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Who Will Win the US Presidential Election?

Summary:
If the latest polls are any indication, Joe Biden is on track to win the popular vote in the upcoming US presidential election by a substantial margin, and an Electoral College reversal of that outcome, like in 2016, is unlikely. But the polls have been wrong before, including in 2016. MILAN/STANFORD – In late July, opinion polls clearly indicated that US President Donald Trump had lost ground to Joe Biden, his Democratic challenger in the upcoming presidential election, owing primarily to his administration’s mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, Trump’s fortunes have not improved; if anything, they have deteriorated further. Now, Trump appears set not only to lose the popular vote on November 3, but

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If the latest polls are any indication, Joe Biden is on track to win the popular vote in the upcoming US presidential election by a substantial margin, and an Electoral College reversal of that outcome, like in 2016, is unlikely. But the polls have been wrong before, including in 2016.

MILAN/STANFORD – In late July, opinion polls clearly indicated that US President Donald Trump had lost ground to Joe Biden, his Democratic challenger in the upcoming presidential election, owing primarily to his administration’s mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, Trump’s fortunes have not improved; if anything, they have deteriorated further. Now, Trump appears set not only to lose the popular vote on November 3, but also to fail to pull off an Electoral College upset, as he did in 2016.

Start with party affiliations. As Table 1 shows, since the 2016 election, the Democratic Party’s ranks have grown by 6%, compared to just under 3% for Republicans. Self-identified independents declined by 8%. Among those who still identify as independents, the share of those leaning either left or right has changed little.

Who Will Win the US Presidential Election?

Moreover, as Table 2 shows, perceptions of Trump’s management of the COVID-19 crisis have declined considerably since March, and even since July, especially among moderate Republicans, Democrats, and independents – three groups whose votes are decisive in battleground states. Trump’s overall approval rating has also declined, though not quite as much.

Who Will Win the US Presidential Election?

Regression analysis – using a wide array of known variables that are correlated with voting behavior, including party affiliation and ideology – supports the assumption that the COVID-19 crisis is a major driver of this shift. This includes both the pandemic itself and the economic and employment crisis that it has caused.

To be sure, ongoing protests against systemic racism and police brutality – which have often been met with excessive force by police – are also capturing American voters’ attention. But the way in which those protests are interpreted – that is, whether voters believe they are violent and require a strong “law-and-order” response – is overwhelmingly consistent along party lines, and thus unlikely to affect voting decisions significantly.

As Table 3, which uses data from October YouGov polls, shows, only 15% of Democrats believe the protests are violent. Of those, 19% – just 2.85% of all Democrats – may vote for Trump because of the protest issue.

Who Will Win the US Presidential Election?

Overwhelmingly, Democrats still have no intention of voting for Trump, regardless of whether they identify as ultra-liberal, moderate, or anything in between. On the contrary, as Table 4 shows, even fewer plan to vote for Trump than the very few who were considering doing so in July, and even more plan to vote for Biden.

Who Will Win the US Presidential Election?

In 2016, support for Trump’s then-Democratic challenger, Hillary Clinton, was lower across all three categories of Democratic voter, especially among moderate and conservative Democrats (81%), than it is for Biden today. Since these data were collected...

Michael Spence
Nobel Prize in economics, Economics professor at Stern School of Business NYU, author of The Next Convergence

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