US Elections 2020: Why Trump Or Biden May Not Accept Defeat On 3 November 

US Elections 2020: Why Trump Or Biden May Not Accept Defeat On 3 November 

by Tushar Gupta - Tuesday, November 3, 2020 05:46 PM IST
US Elections 2020: Why Trump Or Biden May Not Accept Defeat On 3 November  US President Donald Trump and Democratic Party’s presidential candidate Joe Biden (right). (Illustration: Swarajya Magazine)  
  • A Trump 2.0 could be a validation for the trade wars, attacks on liberal media, an unconventional foreign policy.

    A Biden 1.0 could mean the beginning of the undoing of the last four years of US’ domestic and foreign policy.

As people in the United States prepare for the last day of voting, some groups on both sides are already preparing for the worst-case scenario — what if the other side refuses to concede?

The growing uncertainty pertaining to the conclusion of the elections is now starting to hit some pollsters as well. Many are wondering if the popular vote margin will be significant enough to call a decisive victory for either side in a battleground state, and they are not wrong in their apprehensions, for there is plenty that could go wrong.

When it comes to the US, unlike India, the popular vote, also known as the national poll, is only a stepping stone towards winning the presidential election. Often, many analysts and experts have lamented that it is not the popular vote that matters but the electoral college.

The electoral college is made up of 538 delegates from 50 states. The electoral college is based on how people from different states are represented in Congress. As is the case with Lok Sabha, each state gets membership proportional to its population in the House of Representatives and for every state, there are two members for the Senate.

For each state, the electoral votes (of the total 538) are a sum of the members in the House of Representatives and the Senate. Thus, California with the largest population, has the greatest number of electoral votes (55).

Given the process that involves electoral college and the popular vote, it is possible to win the race to the White House without actually having the most votes.

In the last 100 years of electoral history in the US, only President Donald Trump in 2016 and George W Bush in 2000, have won the election while losing the popular vote.

However, it must be noted that the margin of the popular vote has always been narrow. For instance, Barack Obama defeated Mitt Romney in 2012 with a lead of 3.9 per cent of the total votes cast; in 2004, George Bush defeated John Kerry by a lead of 2.4 per cent. The last time someone defeated the other candidate by a double-digit percentage lead in the popular vote was in 1984 when Ronald Reagan won the second term.

This is where the election starts getting complicated. In 2016, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, gaining a 2.1 per cent lead over Trump. However, Trump won the electoral college by winning the battleground states, and the same equation is going to be critical in today’s election, but with more variables involved.

So, where does the popular vote stop mattering?

When it comes to different states, some states are traditionally blue, that is Democratic, and some are red, that is Republican.

For instance, the 29 electoral votes of New York and 55 electoral votes of California are more or less guaranteed for the Democrats. Similarly, the Republicans can count on Texas and many other smaller states to see them through.

Eventually, it boils down to winning enough states to ensure 270 electoral votes, irrespective of the popular vote as was witnessed in 2016.

This is where the swing states or battleground states become important. These are states that can flip towards the blue or the red, depending on an array of factors, and for 2020, these swing states include Georgia, Michigan, North Carolina, Arizona and Iowa.

Some pollsters are expecting Texas, a Republican stronghold, to flip towards the blues. Florida touted as indispensable for Trump, is also one of the said swing states as per some forecasts. For most, it is Pennsylvania that stands between the race and the White House.

Thus, it won’t be over until the Fat Ladies in these swing states sing, and this is where it gets complicated.

Unlike ever before, people have chosen to cast their votes through mail ballots. As of 30 October, the total number of votes cast by mail ballot stood at two-thirds of the total votes cast in 2016. However, in the swing states, millions of ballots are at risk of not being counted, being lost, or spoiled, thus impacting the final race.

A story in the Wall Street Journal stated that on 30 October, more than 7 million ballots had not been returned in the 13 most competitive states. To put things in perspective, Trump’s lead margin in these states in 2016 was less than 2 million.

In Georgia, there were 624,842 outstanding ballots on 29 October while the margin of victory here in 2016 was merely 211,141 votes. In Michigan, there were 721,936 ballots outstanding while the margin of victory in 2016 was only 10,704 votes.

In Arizona, the victory in 2016 came at a margin of 91,234 votes, but it had more than 1.2 million ballots outstanding. For Florida, critical to Trump’s aspirations, and a state he won by around 110,000 votes in 2016, more than 1.6 million ballots were outstanding on 29 October.

The trouble of missing or outstanding ballots is not only for the swing states. As per some forecasts, more Democrats, perhaps wary of the pandemic, have opted for mail ballots as compared to Republicans. Thus, in a state like Colorado, likely to go blue, and won by around 136,000 votes in 2016 by Clinton, 1.9 million outstanding ballots could cause serious trouble in the final count.

However, no party, in the event of a disputed result or count, can claim these numbers with accuracy, further adding to the complication.

For instance, some states like Colorado where 1.9 million outstanding ballots remain, mail a ballot to every eligible voter. While voters may choose to vote through the mail, a significant chunk may want to turn up at the voting booth on 3 November, thus causing the problem of overestimation.

However, both Biden and Trump cannot dismiss the outstanding ballots that easily. Even though the popular vote may aid the candidates to a certain extent, it does become important in the overall scheme of things.

As per the analysis of FiveThirtyEight, a popular lead vote margin of 6 to 7 percentage points puts the chances of a Trump victory at 1 in 100. If the margin drops to 4 to 5 percentage points, the chances of a Trump victory at 1 in 10.

However, if the margin drops to 3 to 4 percentage points, the chances of a Trump victory increase to 1 in 3. Anything narrower than that, and Trump will have the lawns of the White House to himself until 2024.

However, the same numbers leave room for a disputed result as well, and both sides seem to be preparing for it already.

Last evening, Justin Clark, deputy campaign manager for Trump 2020, released a note about the Democrats delegitimising the election result.

Stating how Biden had failed to garner an early lead in the battleground states, Clark said that the Democrats will use the outstanding ballots to contest the result, and will engage in misinformation and demand time beyond the election day to make an attempt to tilt the result their way.

The Democrats, for long now, have claimed that Trump will not hand over the presidency peacefully and may take the election to the Supreme Court as witnessed in 2000 when Bush defeated Al Gore. Even Trump has stated that the election may well end up in the Supreme Court. Interestingly, the move could benefit Trump given the conservative majority amongst the Supreme Court justices.

Even the citizens seem to be apprehensive about a disputed outcome to the election. Already, stores in New York are boarding up in case of arson and demonstrations by groups of either side. Many high-end stores in New York’s Fifth Avenue are already preparing for a possible unrest situation. Similar scenes are also playing out in Los Angeles, Washington DC, Boston, and Detroit, given businesses are still scarred by the memories of ‘Black Lives Matter’ protests.

For both Democrats and the Republicans, the election has too much at stake to simply concede in the event of a disputed result.

A Trump 2.0 could be a validation for the trade wars, attacks on liberal media, an unconventional foreign policy. A Biden 1.0 could mean the beginning of the undoing of the last four years of US’ domestic and foreign policy.

As was the beginning, the end of Trump, if indeed one, will not be that straightforward.

Tushar is a senior-sub-editor at Swarajya. He tweets at @Tushar15_
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