By Daniel Smith
The greatest political show on earth will reach its climax this Wednesday morning, Perth time, as the United States reels from its third wave of COVID-19 infections. Will Donald Trump pull off another come-from-behind win, or will Democrat Joe Biden make Trump the first Republican president since the 1800s to surrender the presidency after only four years of his party occupying the White House?
To help you make sense of what promises to be the most turbulent election count in recent US history, here are the vital questions to consider as the results roll in.
- Are the polls wrong again?
Since 2016, most serious pollsters have gone to a lot of effort to ensure the white, working-class voters they missed in 2016 state-based polls are fully represented in their samples.
These corrections delivered a high degree of polling accuracy at the 2018 midterms. Will this accuracy be reflected in the presidential election? We won’t know until the votes are counted.
- Will Biden’s advantage with suburban women hold?
When the Democrats swept to a House majority at the 2018 midterm elections, it was on the back of white, mainly female suburban voters who voted for Trump in 2016 but were repelled by the President’s personal style and strongly opposed his efforts to repeal ‘Obamacare’. But the question is: are they also voting for Biden? Current polling suggests they are and that many COVID-scared seniors are joining them.
- Will African Americans come back to the polls?
Will the death of George Floyd, the President’s divisive rhetoric and the energy of the Black Lives Matter movement generate a surge in turnout among African Americans, bringing voters who stayed home at the post-Obama 2016 election back to the polls? While polling suggests African American voters aren’t supporting Biden at the same level as they supported Clinton, early voting patterns point to a higher turnout and a likely net benefit to the Democrats.
- Can Trump increase white working-class turnout?
The core objective of Trump’s re-election strategy appears to be to increase the historically low turnout among his white, non-college educated, culturally conservative base, who represent the largest voting demographic in the US. But, can he do it? If he does, he may surprise us again. If not, he’s toast.
- Will record levels of early voting help or hurt Trump?
The laws of arithmetic suggest the record number of early votes cast will make it more difficult for Trump to turn things around in the final days. However, it is likely the small number of undecided voters that remain have not yet voted and might still be swayed. Interestingly, there are a handful of states that allow early voters to vote again, if they change their mind, including the key swing states of Michigan and Wisconsin.
- What will be the impact of voter suppression strategies?
We know that state-based Republican lawmakers have introduced stricter photo-ID requirements that have made it difficult for less advantaged, mostly Democrat, citizens to enrol. But voter suppression can take a variety of forms. Will Trump’s refusal to commit to a peaceful transfer of power demoralise voters? Will Trump’s calls for his supporters to keep an eye out for voter fraud intimidate voters? Will Trump’s new Supreme Court majority support Republican challenges to early voting? Be sure that restricting the number of Democrat votes being cast and counted is a key part of Trump’s strategy.
- What about Trump’s rallies?
Trump’s rallies are designed to motivate his supporters to turn out on election day, but don’t assume they are the full story on voter enthusiasm. The most recent polling on enthusiasm suggests voters on both sides are more fired up than they were in 2016, with Democrat voters leading on enthusiasm at similar levels as they did in 2008. And we know what happened then.
- Which state results will we know the soonest?
Among the swing states, Florida and North Carolina are the jurisdictions likely to report their full results on election night, with postal votes having to be received by election day and systems set up to process early votes prior to election day. We may also have a good idea about what is happening in Arizona and Georgia.
If it’s revealed on election night that Trump has lost one or more of these, it will be difficult for him from there.
- Which states will keep us waiting for results?
The key mid-western swing states of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan will be receiving and counting ballots for up to two weeks past election day.
With postal votes expected to favour Democrats, take a wait-and-see approach to results on the night. Unless, of course, Trump ends the night behind, in which case, it is hard to see him winning.
The critical state here is Pennsylvania, with most analysts downgrading the overall chances of both candidates if they don’t bring this state home. This is why Trump has been camped in this state since the debate, trying to convince voters Biden poses a risk to the state’s petroleum industry, and why the Democrats have been focusing so heavily on “backup” states like North Carolina, Florida, Arizona and Georgia.
- What are other Republicans saying on the night?
Should Trump lose, the battle will be on for the future of the Republican party between those who have enjoyed Trump’s patronage and the traditional conservatives who used to control the party. If this battle breaks out during the count, it is likely that Republicans believe Trump is losing.
- Will Trump run again?
Will a defeated Trump declare his candidacy for 2024? Trump’s former strategist Steve Bannon thinks so. Either way, Trump is unlikely to go quietly into the night as former presidents have done before him, with continued speculation about him establishing his own news network and commercialising his loyal base of political supporters.
While predicting elections can be a fool’s errand, I am ready to make a call. In my view, America is thoroughly exhausted, the polling is more accurate this time and the lead Biden has enjoyed all year will be too much for Trump to overcome. If all the votes are counted, this episode of ‘the greatest show’ will end with Joe Biden becoming the 46th President of the United States.