Anticipating the 2020 Presidential Election Results

The 2016 Election and 2020

Like most Americans, I had a lot of time to think while my office (and most places) were closed due to Covid-19, and I decided to apply my knowledge of electoral mapping to the 2020 election. To appreciate the future, we must first look at the past. In 2016, most Americans did not vote for Donald Trump, who received 62.9 million votes. However, some 73.6 million voted for others, including Hillary Clinton, who received 65.8 million votes. Low voter turnout and third-party candidates gave Trump very narrow wins in the key states of Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

Most nations elect presidents based on the popular vote, but the U.S. uses the so-called “Electoral College,” which means that 538 “Electors” choose our president. Under Article II of the U.S. Constitution, states are allotted Electors equal to their number of Representatives, plus two Senators. The Electoral College preserves federalism, with the least populous states guaranteed 3 Electors — currently the most populous state, California, gets 55. In almost every state the winner of the popular statewide vote gets all the Electors. In 2016, Trump narrowly won Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin by less than 78,000 total votes to gain 46 Electoral votes — and the presidency.

The background on the 2016 election and current trends help identify key states and indicate their likely votes on November 3, 2020. Trends include some Trumpians referring to face masks as “submission muzzles” and calling the pandemic, racism, and impeachment “leftist hoaxes,” indicators that Trump voters are drifting farther right, leaving centrists behind.

Trump is the first impeached president to run for reelection. The Constitution’s framers, remembering the pernicious rule of George III over colonial America, added impeachment to constrain presidential power.

Election forecast as of mid-July 2020
Key States in 2020

This will be an ugly election campaign, with hyper-partisan accusations filling the media, some from outside actors, like Russia. The media storm will be destructive to both candidates, Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden; but Biden should win the following key states.

P e n n s y l v a n i a. Trump won 48.8% of the state’s vote versus 47.6% for Clinton. Trump won this state’s 20 electoral votes in 2016 with about 44,000 more votes than Clinton of the 6.1 million cast by promising growth in jobs and coal. Trump’s unfulfilled promises gave Democrats victories in the 2018 election for governor, as well as a net gain of 3 seats in the U.S. House. This trend will likely lead to a 2020 win for Biden, who lived in the state as a child, making him a favorite son candidate.

M i c h i g a n. Trump won 47.6% of the vote versus 47.3% for Clinton. In 2016 Trump won by 10,700 votes out of 4.8 million, gaining 16 electoral votes. Trump had reached out to Blacks (1.4 million) in the state and had promised more manufacturing jobs. But manufacturing declined, and Trump alienated Black voters on healthcare and racism issues. In 2018 Democrats easily won statewide elections for the U.S. Senate and governor — and flipped 2 Republican seats in the  U.S. House, indicating favorable political winds for Biden in 2020.

W i s c o n s i n. Trump won 47.9% of the vote versus 46.9% for Clinton. Trump carried Wisconsin in a low turnout 2016 election by about 22,700 votes out of 2.9 million, claiming 10 electoral votes. Many blamed a new Republican Voter ID law for suppressing Democratic votes; others faulted Clinton for not visiting the state. Democrats rebounded in November 2018 (defeating Republican Governor Scott Walker) and April 2020 statewide elections with major victories, and Milwaukee is the site of the August 2020 Democratic National Convention (although Covid-19 limited its impact). These are all positive signs for Biden.

Mapping 2020

If Biden holds the states that voted for Clinton in 2016 (dark blue on map), which seems certain, he will have 233 electoral votes. Adding the 3 key states (light blue), will give Biden the presidency with 279 electoral votes (270 are needed to win). Trump (red) starts with only 177 near certain electoral votes. States in gray are likely to be close and could go to either candidate.

The Covid-19 crisis is eroding public confidence in the Trump administration, and support for Trump could weaken in more states. Of course, anything can happen, but based on current trends and the Electoral College alignment, it looks like the Trump presidency is unsustainable.

2020 Senate Races: Montana

 

I must admit to being a big fan of Sabato’s Crystal Ball from the UVA Center for Politics, and I was especially keen on the recent (Aug 5) 2020 Senate race rating (see map below).

Map UVA Sabato’s Crystal Ball

As a long-time observer of electoral geography, I must say the Crystal Ball is being a tad conservative on Montana—by which I mean that this is a winnable seat for Democrats and should be AT LEAST in the Toss-up category. I believe the Crystal Ball will move this to Toss-up by September. Why? This will be a Toss-up and likely a gain for Democrats due to the candidates, Montana’s electoral trends, as well as U.S. trends.

The Candidates

Steve Daines, a Republican, is the incumbent. Often incumbents in the U.S. Senate are hard to beat, but senators in their first term tend to be more vulnerable. A few reasons why this seat will likely go to the Democratic candidate: Steve Bullock.

Steve Daines (R) and Steve Bullock (D)

Why Senator Steve Daines will likely lose:

  • Daines was first elected in Nov 2014, facing a weak Democratic candidate. Democrat Amanda Curtis was handicapped by having  only 2 months to campaign and fundraise.
  • Daines raised $7.5 million for his race in 2014; Curtis raised $977,000.
  • In 2018, Montana reelected Democrat Senator Jon Tester, despite President Trump campaigning against Tester, confirming that Democrats can win here in the Trump era.
  • Also in 2018, Montana’s own #PlaidShirtGuy, Tyler Linfesty, shows some Big Sky skepticism to Trumpian rhetoric.

 

Why Governor Steve Bullock will likely win:

  • Bullock has won three statewide elections—once for Attorney General (2008) and twice for Governor (2012 and 2016).
  • Bullock won in 2016 despite his Republican opponent, Greg Gianforte, putting in $5.8 million of his own money in the race—in a year when Trump won Montana by 20 points.
  • Since declaring in March, Bullock has raised some $11 million, coming close to Daines war chest of $12.9 million that he has been accumulating for six years.
  • Bullock enjoys a high 75% approval rating as Montana governor.

 

Pundits characterize Montana as a red state, but recent statewide elections give it a more purple tint—plus the national trend indicates an exceptional voting pattern rather than a normal one. This exceptional pattern favors Democrats—as in 2008 at the twilight of the last Republican administration, when tax cuts for the rich, a ruinous recession, and health care loss enraged voters.

It looks like Steve Bullock will win the November election and go from the Governor’s residence in Helena, Montana, to the U.S. Senate in Washington, DC. It is also possible that Republicans will lose Montana’s electoral votes in November.