It may or may not be the most important election of our lifetime but the November 3rd contest between incumbent president Donald J. Trump and former vice president Joseph R. Biden is surely one of the most hotly contested and greatly anticipated.
As I have said many times before, electoral politics is politics without politics and real change will only manifest from direct action by we the people in the streets.
That said, I’m pretty good at predicting these outcomes and it’s a fun parlor game to handicap the horse race. So here’s how things look on the Saturday before the election.
As you know, if you read me regularly, I believe there is a strong chance that legal challenges and recount battles all over the country will trigger a 12th Amendment scenario after December 14th, which will lead to the presidency being decided by the House of Representatives after January 3rd. But the way things are shaking out, despite polls that show Joe Biden about to win by a landslide, I’m guessing this will be a much closer race than mainstream pollsters expect – assuming all the votes are counted, which at this point seems doubtful.
The race is tightening. Just a few weeks ago, Joe Biden was leading the national average of polls by between 14 and 16 percentage points. Now it’s less than 8%.
The number that I’m looking at the most is the national Rasmussen poll. They were the only ones who got 2016 right or close to it, and they have Biden ahead by 3%. At this point in the race in 2016, they called it a dead heat between Clinton and Trump. The day before the election, Rasmussen had Clinton ahead by 2%. That turned out to be pretty much right.
Mail-ins will winnow away at Biden’s lead. If all things were equal, that is to say COVID-19 had never happened and voters were still casting votes the old-fashioned way, mostly in person, I would call the selection for Joe Biden right here and right now. Instead, at least 80 million votes will be cast by mail, compared to 6.9 million in 2016.
Let’s do some back of the envelope arithmetic.
According to my colleague and friend, national voter suppression expert and investigative reporter Greg Palast, 22% of mail-in ballots are never counted. There are a variety of reasons for this, including voter error and institutional corruption, but you can look elsewhere for the whys and wherefores. The point is, when you vote by mail, you’re not really voting. You’re really buying a raffle ticket that is like a chance at a vote.
Experts believe that roughly 40% of this year’s presidential ballots will be cast via mail by people who don’t want to brave long lines or risk contracting the coronavirus in person. Because Republicans aren’t as scared, those votes will be skewed by 2 to 1 in favor of Democrats.
Republicans outnumber Democrats in early real life voting. CNBC reports:
Democrats still lead Republicans in mail voting for states that report party data, but GOP voters have surpassed Democrats in ballots cast in person. Of the more than 26 million returned mail ballots tracked by the U.S. Elections Project, registered Democrats have sent in 51.3%, compared with 25.5% from Republicans. Of over 7.4 million in-person votes with party affiliation reported, Republicans lead with 41.7% over Democrats’ 36.9%.
Let’s assume those trends continue through election day. 60% of the vote will be cast in person, and Trump will carry those votes by a 41.7-to-36.9 margin. Trump gets 53% of votes cast in person. 53% of 60%, or just below 32% of the total vote. Biden gets 28%.
Now let’s look at the mail-ins.
If anything, Greg Palast’s numbers are low because this year’s voting will include inexperienced first-time absentee voters unfamiliar with the requirement to be extremely precise and to insert a privacy envelope inside an envelope, etc. To be conservative (in other words, favor Biden), however, we will take a 22% disposal number at face value and apply it here. We will further assume that votes will be discarded without consideration for whether they are cast by Democrats or Republicans.
Since 40% of the vote are mail-ins, and 22% of them will be tossed, that means 8.8% of the total vote will be gone. Of the remaining 31.2%, 1/3 will go to Trump and 2/3 will go to Biden. So it’s Trump just over 10% and Biden just under 21%.
Add these numbers to the votes cast in person, and that means Trump gets 42% and Biden gets 49%. Adjusted to 100%, Biden wins roughly 54% to 46%. It’s almost impossible to imagine how Trump can turn that into an electoral college victory.
Progressives are still angry. Between 3 and 4 million Bernie Sanders voters sat on their hands on election day four years ago. This year, I think it will be closer to 1 million. Still, that’s going to be roughly 1% of the vote. So let’s make Biden’s lead really 53% to 47%.
The enthusiasm gap still favors Trump. Biden is still running an anti-Trump campaign with minimal enthusiasm for his own agenda. Trump’s supporters adore him. The enthusiasm gap doesn’t change approval ratings but it does affect turnout. Millions of absentee ballots haven’t been returned despite being requested; no doubt, some of those voters decided to show up for in person early voting. But not all. And I’m going to guess that people who decided not to bother are mostly Democrats. I think that’s going to cost the Democrats about one percentage point. So really, we are looking at a 52% to 48% popular vote lead in favor of Joe Biden.
Which is basically where we were four years ago. Trump will certainly lose the popular vote. Whether he wins the presidency a second time will depend on whether he is able to cobble together another electoral college victory in key swing states, or run out the clock into a 12th Amendment scenario.