So, we are now 6 months away from our next Presidential election and the democratic nominee is now known. New catalysts can always change the trajectory of an election, such as the Comey Letter or the Access Hollywood tape and accordingly elections are hard to predict, until October. However, for this election, I predict Joe Biden will be our next President. Pundits frame elections and determine battle grounds, electoral college counts based on the last election, but each election is unique, and Biden has several advantages Clinton did not, and the data is pointing to a win.
Going into the 2016 election, Clinton’s average favorability number was 41.8%, and Trumps favorability average today is 42%. It is amazingly rare to have two candidates with such low numbers in a presidential race. 2016 was polarized with never Tumpers and Bernie or busters. Those factors significantly absent in this election. 6,678,850 votes went to third party candidates Gary Johnson, Jill Stein, and Evan McMullin representing 4.89% of the vote, and that was directly tied to dissatisfaction with the major party candidates. It has been estimated that approximately 10-12% of Bernie supporters voted for Trump in the 2016 general election due to their dissatisfaction with Clinton. In 2016, the voters were demanding change. The right wanted to burn down Washington, and the left wanted socialism. The most salient driving issues were the economy, trade, and health care. Although the general economic indicators were good when Obama left office, Trump was able to message effectively, targeting white blue collar workers with declining wages and job losses, in the manufacturing sector. His messages of trade tariffs, immigration restrictions, and focus on manufacturing jobs coupled with relentless attacks on Clinton won the day. Clinton won the popular vote by over 3 million votes, but Trump was able to flip several key states with his messaging.
Today’s political environment is significantly different. First, there are no third-party candidates likely to siphon off a significant portion of votes. Biden does not suffer from the general unfavourability that drove voters to the third-party candidates. Trump has hardened support from his base which is at about 42%, but high unfavorable numbers. There are still never Trumpers. Biden is far more likely to be advantaged by the lack of third-party candidates. The divisions within the democratic party have lessened with an understanding that Trump must be defeated at all cost. Although some Bernie supporters will sit out the election, they will not vote for Trump anywhere near the 10-12% range.
COVID-19 is a game changer. Prior to COVID-19, Trump’s reelection bid hinged on his economic numbers and social wedge issues. Without considering COVID-19, Trump added trillions to the national debt, due to his tax cut. Post COVID-19, the debt is unimaginable. Any economic progress has evaporated, and millions of Americans are filing for unemployment. In 2016, one of Trump’s primary issues was the repeal of the Health Care Affordability Act. Now there are millions of Americans without insurance during a pandemic. Trump’s reelection is now contingent on the success of his character attacks on Biden, his ability to divert responsibility for the economic numbers, and the utilization of wedge issues, particularly race. He has no solid issues to run on. Biden will be running on the nostalgia of the Obama years, likely running with Kamila Harris to reinvigorate the Obama coalition with a female African American on the ticket.
The popular vote will almost certainly go to Biden, but the electoral votes of PA, NC, FL WI, MI and AZ will decide the election, and perhaps TX. In the last election, all these states went to Trump giving him 305 electoral votes, far above the 270 needed to win. Clinton although beating Trump by over 3 million in the popular vote, ended with 232. But there are differences this time. Pennsylvania has 20 electoral votes and happens to be Biden’s home state. It is exceedingly rare for a candidate to lose their home state in a presidential election, and an average of 6 polls currently shows Biden ahead in PA by 6.5%, which is outside the margin of error. This shifts the electoral starting point to 252 Biden, 204 Trump, if you count the remaining states as battle grounds.
North Carolina currently only has three recent polls with averaging a .03% advantage to Trump, but the two most recent polls are trending toward Biden, with last one showing a 5% advantage toward Biden. In 2016, Trump won North Carolina with 54.94% of the vote, and by a margin of 300,016 votes. In 2012, NC favored Mitt Romney 50.39% to Obama’s 48.25%. This state will likely go to Trump but by a tighter margin. Obama won NC by .32%, in 2008, which was a historic election with increased voter turnout. It is unlikely Biden will generate that level of support by election day. NC has 15 electoral college votes which will change the totals to 252 Biden & 219 Trump.
