What to expect in the next two months

It used to be the case that the day after the Labor day holiday in the US (which is the first Monday in September and this year falls on September 7) marked the kickoff of the presidential campaign. Of course that, like most political norms in the Trump era, has gone extinct. We are now in campaign mode all the time, so the second day of September is as good a day as any to take stock of where things stand now to set a kind of baseline and prepare for what is to come. A couple of graphs provide a good gauge of what is to come in the next 62 days before the election.

As we all know, the results of the 2016 US presidential election confounded the expectations of the polls and there have been many analyses of where and how the polls went wrong. This article looks at what seven political prognosticators were saying just hours before that election, with all predicting a Clinton win. To get a sense of the scale of the upset, look at this graphic from Time magazine on the day before the election summarizing the polling expectations, predicting Clinton would get 322 electoral college votes to 216 for Trump.

Now look at the final results that showed Trump winning 306 electoral college votes to Clinton’s 232.

The swing of 90 votes was because Clinton failed to carry Wisconsin (10), Michigan (16), Pennsylvania (20), North Carolina (15), and Florida (29).

This year The Economist magazine has come up with a system for the 2020 election that tracks day-by-day and state by state and provides forecasts for the results.

Our model is updated every day and combines state and national polls with economic indicators to predict a range of outcomes. The midpoint is the estimate of the electoral-college vote for each party on election day.

Our model works by simulating 20,000 paths for the election, each time varying candidates’ vote shares to account for polling error, changes in turnout or the political environment and the effects of campaigning.

This site is pretty sophisticated and can be a time sink for poll junkies. It provides results based on the models in terms of electoral college votes as well as the probability of winning. One of the things to be aware of is that the calculations of the probability of one candidate winning can be deceptive for those who are not too familiar with statistics. For example, it might say that one candidate has a 80% chance of winning which might make some people think it is almost a sure thing when all it means is that four out of five times, the person will win. A 20% chance of losing is not small and provides absolutely no grounds for complacency.

The site has the advantage of displaying the data in a very clear manner but, as always, we should be aware of the danger of being suckered into placing too much reliance on these statistical models because when it comes to predicting human behavior in a highly volatile situation, the variability is high. Furthermore, politics has become so tense and polarized that it is not clear how willing people are to speak openly about their political preferences to pollsters.

The Economist model says that as of today Biden has an 86% chance of winning the majority of electoral college votes. However the model also says that he has a 76% chance of winning Florida but recent history has had both Florida and Texas be mirages for Democrats, each time raising hopes that changing demographics was going to turn both states blue only to find it going Republican at the end. So I am a little cynical about that particular prediction.

But while the election outcome is difficult to predict, we can be sure of one thing, and that is that Trump and the Republicans are going to indulge in a level of lies and racist fear mongering that we have not seen in our lifetimes, so brace yourselves.


  1. johnson catman says

    . . . that Trump and the Republicans are going to indulge in a level of lies and racist fear mongering that we have not seen in our lifetimes . . .

    That has been the status quo for republicans for quite a while. It has just been turned up to 13. The republican convention was a sure indicator of what more is to come.

  2. Ketil Tveiten says

    I follow electoral-vote.com, which simply tracks polls and provides brief commentary, and importantly, frames everything in terms of the electoral college, providing handy graphics for what states are “safe” (leader’s margins are outside the poll’s margin of error) and which are statistical ties. Highly recommended.

  3. kestrel says

    “This article looks at what seven political prognosticators were saying just hours before that election, with all predicting a Clinton win.”

    To be fair, Clinton *did* win. It’s just that we have an antiquated system designed to prop up slavery.

  4. Who Cares says

    You are wrong. The system in use is the revised system introduced in the 14th amendment (revising how house seats are doled out per state) which was introduced and passed after the civil war. Why is it a revised system, simple the amount of electors per state is house seats + senate seats. House seats being doled out is based on the states population with a minimum of 1 if a states population doesn’t even get close to Total US Population/435. Do note that the District of Columbia gets 3 as well to get to a total of 538.
    And yes that can skew the electoral college a bit since dividing the population of California by 53 or 55 doesn’t give that much of a difference (30k or so difference) per elector while doing that for Wyoming (1 or 3) drops it from 600k to 200k per elector.
    You might disagree with me but all in all that is a pretty fair system.

    That said I find it a bit rich for people to whine about Hillary losing since it isn’t a straight up popular vote contest seeing that she lost the popular vote to become the democrats presidential nominee (the percentages bandied about are after the super delegates cast their vote, remove those and Sanders wins). The backlash on that being so bad the democratic party agreed to put up a rule that forbids the super delegates from voting in the first round so that the first round makes clear how the popular vote was. And why did the democratic party agree to that? Simple, someone winning in the first round would get so many delegates that it wouldn’t matter if the super delegates were all to vote for other candidate if there were only two contenders.
    And yes I firmly believe (and it is nothing more then a belief since it is kind of hard to get hard evidence on this) that if the democratic party had accepted the popular vote instead of the vote demanded by the people paying their salaries & bribinglobbying the democrats in the senate and congress the democrats would have gotten the 2017 -- 2020 presidency. The problem being that the 2021 -- 2024 would have seen the republicans financed by the people flipping out that the democrats had to gall to put someone in place who took the “For the People” part (according to them) to serious instead of the reason they financed the democrats, their interests.

