The US Presidential Election is just days away. Many are predicting this election to be one of the most significant US elections in recent history. I believe the same was said about the 2016 election, which in many ways was true. In 2016, Donald Trump was considered by many to be the anti-establishment candidate. He did not have the political background of most other candidates and he did not play the same political games. Donald Trump winning in 2016 was an indication that the American people had had enough of the political status quo. This did not necessarily mean he was an improvement or even significantly different in practice.
In 2020, Donald Trump is running for his second term. This time round people should have a better idea of the type of president he is and if his policies are having a positive impact on the country. Unfortunately, assessing his performance is not as easy as it should be. Mainstream Media are either strongly biased against him (i.e. CNN) or strongly biased in favour of him (i.e. Fox). The events of 2020 have not helped. Actions to slow the spread of Covid-19 has hurt the US economy and greatly increased social tensions. Protests and riots over police brutality and racism has further heightened tensions.
US Presidential Election System
The US Presidential Election is essentially based on a two party/candidate system even though there are several candidates running. The Republican and the Democrat Parties dominate US politics. The previous 32 US presidents have been from either the Republican or Democratic Parties (Wikipedia). In Congress, Republicans and Democrats hold 99.8% of the seats in the House of Representatives (one seat held by the Libertarian Party) and 98% of the seats in the Senate (two seats held by Independents) (Wikipedia). Mainstream Media coverage is centred on the candidates from the two main parties. All major televised debates are between just the two candidates from the main parties. 1992 was an exception when Independent candidate Ross Perot was invited to the three main debates (Wikipedia). In the 1992 election, he managed to obtain 18.9% of the popular vote, which is considerably higher than what third party candidates normally achieve (Wikipedia). This is a strong indication of the importance of exposure to the people, which is lacking for anyone outside the Republican and Democratic parties.
The Electoral College determines the winner of the US Presidential Election. The Electoral College consists of 538 electors. These electors are appointed by each State. The number of electors depends on the number of seats held by that State in the House of Representatives and Senate, which is based on the population of the State. States with a high population have more electors. In order to become the US President, a candidate must obtain an absolute major of votes from electors (i.e. 270 (538/2 + 1)). Electors are intended but not always compelled to vote based on the popular vote within the State. If none of the candidates achieve an absolute majority, a contingent election is conducted (Wikipedia). The President is determined by vote in the House of Representatives and the Vice President is determined by vote in the Senate (Wikipedia). A contingent election has not been needed since 1837. The Electoral College selection of president normally aligns with the national popular vote. The 2000 and 2016 elections are the only exceptions when the candidate with the highest popular vote did not win (Wikipedia).
Using the Electoral College instead of the national popular vote changes the way that candidates campaign. If the president were determined based on the national popular vote, all votes across the country would be equal. Therefore, candidates would need to campaign to the whole country. For many States in the US, the popular vote consistently goes to the same party (i.e. Democratic or Republican candidate). That leaves just a few States that could go either way. Most of the time, the election is determined by how many people vote for each candidate in these States. Therefore, campaign efforts are more strongly focused on these States.
Who will win the 2020 election?
Source: Yahoo News
If we assume electors vote as pledged and all existing candidates remain in the running, four candidates could win the US Presidential Election. These candidates are Donald Trump (Republican), Joe Biden (Democratic), Jo Jorgensen (Libertarian), and Howie Hawkins (Greens). Based on the two-party system I have described, Donald Trump and Joe Biden are the only two candidates with a plausible chance of winning the election. Table 1 contains information about all candidates as well as their odds of winning based on odds provided by 888 Sport.
Table 1: 2020 Election Candidates and odds of winning
Jo Jorgensen and Howie Hawkins have odds of 1000/1. Kanye West also has odds of 1000/1 but I am not sure under what scenario he would win since he is not contesting in a sufficient number of States to reach 270 electoral votes.
At the time of writing this post, Joe Biden, based on the odds, is the strong favourite to win. This is because he is ahead in polls for several of the major swing States. According to the Guardian, Joe Biden leads in the swing States of Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin by over 5% and in Florida, North Carolina, and Arizona by a small margin; whereas, Donald Trump leads in Ohio by a small margin. Figure 1 shows the likely number of electoral votes based on those polls.
