Final Analysis: Trump Can Win
November 1st, 2020 | TC
This is the final analysis for the 2020 presidential election. We will explore seven factors and determine which direction each one points. Each factor is highly relevant and likely to offer an accurate indication of where the presidential election stands. Seven is an odd number, leaving no possibility for a 50/50 split. This is a good way to create more solid odds, as elections never truly result in a 50/50 split—only one candidate will win and the other will not.
For each factor that points favorably in their direction, a candidate will get one point.
Using the 2016 election results and combining them with only the results from successful battleground pollsters, the numbers indicate that Donald Trump has a narrow and plausible path to victory against Joe Biden. Going even further, we will look at other factors that could help predict the outcome of this election.
If prognosticators were using more than just mainstream polling agencies to predict this election, their odds would look better for Donald Trump.
Crowd Sizes – Enthusiasm: Trump Wins
Like in 2016, Trump's crowd sizes are massive. Even without a pandemic, Hillary Clinton was unable to match Trump's turnout during any major campaign events and rallies. With the help of Barack Obama, neither candidate was, or has been, able to match the crowd sizes of Donald Trump. As of now, Joe Biden has not been able to surpass 200 attendees at any rally or public event.
At every swing state rally thus far, Trump's crowd size has never fallen below 1,000.
Although Trump's crowd sizes are smaller than they were in 2016, he has been able to build significant enthusiasm among Republican voters in major battleground states that is comparable to 2016. Many could argue that the limited capacity and restrictions put in place at the airports where Trump has been holding his rallies could be the cause of his reduced turnout from 2016. No matter the reasons, Trump's crowd sizes are more than one hundred times larger than Joe Biden's.
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Caveat: Although Trump's crowd sizes were massive compared to those of Clinton in 2016, he was only narrowly able to defeat Clinton in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin—while also losing the national popular vote.
Allan Lichtman: Biden Wins, But...
Lichtman has successfully predicted almost every presidential election to date. In 2020, his 13 Keys model predicts that Joe Biden will beat Donald Trump. As I discussed here, some of Lichtman's conclusions are up for debate, namely his suggestion that Trump has not scored any major international achievements in his first term.
In Lichtman's 2020 model, Trump is short two keys, but those two keys are easily changed by varying opinions.
Lichtman claims Trump is not charismatic, which is one of his keys that Trump fails to hold. More importantly, Lichtman claims there are no short and long term economic gains under Trump to be had (due to the pandemic) and that he has failed to come by any major international achievements. These keys could be easily flipped by any alternating point of view.
Some could argue that Trump is indeed charismatic and that Americans do, in fact, see long term economic success under his leadership. These two keys alone, if flipped, would make Trump the winner according to Lichtman's forecasting model. Even if one of those two keys does not flip, many would consider Trump's brokered peace deals between Israel and other countries as a significant international achievement, as well as his promise to rewrite NAFTA.
Helmut Norpoth: Trump Wins
Political scientist and professor, Helmut Norpoth, uses a “primary model” to predict presidential election outcomes. His model has successfully predicted all but two presidential elections since 1912. He was one of the few prognosticators that were called crazy in 2016 for predicting that Donald Trump would beat Hillary Clinton.
In 2020, Norpoth is again predicting that Donald Trump will win.
Norpoth himself has cautioned that the pandemic and other factors could throw his model off in 2020, but he has also decided to stick by his own prediction. This time, his model predicts an even larger electoral college victory for Trump than in 2016.
Norpoth uses Joe Biden's dismal performances in key Democratic primary races as evidence that the former vice president will lose to Donald Trump. Norpoth's model only failed twice: the 2000 election and the 1960 election. When applied retroactively, his model successfully predicts 25 out the past 27 elections. Norpoth made his first prediction in 1996, when he was called crazy for predicting that Bill Clinton would be re-elected following his scandalous first term in office.
Norpoth does not use any polling data, whatsoever, to form his predictions.
Favorability: Biden Wins
In 2016, Trump and Clinton were virtually tied for favorability. In 2020, Biden has a 7% spread over Trump. It is important to note that these numbers are based on mainstream polling. Unlike Clinton, Biden surpasses 50% in favorability in some mainstream polls, while Trump's unfavorability rating exceeds 50%.
