Having anticipated victory for Trump in the 2016 Presidential election, I’m now equally sure he’ll lose in 2020, largely because there are just too many conditions favourable to a Biden win which Trump would need to reverse, or counteract, to win. Reading the tea leaves, as a futurist, I notice several indictors, based on past and present conditions, pointing to victory for the Democratic nominee in November.
On 3 August, 2016, in a blog entitled “Preparing for a Pax Trumpicana” (http://www.infideas.com/preparing-pax-trumpicana/), I wrote: “The Upshot election model of the New York Times currently assigns to Hillary Clinton a 75% chance of winning the presidency. NBC News, by contrast, gives Clinton a very slight edge with 46% of the vote to Trump’s 45. I would argue, however, based on an assessment of causal factors most likely to influence the election outcome, that Trump has a 60% chance of becoming the next leader of the Free World.”
Using the same model of prediction based on analysis of causal factors and probability logic, outlined in my book Codebreaking our Future, this time I’d assign a 55% probability for a landslide victory for Biden, a 65% probability for a narrow win for him and a 55% probability that Trump will resist a peaceful, constitutional handover of power (1).
The main condition standing in the way of a second term for Trump is that he’s a morally and politically compromised leader during a once-in-a-century national crisis he’s incapable of resolving. The current mega-crisis in America is multi-dimensional, made up of the rampant covid-19 pandemic, with the highest number of covid-19 related deaths in the world, social unrest about racial inequality and systemic racism, the climate change reality producing the worst US fire season on record and a highly stressed real economy, especially for workers.
In the rear-view mirror of history, the eight years of the Obama-Biden administration, between 2009-2017, now look like they were halcyon days for America. And with the latest tax revelations published in The New York Times making a debt and liability-ridden Trump look like the emperor with no clothes, it’s clear that Biden has emerged as the candidate who’ll be seen as the voice of positive change. While Trump is now firmly on the wrong side of history, in terms of the issues of the times, Biden can be perceived as a man whose time to lead has come after decades of dedicated public service to his country.
At a time of deep national crisis, the last thing the majority of citizens want is a science-denying, self-obsessed, bullying and morally compromised leader.
My basic argument in 2016 was that Trump would ride a wave of populism sweeping through the West, with its roots in the financial crisis of 2008 and 2009 and the subsequent Great Recession. His ability to destroy the persona of his rivals in the public domain was cited as a major reason why he would defeat Hillary Clinton, especially given her own problematic stature amongst sections of the American electorate.
A problem for the 2020 Trump campaign is that Joe Biden has none of the trust deficit that was associated with Hillary Clinton in 2016. In addition, Trump’s own trust deficit is so huge after thousands of lies he has told while holding the highest office in the land that no amount of bluster could make up for it.
On top of the reality of climate change threatening America in a number of ways, including in the increase in destructive seasonal wildfires in the West of the country, three seismic events have changed society during Trump’s term of office: the covid-19 pandemic, the protests and unrest inspired by the callous murder of George Floyd and the me-too movement which led to the downfall of film mogul, Harvey Weinstein. All this social change has conspired to put Trump in a bad light. He doesn’t have the character, values or skills set required to deal with any of these critical issues. He’s stranded on the wrong side of history.
Perhaps the big, underlying question voters will ask themselves in this election is: “Who’s best able to lead America out of these dark days, Trump or Biden?”
The election takes place during a dire health emergency. The new coronavirus isn’t interested in party politics or propaganda – it only listens to science. As a science-denier, Trump is helpless in the face of a pandemic that must be solved scientifically. Biden, on the other hand, respects science and would be better able to provide national leadership for the pandemic. In addition, he’ll stand up for Obamacare and health care protection for millions covered under it. Trump has failed to effectively fight the virus or to provide spiritual leadership during this time of nationwide suffering. Nor has he put forward any alternative health care plan to replace Obamacare.
Let’s take race relations next. They are even more fractured in the US than they were back in the 1960s during the time of Martin Luther King Jr and the civil rights movement. This issue contributed to delivering a landslide electoral victory to Democrat Lyndon Johnson in the 1964 elections. Johnson won 61% of the popular vote and 486 electoral votes. Could history repeat itself in 2020? As a known racist with sympathies for white supremacists, Trump, once again, is constitutionally incapable of healing racial divides, or of negotiating his way out of the current social unrest. That’s why a Lyndon Johnson style landslide win for Biden in 2020 is not out of the question, as this issue returns to haunt the American psyche once again. In contrast to a divisive and polarising Trump, Biden possesses the character, dignity and empathy required to become the bipartisan Healer-in-Chief for a racially divided nation.
As a morally and financially compromised candidate, who has scant regard for the rule of law, democratic norms and personal ethics, Trump’s key election message that he’s the President of Law and Order has a distinctly hollow ring to it, especially when he openly calls on the far-right Proud Boys to “stand by”, as he did during the first presidential TV debate watched by tens of millions.
