While India has to prepare for the possibility of a Joe Biden win in the US presidential elections in November, it is equally important to avoid jumping to this conclusion based on current polling trends, where Biden has a comfortable 8 per cent lead over the incumbent.
Reason tells us that Donald Trump, given his wayward personality and poor handling of the Covid-19 challenge, has the deck loaded against him this year. But don’t forget, even in 2016 evidence of his misogyny and political incorrectness regularly made it to the headlines, making him seem unelectable. But after every setback based on negative media reports, his poll ratings bounced back to the old trendlines.
Remember also that most polls, including the much-celebrated www.fivethirtyeight.com run by Nate Silver, got the final result horribly wrong. Trump won in the electoral college, which is where the votes need to stack up to above 50 per cent, and not in the popular vote sweepstakes. Trump won despite Hillary Clinton’s huge lead in the popular vote.
The Nate Silver methodology depends on making simulations based on several assumptions and currently this model is predicting that Trump can win in 29 out of 100 prediction models, and Biden in the remaining 71. Seventy-one should any day be seen as a winning bet, especially given the solid 8 per cent (average of various polls) Biden lead over Trump.
But here’s the kicker: even in 2016, this was almost the exact same prediction based on Silver’s simulations. Silver’s models lost, Trump’s gut-based campaigning won.
One forecaster, who uses unusual methods to model and forecast presidential election results, has, in fact, suggested that Trump may win hands down in the electoral college, which has 538 votes. The winner needs 270 to get to the White House.
Helmut Norpoth, professor at Stony Book University’s department of political science (In New York state), who got five of the last six presidential election predictions right, has forecast a 91 per cent victory chance for Trump.
Going directly to predict electoral college trends instead of popular votes, which might well go against Trump again, Norpoth has said that Trump will get comfortably past the 270 mark with 362 electoral votes. (See chart below, Courtesy Stony Brook News).
If this turns out to be right, it will be because of several reasons that biased media and pollsters cannot see or acknowledge.
One, we tend to discount last-minute swings in the popular vote, which often decides the winner. This can happen in 2020 too in favour of Trump. Some polls (Rasmussen Reports/Pulse Opinion Research) put Biden’s lead at a wafer-thin 1 per cent (46-45 per cent).
Even in polls that give Biden substantial leads, it is interesting that the Biden vote share never crosses 50-51 per cent. A two-horse race cannot be said to be won till the vote share of the leader is well above 50 per cent. It is always possible that the gap can be closed by the undecided voters, or – more likely – by voters who may have decided in favour of Trump but don’t want to say so.
Two, in everyday polling, people tend to make politically correct statements on voting intentions, especially when it just does not seem right to vote for a seriously flawed personality like Trump, whose misogyny may actually be one of least bad traits.
Three, the current #BlackLivesMatter protests, which have often turned violent and alienated the evangelical and White supremacist parts of America, may polarise votes in favour of Trump in some swing states. Just as faux secularism pushes middle-of-the-road Hindus to vote Bharatiya Janata Party, woke liberalism and perceived reverse racism against the white majority can boomerang on the Democrats.
Four, the American media is dominated by “liberals”, and ordinary voters do not have a high regard for their journalism or opinions. The media is seen to have an ideological interest in running down Trump, and this has not escaped notice among the more conservative and Republican voters.
Five, under Trump – but before Covid-19 – America had a booming economy, and Trump is widely seen to be tackling America’s enemies, especially China, with a much firmer hand than wishy-washy Democrats.
Six, big business is unlikely to give up on Trump after he delivered some of the sharpest tax cuts in history.
Given these realities, even liberal media are hedging their bets. Nate Silver now says that “It’s way too soon to count Trump out”; Financial Times’s Gideon Rachman has written that “Democrats cannot rule out Trump victory”, and so does a columnist in Washington Post (“Of course, Trump can win”).
The smart money is no longer against another Trump victory, even though it may expect (or hope) that Biden will win.
Jagannathan is Editorial Director, Swarajya. He tweets at @TheJaggi.
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