STAR PREVIEW: The Ultimate US Election Preview

After the year to end all years, we have the election to end all elections, with only a little bit of hyperbole in that statement. The 2020 Presidential Election has been stable in polling terms – even if I can’t describe the politics of it, because these previews are family friendly – but with the main events of the campaign having come and gone, it’s now time to assess the race at this late stage. But first, a short guide to make everything less complicated, by WILLIAM KEDJANYI.

🇺🇸 How It Works

Through this article you will hear a lot of talk about ‘swing states’ and the Electoral College. This is because rather than voting directly for a president, voters in this election are allocated electors from the electoral college, depending on the number of votes for each candidate.

Each state is allocated a set number of electors, who make up what is known as the US electoral college – the candidate who gets 270 of these or more wins.

🇺🇸 When will we know the winner?

There’ll be a winner and a loser of this election, but when the result is confirmed is a different matter. Several of the critical states – like Pennsylvania – don’t count their absentee ballots until days after election day – in the past this hasn’t mattered much, but this year it will be hard to come up with any credible count without including mail ballots. And with same day ballots likely to skew strongly Republican this year, that could create confusion that people – and punters – should be prepared for.

🇺🇸 Story Of The Campaign

On the 20th January 2017, two momentous things happened in the life of Donald John Trump. The then 70-year-old, the oldest President at inauguration in history, also did something else significant – he filed for re-election in 2020. Shortly after, Roughly 9,000 people packed inside the massive AeroMod International hangar at Orlando Melbourne International Airport to hear the President speak, and before most people knew it, the 2020 Presidential race was underway.

I will spare you the thousands of words that could be written about Trump’s presidency, but we all know of the uncompromising stances he’s taken with policy and his campaign promises, including but not limited to; Tax cuts, leaving the Paris climate agreement, reshaping the judiciary across America, the Supreme Court included, increasing the amount spent on the military, a ban on travellers from mainly Muslim countries, big time deregulation, and an anti-China focus.

Then along came the pandemic. Cases soared with deaths coming soon after, whilst the President downplayed the looming danger. Meanwhile, the unemployment rate soared with 22 million jobs being lost whilst states responded to the peak of the first wave. Trump’s approval ratings – which had bounced in line with other world leaders – took a downward turn to new depths.

The data on how Trump has handled the virus is brutal: According an ABC News/Ipsos poll, just 35% of Americans approve of how the president has handled the crisis. That figure climbs among Republicans to 76%, but even that is a low rating given the near religious approval ratings that Trump has in the party.

The US is also in the middle of another Coronavirus peak, which is set to be even worse than the first: The seven-day average of daily new cases reached an all-time high of 68,767 on Sunday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University (The previous record of 67,293 was set on July 22) and the outlook for the foreseeable future is abysmal.

Indeed, new cases of COVID-19 are up 26% week-over-week in the U.S., while deaths have increased by 15%, according to an HHS memo obtained by ABC News – with 40 U.S. states and territories are in an upward trajectory of new infections – it is worth noting that many of the states experiencing the worst of this effect are what we’d call ‘swing states’, too.

Joe Biden may be a strong favourite now but he that was not the case during the Democratic primaries, despite the fact he’d been leading in the national polls – indeed Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders headed the market at different points, whilst Michael Bloomberg was backed to make his big money count. There was also interest in Pete Buttigeg, Amy Klobuchar and Kamala Harris during 2019 – all candidates who flooded the moderate lane of the party. Biden looked in even more trouble after he finished fourth in the Iowa caucuses on the 3rd February and fifth in the New Hampshire primary about a week later, causing him to drift further, but this was the end of the beginning, not the beginning of the end.

