US Elections two weeks out

Were this a normal US election it would all be over bar the shouting, but it is neither normal, nor in the minds of some close to the White House an election at all.

The numbers would seem to indicate a Biden win followed by Democrat majorities in the House of Representative and probably the Senate too. The numbers have proved misleading in previous elections and in 2016 there was a general, though by no means uniform, polling error in favour of Trump. Apply that same polling error state by state to the numbers we are seeing and even with a pessimistic slant Joe Biden still makes it past 270 votes in the Electoral College.

On the face of it that should be enough, but Trump has long since sought to call the election into doubt. The desire of more extreme individuals in the Trump rear guard is to find means of dragging the election into the courts and ultimately to the US Supreme Court, nicely stacked in favour of a Republic fix. They may not win a vote but they can win a legal battle - and that's how they see it. Anybody who doubts the likely actions of the Supreme Court – even before the death of Ruth Bader-Ginsberg – should look at their decisions on multiple voter suppression suits brought by the Republicans.

Sufficient polling error and enough disputes in states where there are influential republic legislators willing to manipulate the outcome and that may be enough to call into question the result into question despite a wider lead in the popular vote than was achieved by Hillary Clinton in 2016. A very bleak prospect indeed with no guarantee of a peaceful outcome.

There are substantial Biden leads in states where in 2016 Trump received very narrow majorities, however some of those states gave at some stage comparable polling leads to Hilary Clinton. The popular vote would seem to have widened when at the same stage in 2016, Hillary Clinton had a polling average lead of around 3.5 points in a tightening race. There is little doubt that the announcement of further inquiries by the FBI into the Clinton email allegations moved the mood of the campaign and the polling numbers. Even though few voters seemed to understand either the allegations or the implications the very notion of an investigation stood up the doubts over Clinton’s propriety and backed Trump’s attacks. I was in Washington DC on the day Comey made the announcement and you could feel the mood shift.

In this election campaign Joe Biden has had some strokes of luck that evaded Hillary Clinton. He avoided a long drawn out and damaging primary battle, first of all through a well-judged strategy that deflated the Sanders balloon and then first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic curtailed the primaries. Trump’s handling of the pandemic then pushed perceptions of incompetence, hard-heartedness and bungling into full view while the handling of issues of racial injustice seem to have less traction in the suburbs that Trump’s camp had hoped.

We remain a long way from the end of a campaign that has had very little ‘normal’ about it. A great deal can change, events and the climate remains unpredictable, the ballot will retain the potential for dispute and it is unclear whether and how the polling organisations have compensated for the biases that caught out the commentators and forecasters in 2016. All that is before anything gets anywhere near a court which we can only hope it doesn’t. A Trump White House not having to care about re-election is where US democracy dies.

We who want the end of Trump's presidency more than just about anything else right now know that it’s the hope that kills us. So even though this race is in a far better place than might have been imagined at the turn of the year we will remain on the edge of our seats

JH 19.10.2020

Update - Eve of Poll

In the two weeks since posting his article little has changed. Joe Biden’s polling lead has remained stable, greater than that enjoyed by Hilary Clinton in 2016 both nationally and in swing states and with lower levels of undecided voters.

While nothing has cut through to damage Biden, Trump’s people continue to talk openly of seeking to steal the election, of finding ways to prevent votes being counted and indulging in rhetoric that can only be aimed at winding up supporters to intimidate and provoke civil disorder.

Early voting turnouts suggest something is happening that we may not yet fully understand. It is no exaggeration to say that American democracy faces a test few of us would have believed possible or necessary. We can but hope it passes.

JH 2.11.20