Michigan has 4 current polls showing an average lead for Biden of 5.5%. In 2016, Michigan went for Trump by .23% with a margin of 10,704. Michigan was part of the blue wall and represented a huge upset. First, it is important to note Gary Johns received 172,136 votes (3.59%), Jill Stine 51,463 votes (1.07%), and Even McMullin received 8177 votes (.17%). Total the third-party candidates collected 231,776 (4.83%) votes. This was the single largest factor tipping the state toward Trump, and this was driven by voter dissatisfaction with the two major party candidates. Hillary Clinton was a widely unpopular candidate in MI, and this is not true for Biden. Biden will benefit from greater party unity and the lack of third-party candidates in this election cycle. Many of the third-party voters will shift back toward Biden. Michigan is traditionally blue and voted 54.3% Obama to Romney’s 44.78% in 2012. Biden also performs much better with working class white voters compared to Clinton. Michigan will go for Biden bring the electoral totals to 268 for Biden and 219 for Trump.
It should be noted, at this point, if Pennsylvania and Michigan go for Biden, he would only need to pick up 2 more electoral college votes to be President. Consequent, Biden would only need to win one more state to be over the top. In contrast, if Trump won Florida, Wisconsin, and Arizona he would be at 269, one point short of the 270 needed to be President. This might be an interesting scenario because with Biden at 268 and Trump at 269, the House of Representative would select the President. The House is likely to remain in Democratic control, which would put Biden in the White House. Effectively, Biden only needs to win PA and MI to be the next President, and the remaining states are likely inconsequential.
Wisconsin is currently favoring Biden by 2.7% in an average of three polls. Wisconsin has had several recent upset elections which have favored the democrats and has been trending Blue. In 2016, Wisconsin was another part of the Blue Wall, and Trump won WI by only 22,748 (.77%). The third-party candidates combined received 176,475 (5.02%) votes. All the arguments regarding the effects of third-party candidates in MI also apply to WI. Obama won WI in 2012 with a margin of 205,205 (6.71%). WI will shift back toward Biden given him the presidency with 278 electoral college votes to Trump’s 219 with Florida and Arizona yet undecided.
Florida has been consistently leaning toward Biden, but not by much. An average of 5 polls show a 3.2% lead by Biden, but it appears the race has been tightening, and this is within the margin of error. Trump won FI in 2016 by only 1.38% of the votes and Obama won the state in 2012 by .86%. With a large retirement population, COVID-19 may have a catalyst effect on the results. Florida will likely turn on the perception of the State’s residence regarding the President’s handling of COVID. Florida is a notoriously difficult state to call and I would predict 50/50 at this point. However, it is critical to point out, Trump cannot win without FL, but Biden can. Biden has several paths to the Presidency, and Trump has one.
Arizona is currently favoring Biden with a 4.4% average of 5 polls in his favor. A senate seat was picked up by the democrats in the last election, and it appears the second senate seat may go blue this go around. The state has a large Hispanic population which has been negatively impacted by Trump’s immigration policies, and voter turn out in this demographic has been increasing, and the state has been slowly shifting Blue. I current estimate a 55% chance of this state going for Biden.
Texas went for Trump by 807,179 with 52.23% in 2016. The state has not been won by a Democrat since President Carter in 1976. The changing demographics have had democrats anticipating a shift for quite some time, but the state has been generally out of reach. In 2018 the Senate campaign of Beto O’Rourke shifted the thinking of many in the state. Although loosing to Ted Cruz, O’Rourke put the state into play and lost by only 2.56%. The state’s large Latino population has been adversely impacted by Trump’s immigration policies, and the large urban areas have been voting blue. Although still a long shot, this maybe the year the state turns blue. If Republicans lose TX, they have zero change of winning the Presidency. Beto will certainly be on the campaign trail for Biden and Republicans will be under great pressure in the state, forcing Trump to utilize resources to defend the State. There is also many Republican Representatives retiring, which can be a harbinger of change. This will also bring a lot of pressure and activity at a local level.
This will certainly be one of the most unique elections of our time. Trump commands the office of the Presidency with the ability to get free media coverage, and due to COVID-19, Biden is struggling to get his message out. Normally, an incumbent under these circumstances would almost automatically win. This time, media coverage of Trump has only highlighted his utter incompetence, and he will struggle to change this narrative with distractions, as he has in the past. His based of 42% will surely go along with any conspiracy theory he peddles through the echo-chamber of Fox News, but this will not be enough to save him this go around.