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On the US election.

Written By: - Date published: 9:42 am, October 30th, 2020 - 30 comments
Categories: Donald Trump, International, Joe Biden, us politics - Tags:

This year forecasting the U.S. election has an interesting additional element, with Trump and the Republican Party gearing up to steal the election if it is not a landslide for their opponents. First, though, the election itself.

The election is shaping up to be a blue wave. Five days out from election day, Nate Silver’s sophisticated model rates Biden’s chances at 89 in 100. The Democrats have a good chance of winning the Senate and are very nearly certain to win back the House according to this modelling.

But, many people say, we were told in 2016 that Clinton would win. That’s sort of true. Clinton was looking likely to win up until the final days, when the Comey “bombshell” dropped, and she lost 5 points according to the experts. And she did win the popular vote, by almost 3 million. It’s just that she lost three midwestern states by around 40,000 votes in all. The pundits that gave Trump a fair chance of winning should have made that clearer. On election eve, Nate Silver’s model gave Trump a reasonable 29% chance, for example.

It’s true that the pollsters underweighted for uneducated white voters in 2016. However, they aren’t making that mistake again.

Anyway, 2016 is a poor indicator of what will happen in 2020.

For one thing, Trump was standing against the second most unpopular candidate in recent memory (after himself) and managed to capitalise on the baggage she carried. Biden may not be a great orator, but he doesn’t have the huge negatives Clinton did. Attempts to besmirch Biden and his family have not gained the traction that the “Lock her up!” campaign did.

Tellingly, even when Clinton’s support peaked, it was lower than Biden’s has been at any point since he became the Democratic candidate.

For another thing, in 2016 FBI Director Comey gifted Trump the election with his bombshell about the FBI investigating Clinton’s emails only about a week out from election day. There’s been no bombshell this time, and in any case, with more than 80 million early votes cast, the election is already half over with the polls showing Biden clearly in the lead not just across the country, but in those pivotal midwestern states.

Further, there is a much smaller persuadable, undecided vote this time than in 2016 (around 5% according to the polls). The electorate is more polarised than ever before, and Biden’s lead has been remarkably stable since the middle of the year when…

… Covid kicked in and Trump’s abysmal response became clear. The pandemic and Trump’s response has not only displaced the economy as the most salient issue for most voters, but it has also robbed Trump of any claim to superior economic management as the economy has tanked. A double whammy.

Trump was in trouble even before Covid hit, despite what some people said. He’d lost the suburbs, and suburban women in particular, early in the term. The pattern of special and state elections leading up to the 2018 congressional elections foreshadowed a blue wave, and sure enough, the House flipped convincingly, and the Democrats gained at state and local level all over the country. Trump has been one of the most unpopular recent presidents since shortly after he took office. The only presidents with similar disapproval ratings since polling commenced in the middle of last century are Jimmy Carter and H. W. Bush. Both lost.

Trump has also lost other voters, most importantly older voters fearful of Covid and white voters without college degrees. Even more importantly, he has lost the most support amongst this latter group in those very midwestern states that handed him those vital Electoral College votes last time around. The fact that numbers of new Covid cases and hospitalisations are breaking records in Wisconsin and Michigan while voting is underway just adds to Trump’s woes.

Better still, with the exception of Pennsylvania, where Biden’s margin is smaller (at around 5%) than Wisconsin and Michigan, state-level polls are showing that the battleground is in states that Trump won comfortably in 2016 are leaning towards Biden or contestable. These include Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, Iowa and Georgia, where Biden is marginally ahead in polling, and Ohio and Texas (!), where he is close.

This is good news for Biden, because he has been raising vastly more funding than Trump and is outspending him in these states, forcing Trump onto the defensive over a wide front.

The huge early vote, with legions of new voters, a monster vote overall and higher levels of engagement this year augur well for Biden. Signs are that much larger numbers of young people are voting, another positive sign.

In sum, there’s a small chance that Trump could pull it off again, but it’s not likely.

The problem is that anything less than a convincing win on the night will see the Republicans trying to steal the election. They’ve been remarkably open about it. They are gearing up to challenge results in the key battleground states, especially the validity of mail-in votes, with plans to suspend the counting of those ballots. They will be fighting these legal battles in Republican-controlled states with local and federal courts stacked with Republican judges, and the Supreme Court with its new 6-3 conservative majority.

If they can tie things up enough, Trump has alluded to using the 12th Amendment, which in the event of a contested election result would see the House of Representatives decide the outcome. With each state delegation getting one vote, and the Republicans currently holding the advantage (with more small, rural states), the Republicans could steal the election unless the Democrats can wrestle a few state delegations away from them.

This is not to mention an explosion of violence by the armed thugs under orders from Trump to “standby”, seeking to provoke a backlash from left-wing radicals that would be a pretext for Trump to impose martial law in key Democratic-held cities under the Insurrection Act.

