by Frank Schnittger
Mon Oct 19th, 2020 at 01:46:22 PM EST
It's been almost a fortnight since our last round-up on the US Elections and not a huge amount has changed. Biden got a 3% uplift from +7% to +10% in the opinion polls after the first debate and Trumps subsequent Covid-19 diagnosis, with many Americans disapproving of Trump's performance in the debate and his failure to take adequate precautions against the disease. Post debate bumps in the polls often don't last, but the continued prevalence of the pandemic has kept Trump's performance on the pandemic front and centre of the political stage.
Early and postal voting has been taking place in many states and a record number of voters have been availing of those options. 28 Million voters have already cast their votes compared to 6 Million at the same stage in 2016 and this represents Over 20% of the total 2016 turnout. in those states where voters are registered by party affiliation, registered Democrat voters outnumber registered Republicans by over 2:1, although this ratio is expected to decline as we approach election day. Democrats have a greater history of voting by mail and some Republicans may have been put off voting that way by Trump's claims that it could be fraudulent.
Having a lot of your vote in early does give Democrats a huge tactical advantage however. Not only does it provide some insurance against bad weather or Covid-19 or technical problems on election day, but it also enables the Democratic Party campaign to focus their efforts on mobilizing those of their potential voters who have not yet voted. Independent voters make up an increasingly large segment of the population (c. 38%) and so far they have returned 20% of the ballots registered to date. Polling indicates they tend to lean more to Democrats than Republicans (17%-13%) and have a lower propensity to vote.
Some research shows that Trump is gaining some support among Black (+11) and Hispanic voters (+14), though off a very low base and not enough to compensate for losing much of his edge with white voters (-7%), particularly amongst women(-15) and those without college degrees (-13). Fintan O'Toole has a piece up describing how Trump has failed this core constituency, with coal mining jobs falling faster than ever before under his Presidency. Republicans have also lost much of their edge amongst suburban voters since 2016. Many of those lost white supporters live in swing states Trump needs to carry.
At the moment Nate Silver has Pennsylvania down as the tipping point state which carries Biden over the 270 electoral college majority. His model gives Biden a 6.3% edge there and an 88% chance of winning. So although Biden is up 10.7% in the National polls, his lead in the critical state is only just over 6%. However even if Biden doesn't win Pennsylvania, he still has good chances in Florida (+3.4%, 78% chance of winning), Arizona (+3.1%, 68%), North Carolina (2.6%, 67%), and Georgia (+0.1% 51%). As against that, if Biden loses Wisconsin (+6.8%, 88%), Nevada (+7%, 87%) or Michigan (+7.9%, 92%), he is in deep trouble.
The bottom line is that while Biden is 10.7% ahead in Nate Silvers' national polling average, a loss of only 6.3% points in Pennsylvania could swing the tipping point state back the other way, and Trump could theoretically win the electoral college despite losing the popular vote by as much as 4.4% nationwide. In practice, such national swings are rarely uniform, and another state like Florida or Arizona (+ Maine2) could deliver the 270 votes required. The fact that Biden grew up in Scranton, Pennsylvania, may help his cause there. Given the level of voter suppression in Florida, however, I wouldn't want to rely on it as the tipping point state.
Something like that happened in 2016 when Hillary Clinton lost at least 3% in the national polls in the final weeks due to the Comey Letter which tipped her off the cliff in states she had previously taken for granted. A poor performance by Biden in the sole remaining debate on 22nd. October could theoretically have a similar effect especially as it is so close to the final polling day. No doubt Trump may use the debate to announce that he is personally approving a Covid-19 vaccine and promising a free shot to the entire electorate. It is worth bearing in mind that Biden is still doing worse than Hillary in key swing states at this late stage in the campaign.
So while Nate Silver is giving Biden an 88% of winning the election, (and a 70% chance of winning the trifecta in Presidential, Senate and Congressional elections), I wouldn't discount the 12% chance of Trump winning entirely. Nate famously gave Trump a 30% chance of winning in 2016 (the same as Trumps campaign's internal modelling), and we all know those odds sometimes come true. We must remember that Trump won the electoral College by quite a wide margin (306 - 232) despite losing the popular vote by more than 2%. So while the popular narrative may be that Trump is losing the election (and a landslide is quite likely), I would caution that its not over yet.
No commentary on a US election is complete without mentioning the level of voter disenfranchisement and suppression. Over 5 Million (mostly Black) American's are disenfranchised because they have a criminal conviction at some stage in their lives, possibly for something as minor as a small unpaid court fine. There has also been much commentary on voters having to wait in line for many hours, and the decision by some some Republican governors to restrict ballot drop-off points to one per county - with some counties more populous than several whole states.
There are far less voting machines per head of population in many democratic leaning areas making it much more difficult to vote, and Trump has attempted to delegitimize the practice of postal voting. When you add in rampant gerrymandering, confusing ballots, and a billionaire controlled media, the playing field is very much tilted in favour of a conservative, white, Republican leaning electorate. Unless Democrats win a trifecta, get rid of the filibuster rule, pack the Supreme Court, make the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico full states with their own senators and win many statewide Governorships and assemblies as well, not much will change. The bottom line is that the USA is not a true democracy by any normal definition of that term.