Biden powered to success in the South Carolina primary, motivated by strong support from African-American voters as well as Democratic establishment concerns about nominating Bernie Sanders (do I sense some déjà vu?) – following Biden’s victory in South Carolina, several candidates subsequently dropped out of the race and endorsed Biden, thus putting together the vote of those from the centre and centre right of the Democratic

Biden then went on to win 12 out of 15 contests on Super Tuesday, essentially winning the nomination there and then, and Sanders withdrew on the 8th April, leaving Biden as the presumptive nominee, with a 5.3% advantage over Trump in head to head polling at the time.

As the coronavirus pandemic has worsened, and discord in the US has grown, Biden’s lead has steadily grown as an anti-Trump voting coalition has solidified. With health concerns over the virus – something that Democrat voters have always shared overwhelmingly – Biden’s campaign has been very restrained, with the team working almost entirely from the internet during the height of the summer.

With a comfortable lead and two comprehensive victories in the Presidential Debates, the Biden campaign has been one of caution, avoiding significant cultural and political interventions, along with the crowded rallies that have been the President’s forte.

Trump has held 48 events in battleground states over 40 days, including the time he took off the trail after he became sick with COVID-19 and was hospitalized (indeed, The President sometimes visited multiple cities in one day) In that same period, Biden held 37 events. Since the convention, Biden has travelled on fewer than 29 days.

🇺🇸 The Forecasts:

Below are a set of the leading forecast chances of a Joe Biden victory (he’s been chosen due to his position as the favourite).

Lean Tossup: 97.2%
The Economist: 96%
College Forecast by Patrick English: 94%
FiveThirtyEight: 89%
New Statesman: 88.8%
Decision Desk HQ: 87.9%
Star Sports: 71.43% (2/5)

🇺🇸 The Polls:

At the time of writing Joe Biden leads Donald Trump nationally by an average of 9.0 points according to FiveThirtyEight’s average of polling. The listed purpose of this, as described by editor-in-chief Nate Silver, is to: “reflect the current state of the polling in each state, rather than to predict the eventual outcome. That is to say, our averages are a snapshot, not a forecast. Indeed, the way we calibrate various settings in the polling averages — such as how aggressive they are in responding to new data — is mostly based on how well the polling average predicts future polls, not how well they predict the outcome of the race.”

🇺🇸 The Battlegrounds

The closest states according to polling averages – and again, FiveThirtyEight is used for the data here, although there are many individuals that have their own state forecasts – in order of the amount of Electoral College votes that can be won, are Texas, Florida, Ohio, Georgia, North Carolina, and Arizona.

Here’s the latest polling average for each of those states:

🗳️ Texas (38 Electoral Votes)

Donald Trump: 50.6% (+2.1)
Joe Biden: 48.5%

🗳️ Florida (29 Electoral Votes)

Joe Biden: 50.6% (+2.0%)
Donald Trump: 48.6%

🗳️ Pennsylvania (20 Electoral Votes)

Joe Biden: 52.2% (+5.1%)
Donald Trump: 47.1%

🗳️ Ohio (18 Electoral Votes)

Joe Biden: 50.1% (+1.2%)
Donald Trump: 48.9%

🗳️ Georgia (16 Electoral Votes)

Joe Biden: 50.0 (+0.8)
Donald Trump: 49.2%

🗳️ North Carolina (15 Electoral Votes)

Joe Biden: 50.7% (+2.1%)
Donald Trump: 48.6%

🗳️ Arizona (11 Electoral Votes)

Joe Biden: 50.9% (+3.1%)
Donald Trump: 47.8%

🇺🇸 The Approval Ratings:

At the start of his presidency Trump was less popular than any president since the Second World War.

Although his approval rating has improved slightly since a low point in December 2017 – one of the most turbulent periods of his presidency – it is still below that of most modern presidents at the same stage of their first time, with the exceptions of George HW Bush and Jimmy Carter – both of whom lost their re-election efforts.

Also placed below is Joe Biden’s favourability rating, to use as a comparison.