The me-too movement is another way in which change has overtaken this patriarchal figure who relishes in verbal and social media attacks on a range of women in power, especially women of colour. The bad news for him is that women in the US consistently vote in Presidential elections at a higher rate than men do, according to the Pew Research Center (2). I’m pretty sure a sizeable majority of women, over 60%, will vote for Biden. Reading the signs of the times more astutely than Trump, Biden, who respects women, has chosen a woman of colour to be his running mate.
The economy, meanwhile, has been devastated by the impact of the pandemic. There’s a deep need for economic and tax reform and for new policies to stimulate and grow the economy again and to get the clean energy sector back on track. It’s turning out to be one of those elections ripe for a powerful voice of change. History tells us at this point that 2020 will see the kind of swing to the Democrats we saw as recently as the 2018 mid-term elections, which registered the highest voter turnout for mid-term elections since 1914.
But this wave of change towards the Democrats started long before 2018.
The Republican Party hasn’t won big in a Presidential election since Bush Snr annihilated Michael Dukakis in 1988 at the tail-end of the era of Reaganomics. Put another way, the Democrats haven’t lost big in a Presidential election for 32 years. This period covers a big chunk of history and is loaded with indicators for what’s going to happen next.
In addition, the Democratic Party has enjoyed two recent periods of outright domination, between 1993 and 2001, when Bill Clinton reigned supreme, and in the Obama years between 2009 and 2017. Both Clinton and Obama were two-term presidents who won each Presidential election they fought by big majorities. Sandwiched in-between these periods of Democratic dominance was the presidency of George W. Bush with his narrow electoral wins in both 2000 and 2004.
The Democrats, in other words, have enjoyed 16 years of strong national support of a kind which the Republicans haven’t seen for over three decades. And in 1992, Bill Clinton defeated the one term incumbent Republican president heavily, winning 370 electoral votes. It looks like the same thing will happen in 2020, with Biden likely to gain well over 300 electoral votes.
In short, support for Republicans in the post-Reagan period, including throughout this century, has been much more fragile than it has been for Democrats. This means there’s a potential electoral foundation still out there for another future period of Democratic domination. It’s a wide base of support that could be energised by any catalyst for political or socio-economic change. All Biden needs to do to bring this extensive Democratic base back to life in the 2020 election is to press the change button on these issues discussed, from public health to climate change, from racial justice to respect for women’s issues.
I still believe that demographics is destiny, as the saying goes, because changes in population are one of the most reliable indicators of future social behaviour and phenomena. I discuss this principle at length in Codebreaking our Future. But it’s not only the lessons of electoral history in the US, especially the 1964 landslide win by Lyndon Johnson and the 1992 upset of an incumbent Republican president by Bill Clinton, that point to a Biden victory in 2020, but the nation’s changing demographics, too. The face of America recently changed forever as Millennials (those aged 23-38) overtook the Baby Boomers (the 55-73 age group) as the nation’s largest generation (3).
Millennials will, therefore, play a decisive role in the 2020 election. They’re more ethnically diverse and better educated than older generations. Typically, having been saddled with high student loan debts, they’ve a more nuanced understanding of economics, often seasoned with a generous dollop of scepticism. I can’t see a majority of this large group voting for a wealthy tax dodger like Trump, just as I don’t see a majority of women voting for him.
As for another rising voting group, the Generation Zs (born after 1996), they’re apparently not especially enamoured of the incumbent President. Nearly half of Gen Zers are racial or ethnic minorities. This voting bloc, rising from 4% of the electorate in 2016 to about 10% in 2020, expresses predominantly liberal-leaning opinions on key issues, just like Millennials. In a Morning Consult Political Intelligence survey conducted in September among 619 likely Generation Z voters, Biden led Trump by 65% to 27%. In addition, it’s reported that 70% of Gen Zers are negative about the reality TV star who became President, with 61% viewing him “very” unfavourably (4).
Crucially, it’s these “verticals” in the electorate, namely age groupings and gender, cutting across the whole nation, which are going to prove even more significant in determining this election’s outcome than “horizontal” indicators like race. There may be 32 million eligible Hispanic voters and 30 million eligible black voters, but there are over 70 million Millennials (up from 62 million in 2016). That’s an enormous portion of the total electorate and a Millennial-dominated American electorate could well shred Donald Trump in the upcoming election.
And there are niche audiences in the electorate, such as suburban women, college-educated whites and senior citizens, where support for Trump, evident in 2016, has being eroding steadily. There’s some erosion of support for the President among white women without a college degree, too.
Both minorities and college-educated whites are increasing in size and influence. People of colour for example, will account for a third of eligible voters in 2020. These groups will almost certainly not vote in big numbers for Trump.
Trump’s support among working-class whites will be countered in this election by Joe Biden’s own appeal to working-class whites and by the way Trump’s financial wizardry and tax evasion schemes will alienate many hard-working tax-payers of all political persuasions.
It’s still non-college-educated whites who form a disproportionate part of his base, especially in small town and rural America. Demographically, his hard-core base represents a shrinking part of the nation, making up about 38 percent of registered voters.
