How the 2020 Election Will Go
Let’s kick things off by talking about my motivations for writing a post like this. It’s not to be right, it’s not to convince you to vote for a particular person, it’s not to sell a book. I have a single goal for writing this, which is to hold myself accountable for my predictions, which will probably be wrong.
I want to look back in December 2020 and compare what I wrote here to what ends up happening, just to see how I did. The human brain does an amazing job of post-rationalising everything, and changing the story to make us look amazing and forward-thinking. But I want to get away from that. So the only way I can figure to improve is to put my thoughts on paper, refer to them later, figure out why I got certain things wrong, and go from there.
So where should we start? How about with something uncontroversial?
Mayor Pete Will Not Win the Democratic Primary
As of right now, he appears to be polling around 7%, but that’s not his biggest problem. His problem is how poorly he polls with African Americans. You don’t win without their votes, so Mayor Pete will not win.
African Americans Will Be a Mighty Force in the Party
This is not a prediction, it’s just a fact. If you don’t get enough of the African American vote, say goodbye to the nomination. So what does that translate into in terms of actual delegates? Where are there a lot of African American voters? In the Super Tuesday states, for starters.
Super Tuesday Will Crown the Winner
It happened in when Super Tuesday started in 1984. Then it happened again in 1988, 1992, 2000, 2004, 2008, and 2016. Which is just a long way of saying “the person who wins Super Tuesday eventually wins the nomination.” Obama won in 2008, Clinton won in 2016, Mondale won in 1984. Count on it.
Can I show you a chart that explains why Super Tuesday matters?
There are 1358 votes up for grabs, and you need 1990 to win the nomination. That means 70% of the delegates needed to seal up the whole thing are awarded in a single day! Here’s a visualisation of how mighty each contest is. See that giant spike? That’s Super Tuesday. That’s where it all happens, not New Hampsire and Iowa.
See those insanely small little blips at the front, smaller than almost any other day? Those are Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina. If you combine all their votes, it adds up to 155, or about 7% of the total votes needed. They matter very little.
It Won’t Matter Who Wins the First Four States
This is the most overlooked fact of the entire process, and it seems to surprise a new generation of primary voters every four years: the system is not winner take all. Votes are awarded proportionally. That means if you end up with 49% of people marking your name in the ballot, you get 49% of the delegates. If you get 51%, you don’t “win the state” because the system is not winner take all. You simply get 51% of the delegates, which is often a literal tie with the person who won 49%. This has huge implications to the whole primary calendar strategy, so I’m going to say it again.
The System Is Not Winner Take All. It’s Proportional.
I even went and wrote a whole comic about it. It’s fun, I think you’ll like it.
Let’s turn our attention to New Hampshire. Here’s the latest polling:
Let’s say Sanders wins New Hampshire, which has 24 votes. He won’t get 24 votes, he’ll get his percentage of the share. So if it’s 25%, he’ll get 25% of 24, which is a whopping 6 delegates. What about his liberal arch-rival Warren? If she completely faceplants in New Hampshire and gets 15% she’ll still get … 4 votes. Not a very big deal, despite the headlines saying SO AND SO WINS.
Which is why these early states simply don’t matter. Even if Biden wins all four, he won’t win with huge margins because it’s not winner take all. The vote count will probably look something like this leading into Super Tuesday:
According to All Current Polling, Biden Will Win Super Tuesday
I want to make something very, very clear. I’m not trying to piss anyone off by saying this. I’m not rooting for Biden, or rooting against Sanders. I’m just looking at the polling and the fact that Biden is incredibly popular in Super Tuesday states. He just is.
Here are the Super Tuesday states with annotations around who will win each based on public polling.
If Warren and Sanders were to combine their votes, they’d sweep almost every state. But they’re splitting the liberal vote so they’ll lose most states to Biden. (This is also how Trump won in the 2016 primary. Too many people stuck around too long, which split the vote. If the GOP had winnowed the field quicker, Trump would not have won the numbers game. Take note, Dems!)
The Left Wing is Gonna Be Rrrrreally Mad About Biden
Biden’s polling numbers have stayed consistently in first place, and African American voters in particular love Biden. You know who else loves him? Swing voters and independents. Oh, and older people. That leaves young people and the left wing, who hate him. This has all the makings of a giant brawl in the party. It’s gonna be a tough time. It’s gonna be sad.
Prediction #1: Biden Unites the Party
I don’t see this happening. The divide in the Democratic party is too deep, and too emotional, and Biden’s not good at speaking to the party faithful. But let’s just say magically the party somehow sticks together in order to take down Trump. Well, then my prediction gets super easy. Biden wins, easily. I’ll explain more down below in the electoral math section (spoiler: he wins his home state and Wisconsin and beats Trump), but first let’s discuss prediction #2 which is a lot more likely.
Prediction #2: The Party Splits Spectacularly
Whether or not it turns into a contested convention, my vote is on this one. The Sanders wing of the party simply will not be ok with Biden being the nominee. So I don’t know what’s going to happen, but it will not be harmonious. The Democratic circular firing squad will be fantastic news for Trump, and he’ll win easily.
The first thing you need to do with electoral math is just completely ignore 45 states. We know how they will vote for president, so we can focus on the 5 that will actually decide the election: Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. The map looks like this, courtsey of 270towin.com:
Right off the bat, I see Arizona, North Carolina, and Florida which are all the sorts of places where Trump support is pretty strong. Let’s go ahead and give those states to Trump now. That makes the map look like this:
Wow, 248 votes to 259! A real squeaker, since you need 270 to win! But wait, what about Wisconsin and Pennsylvania? How will they vote? Well, Biden is from Pennsylvania and is running 7% points ahead of Trump there. I don’t think it’s crazy to think Biden (or Sanders) can count on this state turning back to blue.
Which leaves us with Wisconsin. Sanders is up 2% and Biden is up 3.7% on Trump as of today. But there is data that says Trump is more popular there today (41%) than on election day (35%). The economy is good overall, but Trump’s trade war is hurting farmers. So I don’t know which way Wisconsin will go on Election Day. But I know this: if Democrats unify to win those two states, they beat Trump.
On the other hand, a divided Democratic party can’t do much of anything, let alone beat an incumbent president with a good economy. So we’ll see.
Biden wins the primary due to the African American vote on Super Tuesday, it’s ugly, Democrats infight, Trump wins. The US pulls out of the Paris Agreement (we’re still in it until after Election Day!), and at least two more Supreme Court justices are nominated by Trump during his second term.
This is why the single most important thing Democrats can do is rally behind whoever their fellow Democrats nominate, even if it’s not their first, second, third, or fourth choice. But I’m not holding my breath. That kind of strategy isn’t how we do things in this party. But maybe we could start?