In short, Biden’s likely to win, but he needs to win early and win big if we are to avoid legal chaos and fighting on the streets and a concerted attempt to steal the election. This is one to watch.

Peter Haynes

30 comments on “On the US election. ”

  1. Anne 1

    When do the results start coming in NZ time? Wednesday around noon?

    • greywarshark 1.1

      'This is one to watch.' Bigger than West Wing, not as funny and sardonic as Yes Prime Minister. Will rival the Big Bang when the world is said to have been formed out of the void – unfortunately it may illustrate a reverse effect. Don’t wet your pants!

    • Peter Haynes 1.2

      Meaningful results from around 1.30pm. I'll be watching the live feed on fivethirtyeight.com closely, as they will be looking at trends at county level.

    • Peter Haynes 1.3

      Best to start watching around 1.30pm on Wednesday. I'll be turning to fivethirtyeight.com's online feed, with a large number of regional experts analysing data at county level.

    • Andre 1.4

      Here's a handy-dandy map of poll closing times.


      The earliest poll closing times are 6pm eastern standard time (they go off daylight savings this weekend), which will be noon here. But those earliest closures are parts of Indiana and Kentucky, so they're irrelevant (safe Repug) even if they start announcing results while some polling locations in that state are still open.

      The earliest states of interest close at 7pm (1pm NZ) and may announce results soon thereafter. Florida and Georgia are the ones to watch. Virginia and Vermont should go Biden, South Carolina should be safe Repug.

      North Carolina closes at 7:30 (1:30 NZ, nail biter), along with West Virginia (safe Repug) and Ohio (likely Repug, but if Biden wins he's probably got it in the bag)

      8pm has Pennsylvania and Michigan, but they're unlikely to declare because of slow counting of mail ballots. But this is where the Tinyfingers Twittertwat is likely to start shitstirring. If it's a massive Biden blowout, this is where Texas might declare for Biden.

      9pm is Arizona, Minnesota, Wisconsin. The last of the interesting states.

      Various networks may (or may not) provide running updates throughout the day of what they get from exit polls. But I'm not going to pay any attention to that. That exit poll info is iffy at the best of times, and these are not the best of times.

  2. millsy 2

    If Trump wins I wouldn't be surprised. Biden is starting to look tired and probably prefers to be sitting at home writing his memoirs.

    What I am most worried about is the reaction of Trump supporters. I wouldn't rule out the odd pogrom or 2 either way.

  3. Stunned Mullet 3

    Biden should win by a very comfortable margin.

    Trump's reaction to a loss is likely to be a demonstration of denial and narcissism that will have to be seen to be believed.

  4. Tiger Mountain 4

    Am not optimistic for a Democratic win despite polls. The polls cannot predict turnout. Many US pundits are being cautious about backing the polls whole heartedly. Agree with Peter Haynes about the 2016 Comey “Bombshell”–I recall thinking “what the…” the second I heard it on RNZ at the time.

    The US Electoral system has built in landmines and impedences as has been pointed out many times–40 mill Californians get two Senators, half a mill Montanans get two Senators…

    Almost 2000 polling places closed, Mail boxes and sorting machines removed–Wall St Journal says a neighbourhood letter typically now takes six days. Democratic door knocking campaign has turned into ballot uplifting and delivery for voters that will hand them over, now that the intention not to count “late” ballots in some states has been made all too clear by the likes of Justice Kavanaugh.

    But, but, don’t Republicans get affected by voter suppression too? The theory is complicated enrolment, removal of drop boxes and polling places, all hit poor and marginalised people the most. Not everyone can afford to go to a state centre to enrol with multiple IDs, or return to change a signature, or to a drop box two hours drive away. Gerrymandered borders for Congress favour Republican voters in some states.

    I hope Joe Biden/Kamala Harris can do it against the odds (despite knowing Bernie “wuz robbed”–again.) The Americans, and the world deserve a little peace and quiet, no more Govt by Twitter and religious nutters. Just some stillness, pause for thought, and then back to dealing with Covid and Climate Disaster!

    • Peter Haynes 4.1

      Agree with most of what you say, but… "The polls cannot predict turnout." The polls can and have measured levels of excitement around, and perceived importance of, the election, and intention to vote, and all of these are well up this election. We know that there have been record numbers of early votes cast (as you'd expect), but with lots of evidence of greater determination to vote in the long queues, etc. The experts are predicting "monster" turnout around 150 million. And more younger people are voting.

      Polls should always be treated with due caution, and one poll is never enough on its own. But the sheer number of polls at this point of the race in the US, and the consistent margins for Biden in many swing states do augur well. A sophisticated model like Nate Silver's weights for quality of individual pollsters based on history and methods employed, which makes me a lot more comfortable.

    • Peter Haynes 4.2

      And voilà! An excellent summary of voter enthusiasm appears. It's important to note that Democratic voters aren't as enthusiastic about Biden as Republicans are about Trump, but they are more enthusiastic about voting. And that's what we are seeing by all accounts.

