David Webber, Columbia MISSOURIAN, October 31, 2020
In a few days it will be over. Finally.
The 2020 campaign and election that pretty much started in November 2016 will have run its course. It is unlikely the presidential election will be decided only in the electoral college or in the courts. The popular vote will determine the winner this year.
While living in Columbia has many advantages, it is not the optimal vantage point for gauging American public opinion. Missouri has conceded its role as the “median state” that was once a reliable bellwether of presidential election outcomes.
Public opinion polls have been rather steady for months, differing only in some state details. A reasonable guess is that Joe Biden wins 52% of the popular vote and more than 325 electoral college votes. My hunch is that Biden will pick up Georgia and North Carolina but maybe not Florida, and probably not Texas. Regardless, Donald Trump will not be reelected. For some reason, Trump has trouble saying he will accept the legitimacy of the election, but I think most American voters will.
The scholars rank the Trump administration as highly likely to reject the results of the election in the event of a Biden win. In fully 80% of scenarios, experts predicted Trump would reject the results, regardless of whether Biden’s victory margin was wide or narrow. There may be protests in the street supporting Trump, but if they are peaceful, they can protest until the cows come home with no electoral impact.
It is likely the U.S. Senate will become a Democratic majority. Senate seats in Arizona, Colorado, Maine and North Carolina look like they will flip Democratic, with the seat in Alabama likely to return to the GOP. Two Senate seats in Georgia and Sen. Lindsey Graham’s seat in South Carolina could go to Democrats. It is likely that Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell will no longer be in the majority.
The House of Representatives is likely to flip about 10 seats, thus expanding Democratic majority control that the party won in 2018 when it picked up more than 30 seats. One of the top races to watch is in Missouri’s 3rd congressional district, which includes St. Louis County, between Congresswoman Ann Wagner, a Republican, and State Sen. Jill Schupp, a Democrat. This suburban race might be an early indicator of how suburban women are voting.
Among the lessons we should have learned since November 2016 are that public opinion polls are a reasonable estimate but not a precise prediction of the electoral outcome. The polls in 2016 were within the margin of error but most of us were surprised that Trump beat Hillary Clinton in three pivotal states —Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin — giving him an Electoral College win. The polls were not statistically wrong, our expectations were wrong.
In 2020, however, another expectation may lead to great anxiety — the expectation of an Election Night decision. Many states, Pennsylvania among them, apparently do not begin counting votes until the polling places close. With large increases in absentee votes due to health concerns over COVID-19, historically high absentee ballots make it unlikely that final state election results will be announced.
There’s little doubt that Russia and other nations are attempting to influence the election. What is unclear is whether they will be successful. U.S. intelligence agencies, social media companies and the American public are reported to be much more primed to combat foreign meddling than they were four years ago. So far, there have been no major hacks as there were in 2016, and the odds are low of U.S. election systems being compromised — to a level where actual votes might be changed.
Next to knowing the identity of the presidential victor, the second most important feature of the election campaign is the amount and composition of voter participation. Because of protest groups such as Black Lives Matter, sports teams and even some major corporations, all Americans have been inundated with the importance of voting. Turnout should be increased in all states, despite official efforts in some states to limit voting through long lines, mail snafus and handwriting analysis.
An attractive feature of the American electoral system is that we get to start over every four years. The year 2020 feels longer than 12 months, but a new administration with less tweaking, more visible and credible Cabinet secretaries and White House staff, more public discussion of policy substance, and less need for media events will bring a national respite that allows citizens to focus on getting back to normal during this COVID-19 and political pandemic.