspreaders.” But Biden is hitting the road this week. He’ll be in Georgia today, Florida on Thursday, and Iowa and Wisconsin on Friday. Sen. Kamala Harris is slated to visit Texas on Friday.

It’s undoubtedly true Joe Biden has held fewer campaign events than Trump in recent months, and those events have attracted smaller crowds than the president’s rallies. Yet the former vice president continues to maintain a near-10-point lead over Trump nationally, and election models peg his chances of winning at almost nine in ten. Do rallies not matter? Will Biden’s mostly online campaign backfire come November 3?

Trump supporters maintain that the president’s rallies were one of the secret ingredients in his surprise victory four years ago. But if you run the numbers, there’s little evidence to suggest that his in-person campaign events in battleground states gave him a leg up over Hillary Clinton in 2016. Though Trump outperformed Romney in several key states, notes Alan Abramowitz in a piece for University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, Trump’s “performance relative to Romney was not affected by the number of events that he held in a state compared with Clinton.”

Political rallies can have downstream effects in terms of energizing base voters and racking up donations, but the key takeaway is that they don’t seem to matter nearly as much as campaign operatives tend to think. Research also suggests that rallies have a limited ability to persuade voters.

After testing their hypothesis in 49 field experiments, Berkeley graduate students David Broockman and Joshua Kalla concluded that the persuasive effect of advertising and campaign contact is essentially zero—with a few exceptions. “In both existing and our original experiments, persuasive effects only appear to emerge in two rare circumstances,” the researchers wrote in a 2017 paper in the American Political Science Review. “First, when candidates take unusually unpopular positions and campaigns invest unusually heavily in identifying persuadable voters. Second, when campaigns contact voters long before election day and measure effects immediately—although this early persuasion decays.” 

At this stage in the game, Trump’s campaign isn’t focused on persuadables: It’s a base turnout operation through and through. For Trump’s biggest superfans, showing up to the president’s rallies is almost as important as turning out to the polls. “I can’t imagine how—I’m not going to say depressed—but how much he must need a rally,” Cindy Hoffman, a Trump supporter, told Andrew in June. “I mean, he just beams with excitement when he sees us all there. He just comes alive. And I just feel so sorry for him, every day, every day all this crap they’re doing, no matter which way he turns.” Sarah breaks down this psychological phenomenon in today’s edition of The Sweep:

The theory is that rallies have the same effect as getting folks to donate under $20. It’s not the attendance at the rally or the amount of money, it’s building attachment to the candidate by ensuring the voter has psychologically invested. When voters attend that rally, they are surrounded by other supporters and subconsciously start to identify themselves as part of a group, “Trump supporters.” Group identity, of course, is great if you want to boost someone’s chances of voting. They become defensive of the group and—at least the campaign hopes—don’t want to let the group down. 

It’s become something of a meme over the past four years that Hillary Clinton opted to campaign in Arizona in the days leading up to the 2016 election rather than the Midwestern states that would prove crucial to Trump’s victory. The Biden campaign—based on the ticket’s travel schedule this week—seems to be trying to have it both ways. By hitting largely Republican states Georgia and Texas in the campaign’s closing days, Biden and Harris are looking to run up the score on Trump—and possibly help Democratic senate candidates cross the finish line in the process. Spending time in Pennsylvania last weekend and Wisconsin on Friday, they are also hoping to shore up their path to 270 electoral votes.

Unrest in Nigeria

We’ve included Quick Hits in recent days about protests in Nigeria and the government’s violent response to them. In a piece for the site today, Charlotte dug in further, looking to understand the broader context of the situation.

What’s been happening?

Protests against police brutality erupted in Nigeria after social media circulated reports of an unarmed youth shot and killed by an officer with the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), a police force that stokes terror among Nigeria’s civilian population through torture and extrajudicial killings with near-impunity. The movement, which began in Lagos, has since expanded to a nationwide call to end the country’s governmental corruption and mismanagement, crippling economic stratification, and rampant human rights abuses. When Nigerian soldiers opened fire on peaceful protesters at Lekki Toll Gate on October 20, the international community also joined forces.