  5. jrkrideau says

    This year The Economist magazine has come up with a system for the 2020 election that tracks day-by-day and state by state and provides forecasts for the results.

    The modeling work is done by Andrew Gelman of Columbia U and (I think) two associates. He/they have been discussing some of the nuts and bolts of what goes into building such a model including the adjustments/fine-tuning. Sometimes there is discussion of the reasons that it differs from the 538 model.

    The first post is at Election 2020 is coming: Our poll aggregation model with Elliott Morris of the Economist

    They can be a fun read.

  6. consciousness razor says

    You may also want to check out the “consensus” map from 270ToWin, which aggregates ten different forecasts (including The Economist and FiveThirtyEight). That predicts Biden 278 and Trump 169, while 91 are still considered a “toss-up.” The Economist is by the way more optimistic about Biden, but some others not so much.

    Obviously, 278 would mean Biden already has it without those, but of course it’s not such a safe bet that Biden will actually get all of the light blue states worth 66 electors (PA, MI, MN, WI, NV, NH). If you want to call all of those a toss-up as well, while still giving Trump the light-red states (IA and TX, worth 44), that gives Biden 212, Trump 169, toss-up 157.

  7. Ridana says

    Who Cares wrote:

    That said I find it a bit rich for people to whine about Hillary losing since it isn’t a straight up popular vote contest seeing that she lost the popular vote to become the democrats presidential nominee (the percentages bandied about are after the super delegates cast their vote, remove those and Sanders wins).

    I have heard people saying this over and over, but I don’t know where they’re getting this. By June 7th Clinton had won both the pledged delegates (2271 : 1820) and the votes cast (16,914,722 : 13,206,428 (not counting some caucuses)) in the primaries. Even without the unpledged delegates (superdelegates) Sanders could not win, unless he somehow convinced 460 superdelegates to switch to his side. But why should they when Clinton had won more votes, more pledged delegates and more primaries (34 : 23) than Sanders? As far as I can see, any way you slice it, she won the nomination, and not because of the DNC favoring her (which is hardly unusual for political parties to have a favorite candidate) or any other shenanigans, but because more people voted for her.

  8. consciousness razor says

    Ridana. The DNC did favor Clinton … which you say is “hardly unusual,” so it’s an odd thing to deny anyway. It’s also the case that she got more votes in the end. (The primaries were not actually over until June 14, by the way.) Those things are not unrelated: getting more votes is sometimes a consequence of favoritism by the DNC, as well as other Dem politicians, lobbyists, donors, journalists, etc. The fact that Clinton got some votes just isn’t something you could use as evidence that no such thing occurred.

  9. Who Cares says

    @Ridana(#7): Ugh that is what you get when you trust others. Did a check on the numbers myself this time. Should teach me that even if an organization is behaving atrociously to not just accept any accusation that fits the behavior of said organization. It would also explain why they put in that rule about the super delegates by having that piece of misinformation have enough reach and believability that they had to counter even the perception of the DNC abusing the super delegates.

    And the DNC not favoring her?
    You do know that they leaked an agreement from 2015 that got even Warren to comment on the DNC rigging things in favor of Hillary.
    Or the leaking of the CNN debate questions to the Hillary campaign?
    Heck, they were so openly rigging things in her favor that the executive part of the DNC had to be replaced for being too partisan in favor of Hillary. They basically held the press conference that they joined the Hillary campaign before the press conference of them resigning was finished. Guess who replaced the chair of the DNC after that one resigned to join team Hillary; The person who received and then passed on the debate questions.
    So yes the DNC was favoring Hillary and not just a little bit (these were just three issues that were easy to find of dozens of things done to hamper the non-Hillary campaigns or favor the Hillary campaign that have been documented).

    They were still so convinced that Hillary was going to win that it had to be someone sabotaging her when Trump won. So when Russiagate & the hacking news broke they clung to it like a drowning person to driftwood so that they didn’t have to do an introspection on what they did wrong. And they still use it as a shield so that they do not have to do that self-analysis.

  10. Ay-nony-nony says

    Well, of course the DNC looked favorably on Clinton over Sanders; Clinton was an actual Democrat with decades of work for the party…and not just saying she was in order to get the DNC cash to campaign with. And then there’s the fact that more people voted for her in the primaries, which earned her more delegates. I think Bernie’s biggest downfall was and remains his fanbois who talk a big game but didn’t actually turn out to vote.

