How Will Unrest Impact the Election?

Robert Brooks Contributor
How Will Unrest Impact the Election?
Read Time: approx. 3:33

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How Will Unrest Impact the Election? Last night roughly “200 people marched to the Pearl District condominium tower where Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler lives to demand his resignation,” Jamie Hale reports for the Oregonian. “The demonstration quickly turned destructive as some in the crowd lit a fire in the street, then placed a picnic table from a nearby business above the fire to feed the blaze. People shattered windows and broke into a ground-floor dental office took items including a chair, also added to the fire, and office supplies.” The ongoing civil unrest in Portland and flare-ups in places like Kenosha, Wisconsin is quickly shaping up to be a top election issue. Fueling this debate are two recent, headline-dominating events. The first is a recent Marquette Law School poll of registered voters in Wisconsin, a battleground state, and their support for Black Lives Matter protests. The second is Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s statements last night condemning political violence across the country. “I want to be very clear about all of this: Rioting is not protesting, looting is not protesting, setting fires is not protesting,” Biden said. “It’s lawlessness, plain and simple. And those who do it should be prosecuted.” The former vice president continued, “You know me. You know my heart. You know my story, my family’s story. Ask yourself: Do I look like a radical socialist with a soft spot for rioters? Really?” For his part, President Donald Trump claims rising rates of violent crime in cities throughout the US, as well as ongoing riots in Portland, Oregon, are the fault of local Democratic leadership. Both sides had different opinions of the polling data and Biden’s latest remarks. Here’s how it’s playing out across the political spectrum:

On the RightTom Ozimek writes for the Epoch Times that the “Marquette Law School poll shows that, between June and August, support in Wisconsin for the Black Lives Matter protests dropped sharply, while sentiment about the movement itself also [had] a significant decline. Ozimek notes that the “poll, released on Aug. 26, sought to gauge public reaction in Wisconsin to the death of George Floyd in police custody and the ensuing mass protests, some of which have been marred by violence. It does not reflect any potential shifts in public sentiment following the Jacob Blake shooting and incidents in Kenosha, Wisconsin, as the data was collected prior to those events.” With that said, Ozimek points out that “In June, 59 percent of Wisconsin respondents said they had a favorable view of the Black Lives Matter movement. The percentage of people saying they have a positive view of the movement dropped to 49 percent in August. A similar dynamic was observed in regards to people seeing Black Lives Matter in a negative light, with 27 percent in June saying they had an unfavorable view of the movement, while in August, 37 percent expressed this view.” In regards to Biden’s latest comments, Eddie Scarry writes in the Washington Examiner that his “statements on the violence and riots is way too little, way too late.” Scarry says that “after three months of violence, vandalism, and arson in our biggest cities, all of it excused and encouraged by Democrats, we’re supposed to be impressed that the party’s presidential nominee released a statement calling it ‘unacceptable.’ But it’s far too late for Democrats to pretend that they didn’t overtly advocate for and make excuses for this horror show. They’ve only changed their tune now because street violence, chaos, death, and fiery destruction are not exactly political winners — who knew?! That doesn’t mean we should forget that right up until last week, they thought and said that it was fantastic.” Scarry says “Biden’s running mate, Kamala Harris, said back in June that ‘everyone beware’ because the protests are ‘not going to let up, and they should not, and we should not.’ Democratic Rep. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts said in an interview on MSNBC, “There needs to be unrest in the streets.’ In 2018, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi questioned why there weren’t yet ‘uprisings all over the country’ over Trump’s policies. Then, of course, the media was there with a helpful assist in attempting to distinguish the mass rioting from the ‘mostly peaceful’ protests even as reporters stood in front of buildings and streets that had literally been turned into bonfires.” Scarry concludes by saying “Now that the polls show support for the Black Lives Matter protests cratering, the Biden campaign has released a strongly worded statement. Good for him. I wonder whether voters will be impressed, given that, for three months, Democrats have been creating and encouraging this mess and resisting every effort from federal authorities to restore order to our cities.”