Trump – 54%
Biden – 44%
Trump – 58%
Clinton – 54%
Trump's unfavorability rating has improved slightly from 2016, but he currently leads Biden by more than 10% in negative favorability.
2016 Polling Winners: Trump Wins
The same polling agencies that predicted Trump's win in 2016 are again showing him leading Biden in key swing states. Although he has lost ground in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, according to Trafalgar Group, Trump leads in Michigan, Florida, North Carolina and Arizona. If Trump holds these key states, he could afford to lose both Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.
Using 2016's election outcome and combining it with the most recent results by Trafalgar Group, this is the electoral map in 2020:
It looks like a slim win for Trump. With the threat of a drawn out and legally contested outcome on the horizon, Trump may need a bigger electoral college victory than what this map shows. If it comes true, Michigan will need to be a lot wider a margin for Trump than it was in 2016. After recounts and court battles, it could come down to the wire in several states. In such a case, the final results could flip either way.
To solidify and secure an impenetrable victory, Trump needs to win more states than he is projected to win by Trafalgar Group at the moment. Up until now, Trafalgar has showed Biden leading Trump in Pennsylvania. Trump has since narrowed the gap to a statistical tie. In the map above, we will leave Pennsylvania in Joe Biden's bag, but if it swings in Trump's favor, Biden's loss will be inevitable.
The Betting Markets: Biden Wins
It has been said that election odds are more accurately predicted by the betting markets. In 2016, the betting market put Trump and Clinton each at 50/50 odds of winning (the night before election, Clinton's odds plummeted to below 10%), which went completely contrary to what professional pundits and mainstream prognosticators were saying at the time. According to them, Hillary had a 90% chance of beating Trump.
This time, the betting odds are in Joe Biden's favor by 60/40. On the eve of the election in 2016, Trump hit 90% on the betting markets—so these numbers could change. Keep an eye on the link provided.
Mainstream Polls: Biden Wins
The most important thing for everyone to consider is the historical accuracy of the mainstream polling agencies in question. If we are to consider the accuracy of prognosticators like Helmut Norpoth, we must also consider the fact that most mainstream polls have been largely successful up until 2016.
Before 2016, polling firms had been very successful at predicting winners. Nate Silver and Real Clear Politics have used polling averages to successfully predict the past five elections, with the exception of 2016—in which case they successfully predicted the national popular vote, but not the outcomes in several key swing states.
Mainstream polls had considerable success predicting the 2018 mid-term elections down to the finest details.
In 2020, there is reason to take the mainstream polls and prognosticators seriously. It would be a mistake for Trump or any of his supporters to discount the mainstream media and their hired polling agencies. Many of them, like Quinnipiac, have questionable methodology and there is just as much reason to be skeptical—but disregarding their results would be a mistake.
Despite their failures in 2016, we have to keep in mind how narrowly Trump beat Clinton in the most important swing states and how accurate mainstream polls, in fact, were at predicting the overall popular vote won by Hillary Clinton. In battlegrounds like Pennsylvania and Michigan, mainstream polls only missed the mark by 3% or less.
According to everything we have covered here, Trump's chances of winning re-election are slim, but not as slim as mainstream pundits would like us to think. After the 2016 shock, everyone is second guessing their own predictions. Mostly, mainstream polling firms have not adjusted their methodology or practices from 2016—for the most part, because they have been historically successful.
According to the mainstream polling averages, Biden is polling 5% higher than Clinton was prior to election night. Whether we want to admit it, or whether we don't, it won't change the fact that Donald Trump has lost ground from 2016. Successful polling agencies like Trafalgar show that Trump has lost ground in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin since 2016, while the mainstream polls show Biden with a bigger lead than Hillary Clinton. All of that means something.
If we were to assign one point for each factor mentioned here, Trump is losing to Joe Biden.
Of the seven factors we analyzed here, Trump only wins three times. That gives him a 3/7 chance of winning, or a close 50/50 shot at being re-elected.
In percentages, Donald Trump's chance of winning re-election according to this analysis is 43%. That's a lot higher than his chances at Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight, which puts Trump's chances at 13%.
Trump's odds of winning according to:
Note: another factor not mentioned here is social media reach. According to analysis, Trump beats Biden on Facebook, but Biden narrowly beats Trump on Twitter. The two cancel each other out and provide no further evidence of a lead for either candidate.
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