  11. Ridana says

    8) @consciousness razor and 9) @Who Cares:
    I don’t believe I ever said that the DNC didn’t favor her. In fact I said the opposite. Parties have candidates they prefer to win, that’s a fact of politics. They don’t put their time and humanpower behind candidates they don’t want to see elected, because, well, that would be stupid. They’re not a non-partisan, unbiased organization, any more than the RNC or the Greens or any other political party is, and since Sanders is only a Democrat when he wants to run for President, I fail to see why favoring a decades-long Democrat over a Democrat-when-convenient demonstrates how “corrupt” they are (not saying they’re not, I have lots of complaints about the DNC myself. It’s just that their bias against Bernie isn’t one of them), or that such favoritism is “rigging the election.” The fact is that more people voted for Clinton and all the wingeing from disgruntled Bernie Bros will not change that. Look at the MA primary -- the DNC threw their support over to Kennedy in violation of their own “no-primary-ing” rule, but it didn’t guarantee his win. You want to see what “rigging the election” actually looks like? We’re getting a demo right now, what with the PO fuckery, gerrymandering, voter purges, ID laws, no machine security, poll closures in Dem areas, etc. What Sanders supporters accuse the DNC of doesn’t even register on that scale.
    As for the debate questions, the one bit of genuine shenanigans I’m aware of (you say “dozens” but I admit I kinda tuned out after hearing so many bogus complaints about rigging), I mostly just thought it was a stupid blunder, like stealing the teacher’s answer key for an open-book test. People complain about this as if without having the questions ahead of time, Clinton would have been left stammering on stage like Dumpster during one of his incoherent word salad fits. She knew her stuff and would’ve been fine without cheating. Unless there was a massive shift in the polls after that debate toward Clinton and away from Sanders due to an unexpectedly stunning performance, it’s a moot issue to me.

  12. Who Cares says

    @Ridana(#11): Seems you are (still) in denial about what the RNC did to get Hillary the nomination. You do make it easy by just dismissing anything as bogus complaints. And saying oh their breaking the rules they set up themselves isn’t bad I don’t hold it against them doesn’t help you.
    The DNC did not just favor her which they are not allowed to by the way according to their own rules, they were encouraging explicit support for her. Breaking the do not favor or support a nominee candidate left, right and center (I do admit that it was really cute to see the this does not imply support or this does not mean support for or half a dozen other variations of said disclaimer pasted onto things that helped Hillary during the primary). There was a good reason that Schultz and the people below her had to go once the dirty laundry got aired, only to be replaced by others who broke the do not explicitly support a candidate rule by explicitly favoring one (Hillary) over the others.

    And for rigging elections? We are going to see one way to rig an election, one of the more primitive versions by blatantly denying voters the chance to vote or have their vote counted. The rigging the DNC did to get Hillary elected a far more sophisticated version and even that got some of the people executing it to resign.

    You are also trying to weasel out of the debate problem. The DNC for example clearly did not show your trust in Hillary making it through a debate in one piece. Oh yes she has the know how and is well read on the issues, that is not the problem. If the technical part of a debate would be the main decider of a debate JFK would never have won his debate against Nixon. And Hillary when she has to answer of the cuff is not spontaneous, she comes over as cold, calculating, distant and a few more adjectives you don’t want to be tagged with when people rate your performance and not the content. So yes the DNC fed her the questions as to prevent a total slaughter in the performance part, especially since she had to go up against the guy who projects a grumpy but well meaning grandfather aura (else said someone relatable to the viewers) while being at least as well versed as Hillary in the subject matter.

    I get it you are pro Hillary but you sound like one of those MAGA cavepeople when you dismiss things out of hand, deliberately misrepresent things to make it look less bad for your preferred candidate and other things that all equate to sticking your head in the sand just because it was helping your preferred candidate.

    Gods I wish Warren had run, then at least the DNC would have succeeded in getting a woman in the White House (as president).

  13. Katydid says

    I’m very disappointed to see the same toxic whiny crybaby stuff that poisoned 2016 is still alive and active. Back in 2016, the Bernie Bros were all full of “well, sure I’d vote for a woman, but not THAT woman!” (meaning Clinton) They all swore they’d vote for Warren in a heartbeat. Well, guess what? Warren ran in 2020…and they found fault with her, too. The only conclusion I can reach i that they simply don’t want to vote for a woman, period.

    Back in 2016 when Bernie crossed over to run, I was very excited. I’d been to Vermont several times and liked the state and its sensibilities. After Bernie announced he was now a Democrat, I read everything that came out about him and his policies…and realized he wasn’t the candidate who most matched me. His record on women (half the population of the USA), children, minorities…he was great if you were a white man, but if not, not so much. The ideas he had that I supported (such as universal healthcare and free college) would never have passed this Congress.

    Of two candidates, I preferred Clinton over Sanders. It was astounding to see the misogyny on full, proud display. Oh, noes—-she KNOWS HER FACTS and doesn’t give some rando pantsfeels! Well, better to vote for the non-Democrat whose agenda can’t possibly happen, then!

    Enough people voted for Clinton that she won not only the DNC nomination by a huge margin, but also won the 2016 election despite Russian interference and GOP mass disenfranchisement. You’d think if Bernie were such the messiah that his followers think he was, that they would have bothered to vote.

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