The changing, and more diverse US demographics, then, give more importance than ever to Millennials, minorities and to the nation’s women, indicating there’ll be an increase in support for the Democratic Party in 2020, especially when we consider the domination exercised by the party in recent electoral history since the long-gone era of Reaganomics.
In this context, it seems highly probable that the reality of a deep-seated national crisis facing the US in 2020, which Trump cannot resolve, will be decisive. Which is why the probability of a Biden landslide may be as high as 55% in this analysis.
There’s a small chance, however, that the peculiarities of the US Electoral College system may yet hand Trump an unlikely second term. After all, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote in 2016, gaining 48% of the national votes compared to 46% for Trump, while still losing the electoral vote by a decent margin. That’s because it’s overwhelmingly a “winner takes all” model for Presidential elections, whereby whoever wins the most votes in a state wins all its electoral votes. A candidate must receive an absolute majority of electoral votes, namely 270, to win the presidency.
And there are some thirteen so-called swing states at play, which gives Trump a long shot at a second term. That’s because they contribute a whopping 199 electoral votes. Of the thirteen, three are big battleground states, namely Texas, with 38 votes at stake, Florida, worth 29 votes and Pennsylvania with 20 electoral votes up for grabs.
Texas could well be decisive in the 2020 election. It’s a relatively young state with the third-lowest median age in the country at 35.1, compared to the median national age of 38.5. Latinos make up 30% of the eligible voters in the state. Whoever wins its 38 votes will gain a lot of momentum on election night. If Biden takes Texas, he could be on course for a landslide win.
Florida has an older median age of 42.4 but it’s also a very diverse state with about 36% of its registered voters being non-white. For example, 20% of its electorate are made up of Latinos. Florida is highly competitive, with typically tight contests between Democrats and Republicans in elections. Like Texas, it will be a key state come 3rd November.
Regarding the third big swing state, Pennsylvania, this will probably tilt Biden’s way in 2020, given that in 2016, a then “uncontaminated” Trump narrowly won the state by 48.17%, versus 47.46% for Hillary Clinton, whereas a 2020 Trump, contaminated by a string of scandals and failures of leadership, is facing a popular opponent without Clinton’s trust deficit problem. Trump was the first Republican since George H.W. Bush in 1988 to carry its electoral votes. In a time of crisis, Pennsylvania will probably stay true to its recent history of being democratic-leaning and return to its “default” position, given the need for a trusted leader to take the nation out of its current crisis.
Whoever wins at least two of these three big swing states will probably win the Presidency. I would estimate that Biden will easily win Pennsylvania and should win either Texas or Florida to then hand him the Presidency.
Of the other swing states, five are medium-sized, namely Georgia (16), Ohio (18), North Carolina (15), Arizona (11) and Michigan (16), contributing a total of 76 electoral votes, while five are smaller states, that is, Iowa (6), Nevada (6), Wisconsin (10), New Hampshire (4) and Minnesota (10), contributing a total of 36 electoral votes. These are all states to watch with interest as results start coming in.
Given the dynamics of this election, I would suggest that Biden’s performance in the swing states, especially the big three of Texas, Florida and Pennsylvania, will determine whether he wins by a narrow margin or by a landslide. Personally, I sense the groundswell building for a Democratic landslide in 2020 akin to Clinton’s historic 1992 victory.
The important thing about swing states is that, true to their name, they swing. In 2020, the drivers of change, the causal conditions which will determine the future, as we’ve seen, are conducive to a swing to Biden and a return to the kind of electoral dominance enjoyed by the Democrats during the Clinton and Obama years.
- The prospect of Trump being escorted out of the White House by the US Secret Service, or of a “wild card” event such as Trump resigning sometime in November to enable Vice President Mike Pence to take power and to provide his former boss with some sort of pre-emptive presidential pardon, both seem plausible possibilities, even though under normal circumstances they would be considered by most reasonable people as unthinkable. But this is 2020 and the abnormal has become normal.
- In U.S. presidential elections dating back to 1984, women turned out to vote at slightly higher rates than men, according to a new analysis of Census Bureau data by the Pew Research Center. See “Men and women in the U.S. continue to differ in voter turnout rate, party identification” by Ruth Igielnik
- Data from 2019 from the U.S. Census Bureau showed Millennials (ages 23 to 38) numbering 72.1 million, slightly higher than the 71.6 million Boomers (ages 55 to 73) (see “Millennials overtake Baby Boomers as America’s largest generation”
- “Gen Z Voters Overwhelmingly Back Biden Over Trump”
- Codebreaking our Future by Michael Lee
- Pew Research Center (pewresearch.org)
“Men and women in the U.S. continue to differ in voter turnout rate, party identification”
“An early look at the 2020 electorate”
“Millennials overtake Baby Boomers as America’s largest generation”
- Politico (politico.com)
“The battleground: These states will determine the 2020 election”
- Morning Consult Political Intelligence (https://morningconsult.com/product/political-intelligence/)
“Gen Z Voters Overwhelmingly Back Biden Over Trump”