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Race for the White House 2020 - Who Decides?

Mike McCartney

19th October 2020

The art of psephology and picking the winner...

What determines how Americans vote is not so dissimilar to voting patterns in most advanced liberal democracies. The relative importance of long term and short term factors can be used to predict, and to explain outcomes.

So if students have examined voting behaviour in the UK, then studying how and why people cast their ballots a particular way is not a steep learning curve.

Most elections are determined by long term associations with parties. Over time long term factors have declined, and there is no doubt therefore that voting patterns are more volatile, but how the electorate behaves is still mostly determined by groupings that we belong to. This can be based on age, gender, religion, race and ethnicity. These in turn can shape party identification - a sort of psychological attachment to a party. These factors, of course, will overlap, but they can still be analysed separately. An example of this overlap is geography and religion. Take this snippet from the Independent, where a journalist went to visit folks in the most Republican count in America, Jackson County in Kentucky. So said one likely Trump voter:

“You won’t find many Democrats up here,” said Anthony Brody, 65, sitting in his truck outside a Walgreens pharmacy.

A woman seated alongside him, Connie Ray, said she too would be voting for Mr Trump and Mr McConnell. She said Democrats wanted to “kill little babies”.

And another adds:

“The Democrats are for everything the bible is against, and I don’t feel any Christian could vote Democrat,” said the 74-year-old. “They are for abortions, killing little babies, they are for the homosexual-gay rights. They’re just for for everything that the bible is against.”

Not a lot you can say about these two being potential swing voters..

And there is there increased importance of short term factors. Though you might prefer to call them medium term factors, e.g. the performance of the economy. And short term factors, like the quality and effectiveness of the campaign. My personal view is that campaign don't matter all that much, unless the race is very tight. Even in 2016, I don't think it was the campaign that cost Clinton, and the impact of the FBI verdict has been overstated in some quarters. Instead the perception of the Democrats as managers of the economy in certain key states mattered far more.

So with Trump so far behind Biden in the polls (and despite them going up and down, don't forget that Biden as the theoretical Democrat nominee has been way over 10 points ahead of Trump going as far back as autumn 2019), the Trump campaign would have to unearth something spectacular against Biden. In other words, even if you do believe email revelations cost Clinton four years ago, it would have to be on a far larger scale.

As it is, the Trump campaign is struggling. In fact, the effectiveness of the campaign could be described as worse than that. I have taken this from an article by David Smith in the Guardian - he always writes really great articles for British readers:

'Larry Jacobs, director of the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance at the University of Minnesota, said: “Trump has run the worst presidential campaign in modern American history. Biden’s got a lead that’s beyond the margin of error and I consider those numbers real.

“There is nothing going for Trump that’s going to shake up the election. He needs a hydrogen bomb to go off. The election seems to be almost frozen. It’s remarkable when you look at the averages of the polls, you go state by state, it’s fairly consistent and there’s not a lot of up and down. So to me, this election is practically over.”'

Mike McCartney

Mike is an experienced A-Level Politics teacher, author and examiner.

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