On the LeftWriting for the Washington Post Aaron Blake, refers to the same Marquette Law School poll mentioned above saying, “the spikes we saw in favor of Black Lives Matter protesters following the police killing George Floyd in Minneapolis [have] subsided. While polls after Floyd’s death show big increases in support for Black Lives Matter and a belief in systemic racism in American law enforcement, recent polls suggest things returning closer to the mean.” Blake says the reason for this is “White Wisconsinites. There was almost no shift among racial minorities, but Whites in the poll moved from 21 points in favor of the movement (59-38) to six points against (45-51).” Citing other polls, Blake points to ones from outlets like “FiveThirtyEight [which] also found a recent decline in support for the movement among White Americans.” Blake notes that “Plenty may have changed in the past week, following the police shooting of [Jacob] Blake. What’s more, attaching Biden to the violence is not only undermined by the fact that these scenes have occurred during the Trump presidency, but also by Biden himself having denounced the violence. He has clearly and repeatedly said such tactics are not the answer.” Matthew Yglesias echoes this assertion for Vox, writing that “Civil unrest is happening in Donald Trump’s America, not Joe Biden’s.” Yglesias begins by noting that “starting in 1994, the US murder rate had fallen consistently for 20 years. Violent crime had fallen so much that nobody talked about it anymore as a political issue.” Now after a bump in 2015 and 2016,  Murder is on the rise again after ticking down for a few years, and acts of looting and vandalism are occurring in cities across the country. But Donald Trump is the president of the United States. He promised four years ago to restore safety and bring law and order to our streets. He never bothered to articulate a message about how he would do that, but it didn’t matter. He was the ‘law and order’ candidate. But today he’s a candidate with a record. A record of rising crime and urban disorder, and a record that makes it clear he has no idea how to make any of it better — and is intervening in several ways to make it worse.” In regards to Biden’s recent remarks about the unrest, CNN anchor Don Lemon praised Biden for condemning the riots, insisting that he has put President Trump “on his heels.” Last week Lemon made a bid to Biden to address the issue. “He’s got to come out to talk about it. He’s got to do a speech like Barack Obama did about race,” Lemon said. “The rioting has to stop… it’s showing up in the polling; it’s showing up in focus groups; it is the only thing right now that is sticking.” Lemon said that President Trump “can’t run on his record” despite what the “propaganda videos and speeches” claimed during last week’s Republican National Convention. “Joe Biden put him on his heels today,” Lemon continued, also saying that Trump only wants to “terrify” Americans into voting for him in November.

Flag This: There were a few aspects of this breakdown and the research that went into it that stuck out to us. First, were the ways in which different outlets characterized the polling data, which we bolded in each section above. Right leaning outlets referred to the Marquette Law School data and support for Black Lives Matter as dropping sharply whereas left leaning outlets said the same figures simply showed it reverting closer to the mean. This is just an interesting example of how a few words can impact a reader’s perspective on an issue immensely. Secondly, we didn’t include this opinion piece but we found it fascinating nonetheless. Writing for The Nation, which leans very far left, author Elie Mystal criticized other left leaning outlets for highlighting the wrong issues above. Referring to “mainstream media” Mystal says, that “Instead of maintaining focus on the state-sponsored terrorism faced by Black people, or the calls to end it, the media can’t help itself from devolving into cynical horse-race coverage that centers on white voters and their reactions to the protests. The Atlantic ran a piece preemptively blaming protests for a Biden electoral defeat. The New York Times ran a piece warning that ‘chaos’s was swaying white voters in Wisconsin. Andrew Sullivan wrote that the Democrats walked into a “trap” because a 17-year-old white boy shot people in the street, thus somehow proving that the Democrats do not respect ‘law and order.’” The reason we point this out is because its notable that there are chasms even within the same general ideological bubbles. The right falls victim to this as well. A high-profile example would be President Trump chiding Fox News for not giving him favorable coverage. Lastly, the question we began with, about how unrest will impact the election, was probably best summarized by Mike Allen of Axios, which is ranked as an outlet that is more or less down the middle. Allen writes that “Democrats close to Joe Biden increasingly fear the looting and violence in cities could help President Trump, especially among the few undecided or wavering Americans.” Allen points to comments from high-profile figures on the left like David Axelrod who warned fellow Dems about Trump’s effort to shift attention from COVID and unemployment to “law and order”: “[T]he timing of unrest in Kenosha has been a gift to him in that project.” In conclusion, a quote from a piece by John McCormick, writing for the Wall Street Journal’s news team seemed like a fitting way to end this analysis. (It should be noted that the WSJ news team is ranked as more or less down the middle whereas the WSJ Editorial Board is right leaning.) Writing from Kenosha, Wisconsin McCormick notes the “region [is] filled with the sort of suburban voters that are a key ingredient in the formula for winning this state and others in November’s election,” providing the following quote: “When I see people burning the flag and burning down property, it sickens me,” Susan Nelson, a 67-year-old suburban Kenosha resident, said before entering a grocery store with plywood covering its doors and windows to protect against looting. “It’s like a war zone.” McCormick says, “Ms. Nelson, [is] a retired teacher and school superintendent who considers herself an independent voter, said she voted for President Trump in 2016, but she remains undecided in the current contest.” President Trump is heading to Kenosha, Wisconsin today.