Though estimates vary dramatically, Amnesty International reports that at least 12 individuals were killed during the Lekki massacre.

What’s the history of this Special Anti-Robbery Squad?

John Campbell, a former U.S. ambassador to Nigeria, explained how the harsh tactics used in Nigerian policing have their roots in British colonialism. “The Nigerian police service, like the Nigerian army, was established under the British. They were both designed to control the population, not to protect the population. This dates back to long before independence,” Campbell said. “Independence, essentially, brought no change. And whether the government is military or civilian—the army, police, and other security services are primarily concerned with protecting the regime in power.”

Even after the establishment of what is—at least on its face and in its foundational language—a republican system, autocratic practices persisted. “Between 1999 and 2007, under President Obasanjo, there were several incidents of police brutality,” Ayo Sogunro, a prominent Nigerian author and human rights lawyer, told The Dispatch. “There were several incidents of police shooting into crowds and there were at least two major incidents of the army bombing villages and wiping out everybody in brutal massacres. Nobody was punished or held accountable for these incidents.”

According to an Amnesty International report from June 2020, detainees in the custody of SARS “have been subjected to a variety of methods of torture including hanging, mock execution, beating, punching and kicking, burning with cigarettes, waterboarding, near-asphyxiation with plastic bags, forcing detainees to assume stressful bodily positions and sexual violence.” The report also notes that, to date, none of the perpetrators of these acts of violence have been held responsible by the Nigerian government.

Worth Your Time

  • In a piece for New York Magazine, Olivia Nuzzi profiled one of the “anonymous Republican sources” she’s relied on throughout the Trump presidency. It’s a fascinating look at how prominent Republican figures have stood by the president in public to advance their careers while dishing about him anonymously to any reporter who will listen. “This is a man who is so completely alien to what this country — the best principles of what this country is about,” the source told Nuzzi. “When I think about the fact that a hundred years from now, people will look back and say, ‘How the f*** did they think this was normal?,’ it makes me sad for the country. He’s a permanent scar on the face of our country.” But he works for one of the most powerful people in the country, and hasn’t said anything with his name attached. In the piece, Nuzzi grapples with the media’s role in this charade: “If the choice is between being lied to on the record or told the truth ‘on background’ (the technical term for anonymity),” she writes. “I will choose the truth every time—even though every time I choose the anonymous truth, I make it easier for this system of secrecy to continue.”

  • It’s been nine months since the coronavirus dramatically changed our lives here in the United States—and the problem of pandemic fatigue is real. Wall Street Journal reporters Stacy Meichtry, Joanna Sugden, and Andrew Barnett document the country’s loosening adherence to CDC guidance and the overwhelming desire for things to go “back to normal” despite being in the midst of a third surge. “Hospital staff world-wide are demoralized after seven months of virus-fighting triage,” they write. “The wartime rhetoric that world leaders initially used to rally support is gone. Family members who willingly sealed themselves off during spring lockdowns are suddenly finding it hard to resist the urge to reunite.” But too much pandemic fatigue, they add, fuels a vicious cycle: “A tired public tends to let its guard down, triggering more infections and restrictions that in turn compound the fatigue.”

Presented Without Comment

Also Presented Without Comment

Toeing the Company Line

  • Did you know voters this year have already cast nearly 50 percent of the total ballots counted in the 2016 election? In yesterday’s Advisory Opinions, David and Sarah broke down what this could mean for voter turnout and partisan advantage next week. They also took a look at the Justice Department’s antitrust case against Google and some thoughts about adulthood.

  • Sarah’s latest edition of The Sweep dives into the mailbag to answer questions about the differences between internal and public polls, whether rallies help candidates, and more. 

Let Us Know

Eight months into this thing, how is “pandemic fatigue” manifesting in your life? Are you doing things now you wouldn’t have in the spring, or in September? How has your risk tolerance shifted?

Reporting by Declan Garvey (@declanpgarvey), Andrew Egger (@EggerDC), Audrey Fahlberg (@FahlOutBerg), Charlotte Lawson (@charlotteUVA), James P. Sutton (@jamespsuttonsf), and Steve Hayes (@stephenfhayes).

Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images.