Figure 1: US Election Polling across States
Polls are not always accurate. Polls are based on a small sample of people, who are assumed to represent the whole. People often do not vote the same way as they claim when polled. In 2016, polls put Hillary Clinton ahead of Donald Trump for the majority of the lead up to the election. However, Donald Trump still won the election. The polls in 2020 could also be wrong. However, for Donald Trump to win this time, the poll’s margin of error will need to be greater, as Joe Biden’s poll lead appears larger than Hillary Clinton’s lead.
We also cannot ignore history. The previous three presidents served two terms. George H. W. Bush was the most recent president to serve just one term but his term followed Ronald Reagan a fellow Republican. That gave the Republicans 12 years in the White House. Donald Trump’s presidency follows a two-term Democratic president (Barrack Obama). The last time the Republican Party had the White House for just 4 years was between 1889 and 1893, when Benjamin Harrison was president.
I predict Donald Trump will win the 2020 US Presidential Election. I have very little confidence in the polls. I also believe many Donald Trump supporters are not outwardly showing their support. I also think it is quite likely that Joe Biden will win the popular vote and lose the Electoral College vote (i.e. the same as what happened to Hillary Clinton). The obvious massive social media bias against Donald Trump is also likely to win him more votes. I predict it may take a few days before Joe Biden concedes the election, as some of the swing States are likely to take several days to count a sufficient number of votes for a winner to be declared (Vox). I do not expect Joe Biden to contest the results of the election. I predict candidates outside the two main candidates will perform badly. Kanye West may get the third highest number of votes because of his popularity as an artist but I doubt the votes for him will effect the number of electoral votes that Donald Trump or Joe Biden receive. I predict the voter turnout will be similar to most previous US Presidential Elections (i.e. 50% to 55% of eligible voters).
I do not believe there will be mass riots or the break out of civil war after the election. I think regardless of who wins, people will be angry. I would expect a Joe Biden victory to be more chaotic, as Donald Trump would contest it. This could cause protests to last longer. With a Donald Trump victory, protests could turn violent but I would not expect them to escalate to the point of a civil war.
Will the outcome of the election make a difference?
In the short-term, there are likely to be some significant differences. The Republicans and the Democrats have different immediate priorities. Donald Trump would be pushing to get the economy up and running as soon as possible. Joe Biden would favour lockdowns and restrictions to fight the spread of Covid-19, which could cripple the economy by destroying small businesses and causing mass unemployment. There will also be several similarities; both presidents will be pushing for a Covid-19 vaccine and both will fuel the political divide between the supporters of ‘left-wing’ and ‘right-wing’ politics.
In the long-term, there are unlikely to be many differences. The powers of Government will expand. The US will continue to support wars in the Middle East. The war on drugs will continue. The wealth gap between the wealthiest and poorest will continue to grow. The incarceration rate will remain high.
Effect on the rest of the world
US Presidential Elections are significant to the whole world. The US President is considered the leader of the western world. Actions taken by the US Government can have huge ramifications for other countries. Two important areas are the performance of the US economy and US foreign policy.
The performance of the US economy can prop up or pull down the economies of other countries that engage in trade with them. For example, the US is the UK’s largest trading partner, accounting for over 15% of UK exports in 2019 (World's Top Exports).
US Foreign Policy has the power to destroy national economies and welfare. US sanctions are devastating for countries dependent on trade for necessities. Countries facing US sanctions often have to contend with sanctions from other major trading blocs such as the European Union (see my post Trade Bloc or Trade Block?). The result of the US Presidential Election will have an impact on the UK. Donald Trump favours Brexit and is likely to be supportive of a post Brexit trade deal. Joe Biden shows more interest in working with the European Union, which could delay or even prevent a trade deal with the UK (Express).
My advice about voting
I believe voting is a personal choice. Nobody should feel compelled to vote or compelled to vote for anyone in particular. Voting should be about voting for someone you support based on your own criteria. Voting should not be about voting against any person or political party; in other words, simply voting for the person most likely to prevent the person you do not like from winning.
The current systems are deeply flawed. The two-party political system does not provide real choice. I choose not to participate in the system. In Australia, I would spoil my vote as voting is mandatory. In the UK, I abstain from voting. I believe not voting sends a message of discontent with the system. If the voter turnout becomes extremely low, we will have a better chance of changing the system. I believe we can create alternative systems that can work far better than ones we have now (see my posts 'Blockchain Government – Part 1: Breaking Down the Existing System' and 'Blockchain Government – Part 2: Leadership from the Blockchain').
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