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.