The Final Countdown
A quick reminder as we are living through one of the most divisive and polarized times in recent American history, it’s important to remember that democracy isn’t about winning or losing elections; on the contrary, the goal of democracy is to provide meaningful processes for citizens to make informed decisions about the direction of the country, to better the living conditions, and to preserve and protect the natural environment that we share with our fellow citizens. And with that, we encourage you to make your voice heard by casting your ballot for the future of our country, the future of democracy, and the future of the planet.
Oh man, here we are, 1,455 days since the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election. Trying to predict an election, particularly in the wake of the 2016 US Presidential Election, is almost a fool's errand, so rather than declaring who will be the victor come tomorrow (November 3rd, 2020), we are looking at how election predictions are made and what are the….
Voter turnout in the United States has been less than noteworthy throughout its history, with the highest ever record voter turnout in 1876 at a whopping 86.6%. By the 1920s, voter turnout had fallen into the 50% range. In 1996 the countries recorded its lowest ever voter turnout with only 51.7% of eligible voters casting a ballot.
2020 might be a different story; at the time of writing this, on the evening of November 1st, a whopping 91.6 million early ballots have been cast, accounting for 67%( 135.5 million total votes) of the votes cast during the 2016 election. This has led many to believe that voter turnout on November 3rd is as large as predicted, will result in the most extensive voter participation since 1876.
All presidential elections in the last 50 years, ranked by highest eligible voter turnout rate
- 2008: Barack Obama v. John McCain (61.65%)
- 2016: Donald Trump v. Hillary Clinton (60.1%)
- 2004: George W. Bush v. John Kerry (60.1%)
- 2012: Barack Obama v. Mitt Romney (58.6%)
- 1992: Bill Clinton v. George H.W. Bush (58.1%)
- 1972: Richard Nixon v. George McGovern (56.2%)
- 1984: Ronald Reagan v. Walter Mondale (55.2%)
- 1976: Jimmy Carter v. Gerald Ford (54.8%)
- 1980: Ronald Reagan v. Jimmy Carter (54.2%)
- 2000: George W. Bush v. Al Gore (54.2%)
- 1988: George H. W. Bush v. Michael Dukakis (52.8%)
- 1996: Bill Clinton v Bob Dole (51.7%)
The 2020 Polling Outlier:
Two pollsters correctly that predicted that Trump would win the 2016 election; economist Arie Kapteyn who heads USC’s Dornsife Center for Economic and Social Research, oversaw the USC/Los Angeles Times poll, and Republican strategist Robert Cahaly who founded the Trafalgar Group, are at it again, predicting a repeat of 2016.
This prediction is, in part, a symptom of what Kapteyn calls the “social-circle” question, i.e., “who do you think your friends and neighbors will vote for?” Trump narrows the gap, with Biden receiving a five-point edge, but when asking who voters will cast their ballot for, Biden leads Trump nationally by 10 points.
2020 Swing States:
If you’ve been following the 2020 presidential race, as we all have, there is an almost nonstop conversation around “swing states” or “battleground states.” This is for good reason these states almost always determine who will become the next president of the United States. Additionally, this is where presidential candidates spend around 75% of their money. The 2020 election will come down to a handful of states, mainly: Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin.
- Trump margin of victory in 2016, 1.2% (114,455 votes)
- Trump margin of victory in 2016, 1.2% (68,236 votes)
- Trump margin of victory in 2016, 0.3% (13,080 votes)
- Trump margin of victory in 2016, 1% (27,257 votes)
Winner Take All — But Wait, Not in Nebraska and Maine?:
Through the Electoral College, all 50 states and the District of Columbia (D.C.) cast their votes for president of the United States using one of two methods: either (i) Winner Take All, or (2) the District Method. In the winner take all system, 48 states and D.C cast their votes for the next president in accordance with the candidate who received the majority of the popular vote in that state.
For the sake of simplicity and time, the debate over faithful and faithless electors will be saved for another day, but you can find more information on that here (Brookings Institution).
