Who Will Win the US Election?

We are now just 48 hours away from the opening of the voting booths in one of the most significant elections America has ever seen. While polling suggests the insurgent Democratic nominee, Joe Biden, is likely to win, the race is far from over.

Having been burnt before, poll watchers are scared to trust the predicted results while the pollsters themselves are just as worried about making any strong declarative statements either way. And with a President who has suggested he may not accept the outcome if it doesn’t go in his favour, so much is still up in the air.

In addition, given the pandemic and the diminished capacity that ballot counters have to tally the numbers, there are suggestions that this could be an election month, rather than just a single election night. This means greater uncertainty and potentially greater chance for disagreement.

How to Win an Election

You might be aware that for the US, winning an election doesn’t mean you need to campaign hard in all states to get as many votes as possible. The electoral college system means that the total vote count doesn’t matter (see Hilary’s popular vote tally, 2016). What does matter is winning a majority in a handful of states that you might be able to flip to your side.

Most states are considered “safe” in that they are almost always going to vote one way or another. If you’re a Democrat in Wyoming, you might not bother showing up to vote since that state only voted blue once in 1952 and is unlikely to change now.

States that could go either way are known as “battleground” states and these are the places where the campaigns have focused most of their energy. There are currently a dozen or so of these states in this election and each candidate needs to get them onside if they are to have a shot at winning the 270 required electoral college votes to gain a majority.

Who Will Win?

As it stands, Donald Trump needs to make up a ten percent short fall in predicted support if he is to have a shot at retaining the presidency. Having played straight to his base in the first presidential debate between himself and Joe Biden, shouting at him and attacking the Democrats at any opportunity in a bid to strengthen his base, it’s clear the Trump campaign has made a concerted effort to widen their appeal.

The final debate saw a much more conciliatory Trump show off his moderate side and drag Biden into some difficult positions. Having said this, the campaign is again up to old tricks having launched an all out offensive against “corrupt Joe” with emphasis on Biden’s son Hunter’s emails in language reminiscent of 2016.

Biden has benefited greatly from the mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic by the Trump administration as well as his position as a unifier within the historically divided Democrats. His appeal to the left with the election of the extremely liberal Kamala Harris has played well to most within his party and the Democrat base at large. There is however some suggestion that his record on policing and Harris’ own actions as prosecutor has lost them support within the Black and Latinx communities.

All serious polling however, from legitimate places like The Economist and Five Thirty Eight put the chances of a Biden win as high as 96%.

The Polling Effect

Finally, the issue with polling is that collecting data on an event always has an effect on the event itself. If polls show Biden ahead — as they do — it may put a fire under the belly of the Republican party to get the vote out and cause Republican voters themselves to do everything they can to win. Equally, seeing that the cause may be lost might force Republican voters to stay home.

For the Democrats, the notion that they may be ahead anyway could cause their supporters to stay home if they think the outcome is certain. That is unlikely to happen as the record voter registrations for young people and non-white voters as well as the huge early voter turn out suggest this year will see record numbers of highly engaged, active voters. Still, it’s certainly not worth taking the foot off the gas now as the election looms large.

Polls close 1pm AEDT on November 4 and we might have some indication from exit polling at that stage but it will take a few hours to tally the vote meaning that by Wednesday evening we should have a clearer indication.

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