Biden's Ukraine Problem Rebounds on Trump for Swing Voters | Analysis

In the week where another TV debate created noise but very little movement in voter intentions, Trump's campaign relies ever more heavily on the notion of an 'October surprise'—the bombshell revelation that skews a US election campaign in the final weeks. The trouble is that even that prospect has been severely weakened by four years of constant surprises from the President himself. After all this, what could happen at this stage, what would make this month different, that would create anything more than a collective, resigned shrug?

Still, it doesn't stop people from trying, and not least the Iranians and Russians, according to John Ratcliffe, the director of US national intelligence, who claimed this week that both countries were actively trying to disrupt the vote.

So in that context, it's difficult to separate out what is disruption, mischief or corruption when the New York Post unearthed emails that laid open Hunter Biden, Joe's son, to accusations of murky dealings in the Ukraine.

The (denied) allegations have caused an outbreak of finger pointing across both sides of the campaign, and while Ratcliffe says they are not part of an organized disinformation campaign, they at least had the potential to add a layer of unpredictability to an election which looked to be heading Biden's way.

So far, though, the story doesn't seem to have impacted voter intention in the way that Trump had hoped, with voters proving jaded by long-heard stories—many believed, few proven—about foreign influence, dubious amounts of cash, and prostitutes with full bladders. It's a country that is difficult to shock.

That's the conclusion from this week's review of social media feeling around the imminent election carried out, as ever, by as evidenced by the voting intention data gather by Impact Social, who carry out a weekly tracker of social media sentiment analysis of 40,000 swing voters, ranging from disillusioned party supporters to the always undecided. Impact Social measures two sets of conversations—where Biden is the subject and where Trump is, and tracks the topics which surround them and the sentiment, positive or negative, around it.

It's relatively rare that Biden is the 'lead' topic in the social media conversations. Usually, the chatter, around both men, is what Trump has done now (and by extension what Biden has not done). Biden's path to victory has, so far, been paved by inaction—if he said and did little more than try to look like a Grown Up, that has been enough. This week, though, he's been the topic of much of the chatter, with Hunter the biggest single object of those conversations, with many hoping to echo Trump's famous "drain the swamp" motto of four years ago—with Biden being part of that Beltway Bog.

Even with that as the dominant topic, though, there were, as always, a significant number of floating voters more likely to see issues with Trump than with Biden. With many putting Hunter aside, the televised town hall debates gave enough fuel to those gleefully wanting to share Biden's superior TV audience share and discuss Trump's evident discomfort and lack of voter empathy in that environment.

That has helped limit the damage to Biden, which remains limited and noteworthy more as a possible canary in the mine that this isn't over yet rather than any significant change, with Biden's net sentiment falling by 3 points to -4 percent. Worth his campaign managers keeping an eye on, but some considerable distance from panic.

That's not least because the seriousness with which the allegations are taken is largely settled on the grounds of these voters' current voting intentions—with many accusing Biden of all this and more, and attacking the 'liberal' media for downplaying it all, and others dismissing it as Trump-driven fake news.

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A chart from Impact Social tracing the social media conversations among swing voters in the penultimate week of the U.S. election. ImpactSocial

The trouble for Trump is that there was considerably more activity amongst those who had perhaps been sleepwalking to a presumed Biden victory but who have been galvanized by the story into sneering at its validity and their presumption of it being a last, and fake, throw of the dice in a losing cause. For them, the irony of Trump accusing the Biden family of being on the take has been a little rich and created more than enough reason to list the President's own alleged misdemeanors. Worryingly for Trump, the single biggest topic amongst pro-Biden conversations was 'vote Biden', perhaps dispelling any lingering Republican hopes of the 'shy Biden' vote being difficult to get out.

That's resulted in the sentiment around Trump falling even further into the negative, to -18 percent as the campaign enters its final fortnight and emerges from the final, rather inconclusive, TV debate. For the President, the first shot at an October surprise has landed in his own foot. If he's to turn this around, it's looking like he'll have to do better than that. Unless the Russian or Iranians have better ideas.