What about the two missing states, you might ask? Nebraska and Maine follow the District Method. As one can surmise, in both states, two Electoral Votes are awarded to the candidate that wins the popular vote statewide, and then one Electoral Vote is awarded to the candidate who wins in each congressional district within the state. Nebraska has five Electoral Votes, with one Electoral Vote for each of the state’s five congressional districts. Maine has four total Electoral Votes, casting one for each of the state’s two congressional districts. Both states cast their two remaining Electoral Votes for the nominee that receives the greatest number of votes statewide. This can result in a split electoral vote, for instance, in 2008 Nebraska’s vote was split for the first time with one Democrat elector and two Republican electors.
A Contested Election:
In recent months the incumbent has claimed that “the only way we’re going to lose this election is if the election is rigged,” which begs the question, what happens if neither side accepts the results of the election?
What Happens if The Election Goes to the Supreme Court?:
A number of state level election mandates have been challenged in the courts this year, and given recent rhetoric, it is very likely that no matter what the outcome is on Election Day, the election process and the results of the election will be challenged in court. The most recent and most prominent example of a post-election challenge is, of course, Bush v. Gore, which the Supreme Court decided in a very unusual, non-precedential opinion. Florida was, as is often the case, a bellwether state, meaning that the result in Florida was likely to align with the national winner. The underlying issue in the Bush v. Gore decision wasn’t the election itself, rather, it was a question of whether or not Florida’s mandatory recounts could proceed even though the time to certify election results had already elapsed. In 2020, issues regarding mail-in balloting, postmark dates, restricted in-person voting, and timely certifying results will take center stage. Any one of these issues could quickly wind its way to a state’s supreme court, before ultimately being decided in the U.S. Supreme Court, which, incidentally, boasts three justices who worked on the Bush v. Gore litigation in 2000.
What Happens if the Election Goes to Congress?
In a scenario where the Electoral College was to result in a tie, the result of the presidential election would be decided by Congress. If this version of events were to unfold, the ticket is separated, with the House of Representatives choosing the next president and the Senate picking the next vice president.
In the House, the president is voted upon not by individual Members, but by state delegation, with each state casting one vote, with a simple majority needed to win ~ 26 state delegations. Presently the Republican party holds the majority of delegations in the House of Representatives, even though Democrats hold a majority of seats in that chamber. Conversely in the Senate, each senator would receive one vote, with 51 votes needed to appoint the next Vice President. In case you were wondering — yes, this means that depending on the makeup of the House and Senate we could end up with a party split for President and Vice President: Biden — Pence, or Trump — Harris.
It should be noted that if this was to unfold, D.C. does not receive a vote, despite having a vote in the Electoral College.
If this scenario was to play out the House of Representatives would not begin the process of voting on the next president until after the subsequent congress is sworn in on January 3rd, 2021, meaning that state delegations will vary, reflecting the newly elected members of the House of Representatives.
While the likelihood of this scenario occurring is not out of the realm of possibility, the probability is very slim, with the House of Representatives having only chosen the president twice, first in 1801 electing Thomas Jefferson and then in 1825 electing John Quincy Adams. Similarly, the Senate has only elected the Vice President once in 1837 choosing Richard Mentor Johnson to serve as Martin Van Buren’s Vice President.
A Quick Recap of Presidents:
Looking at recent history one might think that the incumbent president has the upper hand and that most presidents serve two consecutive terms. To the contrary, only 14 of the 45 American Presidents have gone on to serve a second consecutive term (including Franklin D. Roosevelt). Furthermore, there have only been two sets of three presidents that have served two consecutive terms back to back — the first set consisted of presidents Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, and we should all be able to guess the second trio to serve 2 consecutive terms back to back — Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama. Never has there been four presidents to serve two terms consecutively, which would put us in new territory in the event that the current president was to win reelection.
Of those presidents to win the electoral college vote, but lose the popular vote there have only been five, Trump and Bush in recent years.
Key Considerations as Results Come In:
With arguably everyone on edge, it’s easy to get caught up in who wins on November 3rd, but it’s important to remember that the media, despite their eagerness, can not call the election. In fact, many states do not allow votes to be counted after the polls close, and in 2000 we didn’t know the outcome of the election nearly 30 days after election day. One might say patience is a virtue, and if there was any time to practice, it is now.
Also, if your interested in other elections happening around the world in 2020, like Myanmar’s second election, you can find a list here.