Donald Trump

Disapprove: 53.4%
Approve: 42.8%

Net Disapproval: -10.6% (FiveThirtyEight)

Joe Biden

Favourable: 53%
Unfavourable: 43%

Net Favourable Rating: +10% (Upshot for The New York Times)

🇺🇸 2016, All Over Again

It’s difficult to remember an election that has been so defined by the last one than 2020. At every stage during this campaign there has been a constant reference to the upset of four years ago – something that has shaped a large majority of the discourse this time around.

A popular claim or reason (delete as appropriate) for the many people that don’t have the confidence in Biden that the forecasters do – is the fear of another upset like four years ago, although this is a misinterpretation of what happened. Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight puts it best:

“Trump outperformed his national polls by only 1 to 2 percentage points in losing the popular vote to Clinton, making them slightly closer to the mark than they were in 2012. Meanwhile, he beat his polls by only 2 to 3 percentage points in the average swing state. Certainly, there were individual pollsters that had some explaining to do, especially in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, where Trump beat his polls by a larger amount. But the result was not some sort of massive outlier; on the contrary, the polls were pretty much as accurate as they’d been, on average, since 1968.”

What we had in 2016 was a case of a candidate who was within touching distance of his rival outperforming his polls by a small amount nationally, and by more in the states that he needed to win to take the electoral college. The polls weren’t as wrong as many people will tell you, long story short.

🇺🇸 Key Issues

This is always a vitally important part of analysing any election. The last key issue poll was run by PEW’s Fact Tank, and the findings below are taken from said poll.

“About three-quarters of registered voters (74%) say the economy is a very important issue to their vote in the presidential election, while majorities also rate health care (65%), Supreme Court appointments (63%) and the coronavirus outbreak (55%) as very important, according to a new Pew Research Center survey conducted Oct. 6-12 among 10,059 adults, including 8,972 registered voters.

While voters who support Trump (84%) are more likely than Biden supporters (66%) to rate the economy as very important, far more Biden supporters say health care is very important (82% vs. 44% of Trump supporters).”

The economy is the bedrock of the Trump re-election bid, and was one of the vital reasons he managed to win four years ago – he shaded Clinton on the Economy 48% – 46%, whilst voters also felt the economy was either ‘not good’ (41%) or ‘poor’ (21%) – but the key issues make for grim Republican reading.

In a CNN poll released Tuesday 6th October, Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden were tied among registered voters at 49% apiece on the question of who would handle the economy better. Among likely voters, Biden gets 50%, compared with 48% for Trump, a statistical dead heat.

The two candidates were essentially tied on the issue in the last CNN poll taken August 28 – September 1, which is a big drop for Trump from where May, 54% of registered voters said Trump would handle the economy better, compared with 42% for Biden.

🇺🇸 The Voting

Due to the pandemic, there have been new records with early voting. 78 million ballots have now been cast in the US – or 57% of the total turnout recorded in 2016. To bring home the impact, here’s the vote in key swing states as a percentage of % turnout in 2016 (with credit to Prof Rob Ford for posting these statistics on Twitter).

Over 90%: Texas
Over 80%: Georgia, North Carolina
Over 70%: Florida, Nevada, Arizona
Over 50%: Wisconsin, Maine, Iowa
Over 40%: Ohio, Minnesota, Michigan
Over 30%: Pennsylvania

Given their fears about exposure to the Coronavirus, it’s no surprise that Democrats have done the majority of the early voting – but the gap is narrowing steadily and unaffiliated voters aren’t being counted for in these tallies. Republicans by and large, intend to vote on the day and Turnout amongst the Trump base should be high.

🇺🇸 Verdict

Everything looks set fair for Joe Biden to end Trump’s time in the White House and become the 46th President of the United States. The ‘campaign’ – or a lack of it – has made for an election like no other but circumstances have fallen in the former Vice-President’s favour and Trump appears to have run out of time, trailing by an average of nine points nationally with just five days to go.

The pandemic has smashed Trump’s one key calling card – that of economic growth, which had been steady through his Presidency – with the President and Biden level on the economy, and the incumbency which is so often an advantage for Presidents seeking re-election appears to have badly hurt the re-election chances of someone who’s attempted to run as a challenger, like he did in 2016.

