Fear and Loathing: Handicapping 2020

It’s coming down to the wire, and there’s a ton of nervousness out there about who will win the election. Yes, Uncle Joe has a serious lead in the polls, but The Donald has been shown to be making gains among the undecideds — and we must remember that Clinton too led in the polls in 2016.

After all is said and done, it’s not the popular vote that will decide the election, nor should it be. It’s the Electoral College.

And one good thing about this is, there’s an awful lot of the results tomorrow that we know already; there’s no real doubt. For example: California and New York are voting Biden, as are the legendary graveyards of Chicago; if those don’t carry Illinois, the DNC party machine will have grown weak indeed. Most of the coastal states, in fact, will vote Democrat, and many of the rural ones will probably vote Republican. This isn’t in doubt, not really; it’s also unlikely that any last-minute news event could sway the election results, not with over ninety million ballots already in the mail.

(Besides: If Trump loses so badly that he loses Montana, we won’t need to count the rest of the votes. We’ll know.)

The website 270toWin has produced a remarkable tool for this purpose; we’ve taken the liberty of creating a likely model at this link:

As you can see, most of the states are quite certain. We have twelve marked down as “unknown”, but it’s not really that difficult to forecast. As an example, let us discuss the two divided states, Nebraska and Maine. You’ll note we’ve picked the Nebraskan urban district to go Democrat and the Maine rural district to go Republican; in reality, either could flip, or both. If both, the total won’t change, so we’re opting to go with this to cover both eventualities.

For the rest, feel free to follow along and mark the states as you wish:

Iowa: In many election years this state will flip back and forth. Historically, they have a weakness for populist candidates, and Biden is not that. What’s more, the state holds some resentment; after all, they emphatically chose candidates that weren’t him during the caucuses. Polling notwithstanding, TNFN believes Iowa will vote Republican.

Texas: Doubtless you’ve seen the news of the Biden campaign bus and staff (the candidate was not present) being harassed by local Texans. The urban vote goes Democrat, but much of Texas is decidedly rural, and that segment of the populace which has emigrated from Mexico is rather more conservative than not. TNFN is fairly confident Texas will vote for Trump.

Florida: Biden leads in Florida polling. However, the gap is narrowing. On the one hand, there are a lot of Florida residents who aren’t actually present in Florida this year due to COVID-19, and they’re eligible to vote by mail. On the other, absentee ballots are complex, and there is occasionally a disinclination by the retired to perform difficult or complex tasks for no apparent gain. TNFN is presently leaving Florida as too close to call, but with the odds very slightly in Trump’s favor. It will be very close.

Pennsylvania: Uncle Joe’s campaign staff has, quite wisely, opted to focus their efforts here — and they’re paying off. With Pennsylvania, the Democrats will only need a handful more electoral votes; without it, they are overwhelmingly likely to lose. Joe’s got the “native son” advantage; this state is two warring cities separated by a ton of rural middle, and Biden hails from the middle. TNFN has little doubt but that this will go his way.

Ohio: This state isn’t terribly urban, and what there is for cities is more conservative than not. Generally, it swings Republican, and unless there’s a massive anti-Trump swing in the air (which would induce a landslide), TNFN predicts it will go as it usually does — Trump.

Georgia: Half the state is traditional Southern redneck; the other half is Atlanta — and Atlanta will go for Biden in a landslide. Georgia has an established and highly effective political machine in place, with “Get Out The Vote” buses and a massive stable of tame churches that will exhort the undecided to vote Democrat. TNFN picks Biden here.

New Hampshire: While there was a lot of enthusiasm for the Democratic primary candidates here, very little was pro-Biden. In contrast, the occasional Trump rally routinely draws massive enthusiastic crowds. TNFN tentatively calls this state for Trump.

Michigan: This state is largely rural, but the scattered cities are sunk in poverty. Despite decades of Democratic failures here, it’s likely they will continue to vote Democrat — because the alternative has them supporting the factory owners, who all left years ago. TNFN believes Biden should win this, if narrowly; nevertheless, we’re leaving it in the “too close to call” category.

Wisconsin: Wisconsin has a long progressive tradition, as does much of the midwest. Trump won here very narrowly in 2016, and the policy differences between Biden and Clinton are microscopic. Sanders would have swept the state easily; Biden, on the other hand, has a narrow edge. TNFN is not calling it at present.

Minnesota: The riots in Minneapolis have left a sour taste in the mouths of local undecideds, and there’s a great deal of resentment about the failure of The Party to accept Sanders. Against this weighs a strong progressive tradition even in rural areas. This state is too close to call, and there’s very little accurate polling — surprising, considering how important these results are.

Arizona: Here, the polling only narrowly favors Biden. However, much as in Florida (though to a lesser degree), there are a number of seasonal retirees that aren’t being counted. TNFN tentatively calls this state for Trump.

North Carolina: This state is traditionally Republican, though the margin has been narrowing for some decades. A sudden Biden surge is possible, but not likely. We’re calling this for Trump.

The Bottom Line:

If all goes as we’ve predicted, Biden needs to win either Florida, Michigan, or both Wisconsin and Minnesota to carry the election. Trump, on the other hand, needs to win a multiple. If the odds were even in all these states, that would give him about a one in five shot at the win. However, they are not; Michigan and Wisconsin each narrowly favor Biden. That makes it one in nine.

There is, of course, the chance we’ve mis-analyzed some other race; the uncertainty window on this prediction is wide. We’ve never had so many early voters, so many by mail, or so much enthusiasm against candidates. Both Trump and the DNC are widely despised; Biden’s opposition largely isn’t personal (presumably because not many Americans hate plagiarism as much as the average writer).

But if you live in any of the states named (or, of course, Maine or Nebraska, which are always important), your vote might very well be important this election. Granted, that’s only about a quarter of the population; the rest of us might just as well stay home — or vote third party. We won’t, of course; this election is going to have the largest turnout on record, with some people voting twice or even three times “just in case”. (Not to worry; there are systems in place to catch this.)

One more thing: TNFN predicts Biden will win the popular vote by a moderate percentage, and third-party candidates Howie Hawkins and Jo Jorgensen will manage three to five percent between them. If more states followed the example of Maine and Nebraska, and if the House of Representatives were substantially increased, this would matter; likewise, if the Compact were accepted (and resisted Constitutional challenge), again, this might make a difference. But it doesn’t, and it won’t any time soon.

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