26 August 2019

435 Days Until the US Presidential Election

In the United States, election season never really ends.  As soon as one election is held, whether it be a presidential, congressional, state of local election, the next election cycle immediately begins.  This is particularly true for presidential elections in the United States.  To hear US President Donald Trump speak since he took office, one would think that he was still re-running the 2016 presidential election over and over again. Likewise, Democrats have been lining up for the chance to run against President Trump from the moment the surprise result of 2016’s election became known.  

In fact, there is nothing in the world quite like a presidential election in the United States, both in a good and a bad sense.  Part political contest and part sporting event, the long drawn-out and very expensive US presidential election is an exercise in democratic overkill, but one that results in the most suspenseful of election days.  Furthermore, no election in the world comes anywhere close to drawing the world’s attention as a presidential election in the United States.


Trump Seeks Another Term in Office 

Earlier is his term, there was much speculation that President Trump would not seek a second term in office, as many believed that he was not fond of the lifestyle of a US president. However, it is clear that he is now all-in when it comes to seeking re-election in 2020.  The question for the president and his advisors is, can he win again.  One factor that suggests he can is the fact that he has retained the backing of the vast majority of his core supporters from 2016.  In fact, among Republicans he remains very popular, retaining the support of at least 80% of registered Republican voters.  

However, he enjoys very little support outside of his base, as evidenced by the fact that polls show that he is the least popular president at this stage in his presidency of anyone who has sat in the White House since Jimmy Carter, a president who was thrashed in his bid to win re-election in 1980. In fact, President Trump’s average approval rating has held remarkably steady in recent months at a level of around 42%, with very little fluctuation in his approval rating over the past 18 months. Nevertheless, there has been a dip in his approval rating in recent polls, likely due to the fact that the economic outlook for the United States is starting to worsen.  Should these economic concerns grow, President Trump’s approval rating could yet fall significantly. 


A Crowded (and Divided) Democratic Field

While President Trump has retained much of his support among Republicans, he is despised by most Democrats, and a combination of this antipathy and the sense that the president is vulnerable in 2020 has resulted in a multitude of candidates coming forward to seek the Democratic Party’s nomination for the presidency in next year’s election.  However, the Democratic Party is a party that is currently highly divided, something that threatens the party’s ability to win back the White House in 2020.  

The main division when it comes to the presidential election is between those Democrats that want to nominate a centrist such as Joe Biden or Kamala Harris, with their focus being primarily on removing President Trump from office, and those Democrats that are more to the left of the political spectrum and want to nominate a progressive candidate such as Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders.  For the moment, former Vice President Joe Biden remains the front-runner among the plethora of Democratic candidates for the 2020 presidential election.  However, he has not been able to pull away from his leading rivals within the party, despite the fact that polls show that he is clearly the candidate that has the best chance to defeat the president. Still, there is still more than five months before the Iowa caucuses kick off the nomination process, and much can happen before then.


It's the Electoral College, Stupid!

As we look to the actual presidential election in November 2020, it is important to remember that the winner of the election is the candidate that wins 270 or more of the votes in the Electoral College.  In 2016, Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton by a margin of 304 to 227 in the Electoral College, despite losing the popular vote to Mrs. Clinton by a margin of 48.2% to 46.1%.  This makes it imperative that this election is viewed on a state-by-state basis, as national polls could prove to be misleading, as they were in 2016.  

When we look at individual states, it is clear that, no matter who the Democrats end up nominating, some states are already clearly in the bag for either candidate.  For example, barring a collapse in his support between now and November 2020, President Trump will likely win most of the states of the Deep South, the Great Plains and the Northern Rockies.  Together, these states would give the president 126 votes in the Electoral College.  Meanwhile, the eventual Democratic nominee will likely win most of the states in the Northeastern US and the West Coast, as well as Illinois.  This would give the Democratic nominee 182 votes in the Electoral College, meaning that the Democrats will enter next year’s election with a stronger base of states than President Trump.


Swing States Will Decide Again

With 308 of the 538 Electoral College votes seemingly in the bag for either of the two candidates, this leaves 16 states that will likely determine the outcome of next year’s election.  

For President Trump, he will have to defend many of these key states, as he won ten of them in 2016, often by very narrow margins. First, he must defend his victories in three southeastern swing states, including Florida, North Carolina and Georgia, with recent polls suggesting that he may be able to do so.  Second, he must defend the five swing states in the Mid-West and Northeast that he won in 2016, including Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa.  Here the polls tell a different story and President Trump will need to dramatically rebuild his support in this region if he is to win any of these states in 2020. Finally, two long-time Republican strongholds, Texas and Arizona, have seen support for Democrats rise in recent years and, if President Trump were to lose them, his changes for re-election would fall dramatically.  

For the eventual Democratic nominee, he or she must first hold on to those states that Clinton won narrowly in 2016, including Virginia, Colorado, Minnesota, Nevada and New Hampshire.  At the moment, President Trump is polling very poorly in each of these states, so the Democrats must feel confident about holding on to each of these states. Meanwhile, the Democrats must regain some of the Midwestern states that they lost to Trump in 2016, with Wisconsin and Michigan looking the most likely to be flipped in 2020.  As always seems to be the case, a handful of states will determine the next presidential election in the United States.


Much Can Happen Before November 2020

Clearly, President Trump’s chances of re-election have taken a series of hits in recent months.  Most importantly, the US economy is forecast to slow between now and the next election, potentially depriving the president of the one area that was seen as his strength among more centrist voters. Furthermore, no president has been as unpopular as him at this stage of his first term and gone on to be re-elected to a second term in office.  

If the Democrats end up nominating a centrist candidate who can relate to the average voter in places such as Wisconsin or Pennsylvania, then their candidate will likely be the clear favorite to win next year’s election.  In fact, recent polls show that Joe Biden would be a heavy favorite to defeat President Trump in 2020 if that is indeed the matchup. However, should the Democrats nominate more left-wing candidate next year, then their ability to win many of the key swing states will be jeopardized and President Trump could once again defy the odds and win a second term in office.  

What is certain is that, over the next 435 days, the world’s attention will become increasingly fixed on what could become one of the most consequential and acrimonious presidential elections in the history of the United States.