Many who are backing the President, whether they be mere fans or gamblers, have pointed to 2016 as reason not to rule out a Trump victory, and whilst nothing can be counted out – even the most pessimistic forecastles have Trump at 25/1, which is not a recurrence beyond reality – the situation is very different now.

By this point four years ago, Trump was rapidly cutting back his deficit to Hillary Clinton – Clinton’s advantage was down to only about 4 points in the national average around this point, from a high of 7 points with about 21 days to go – but Biden’s lead has remained steady for months now, being at least eight points from the first of October, and that includes two Presidential debates.

The Trump campaign has attempted to manufacture October surprises – namely through attacks on Biden’s son, Hunter – but better favourables for the former Vice President (Clinton had an unfavourably score of 52% with Gallup going into the election, and Biden is clear of that marker) and a less controversial political history have made him more resilient to such attempts which lack the impact of the Comey Investigation.

Biden’s rough vote share appears to be 50-52%, depending on where you look, which gives him an extremely handy margin of error to play with compared to Clinton, and his voter coalition also appears to be holding solid. In 2016 Clinton ended up losing the 18% of the electorate who had an unfavourable view of both candidates by 17% according to CNN exit poll data – which is almost certainly where she lost the election.

Punters should not worry about a polling miss – Biden’s lead is well clear of the normal polling errors of elections past, and even if there was a 2016 repeat then he ought to be clear enough to win. It should also be remembered 2016, many pollsters failed to adjust for the fact that college-educated Americans are typically more likely to respond to surveys (meaning that pollsters “under-sampled” non-college-educated voters) and that mistake has been rectified in methodology for this election.

🇺🇸 Selections

The best way to take advantage of this is with the Electoral College handicap. Star offer 21/20 on Biden giving 100.5 Electoral College votes to Trump, and 5/6 on him giving 81.5, with the latter making a lot of appeal. The median estimates from College Forecast (352-182), The Economist (Biden 352-188 Trump), FiveThirtyEight (346-192) and The New Statesman (332-200) all have Biden giving up that margin and it’s a handicap which plenty of winners have beaten before – Barack Obama did it in both his election wins whilst Bill Clinton (twice) and George W.Bush both won by more than 100 Electoral College votes.

With thanks to:
David Stewart, Karin Robinson, Hib-a Ṫʜ-m, Patrick English and Scott Tranter.

2020 Presidential Election
November 3, 2020
538 members of the Electoral College
270 electoral votes needed to win

Previous Election Results (Electoral College Votes, since 1988)

2016: Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton 304-227 (Trump won 46.1% of the popular vote, Clinton 48.2%)
2012: Barack Obama beat Mitt Romney 332-206 (Obama 51.1% of the popular vote, Romney 47.2%)
2008: Barack Obama beat John McCain 365-173 (Obama won 52.9% of the popular vote, McCain 45.7%)
2004: George W.Bush beat John Kerry 286-251 (Bush won 50.7% of the popular vote, Kerry 47.3%)
2000: George W.Bush beat Al Gore 271-266 (Bush won 47.9% of the popular vote, Gore 48.4%)
1996: Bill Clinton beat Bob Dole 379-159 (Clinton won 49.2% of the popular vote, Dole 40.7% of the popular vote, and Independent candidate Ross Perot took 8.2% of popular vote)
1992: Bill Clinton beat George H.W Bush 370-168 (Clinton won 43.0% of the popular vote, 37.4% of the popular vote, and Independent candidate Ross Perot took 18.9% of popular vote)
1988: George H.W Bush beat Michael Dukakis 426-111 (Bush won 53.4% of the popular vote, Dukakis 45.6% of the popular vote)

RECOMMENDED BETS (scale of 1-100 points)
BACK Joe Biden -81.5 in Electoral College Handicap 10 pts at 5/6 with

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