  5. Some interesting fallout from the MSM Universal Messaging 'Vote Biden…He's Not Trump..and, um, well thats it"..though I suspect this will make some folk in these parts fonder of The Intercept..


  6. Phil 6

    The electorate is more polarised than ever before

    This cannot be overemphasized. Biden leads Trump by about 9 points nationally, but Trump is competitive in enough states that a large (but not unprecedented) polling error in his favour could still lead to his winning a second term.

    That we're still talking about the race being moderately competitive is astonishing. The last time a candidate won by more than 9 points was 1984!

    In past elections where one candidate has held a lead around this size, the electoral college has been a total blowout. For instance Bush Snr took over 400 EV's in '88 with an 8% margin over Dukakis.

  7. The commentators are telling us the key states are Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Florida. Back in 2016 Trump won all those states and took the presidency.

    Biden is ahead in the polls in these states. If he wins Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan, he should be there. In that scenario Trump would have to win Florida and North Carolina to have any chance and in this scenario Nevada would come into play. Biden is currently ahead in Nevada

    I think we are on the verge of something big. The early voting suggests an intent, not often seen from American voters.

    The aftermath that Peter Haynes talks about is a very real possibility. I hope the authorities are ready for it.

    I get my information from http://www.realclearpolitics.com.

    • Andre 8.1

      Just keep in mind Real Clear Politics poll averages are usually more heavily influenced by Repug-friendly polls than other poll aggregators like fivethirtyeight or 270towin. A state or national poll average from them usually includes Rasmussen reports, that reportedly weights by party identification (which almost all other pollsters consider bad practice because that changes so easily and quickly unlike sex, education, age etc), and/or Trafalgar Group, which have devised a sampling method specifically designed to get responses from hypothetical "shy Trump voters" (and way overestimated Repug vote share in 2018).

      So I kinda look at RCP's averages as a likely worst case.

  8. Andre 9

    Another wrinkle is that Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin are likely to be slow to report results from mail-in ballots, because they don't start processing them until Election Day. Mail-in ballots are expected to be heavily in favour of Biden, while in-person on-the-day votes are expected to trend more Repug. That's part of the reason Hair Twitler is trying to set the stage to try to declare victory election night and discard what hasn't been counted by then.

    However, Florida, Arizona and North Carolina in particular have good systems for counting early and mail-in ballots. So there's a good chance there is a positive result for Biden on the night in those states lifting him over 270 Electoral College votes, which then reduces the likelihood of violence and chaos.

    • SPC 9.1

      Biden only needs Wisconsin, Michigan, Nevada (all very likely) with Arizona (close) and a district vote from either Nebraska or Maine (most likley).

      And he is still competitive in Florida N Carolina and Georgia – so as you note the delay in the final result for Pennsylvania which Trump could try to exploit (Pennsylvania has a Republican House which would deliver their EC votes to Trump) is not likely to be significant with Biden getting to 270 on the night.

  9. Tricledrown 10

    What about Ohio and voter suppression tactics

    • Andre 10.1

      Ohio is very unlikely to be of significance. If Biden wins Ohio, then Ohio will likely be supplying around his 340th to 360th Electoral College votes. About the only scenario in which Ohio has a substantial effect is if Biden wins there by a big enough margin that they declare early in the night and tip Biden's count over 270, and thereby possibly damp down some of the potential chaos and violence.

      Any voter suppression is basically a done deal by now, except for maybe armed thugs turning up to polling booths on the day. Any challenges to laws wrongly disenfranchising people basically have to be done and dusted by election day. After election day, the counts go according to the laws as they stand on election day, and there's no mechanism after election day for redressing people getting disenfranchised before election day.

  10. Whispering Kate 12

    MFAT are issuing safe travel warnings to kiwis residing in the US citing pending violence and civil unrest with the pending US presidential election and up until the swearing in of a new president. Sounds pretty much like it is a forgone conclusion there is going to be ructions over there.

    For all those with loved ones living there you have my sympathy and understanding of your fears. We have family in Maryland and they are housebound and well aware of what may happen. The pandemic on top of it makes this for a nasty outcome. Lots of good thoughts go to those who are anxious over there.


  11. NZ Groover 13

    Trump is going to win in an absolute landslide. Looking at both sides of the political spectrum, I don't understand how you can see it any other way.

    More than willing to eat humble pie on the 4th (NZ time) but I very confident I won't be.

    • Andre 13.1

      Define "win in an absolute landslide".

    • Macro 13.2


      The only way Chump "wins" anything is through stealing.

      He has to "win" this election, for he is toast otherwise. The court cases against him will be flying in thick and fast without the Barr on the Justice Dept. Incitement of domestic terrorism being his latest offence.

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    The Government is investing to create new product categories and new international markets for our strong wool and is calling on Kiwi businesses and consumers to get behind the environmentally friendly fibre, Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor said today. Wool Impact is a collaboration between the Government and sheep sector partners ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
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