February 18, 2020


Does anyone understand the 2020 race? This scholar nailed the blue wave -- here's her forecast: Rachel Bitecofer predicted last year's midterms with incredible accuracy. Her 2020 forecast is ... not too bad (PAUL ROSENBERG, AUGUST 17, 2019, Salon)

This year you released your presidential prediction on July 1, showing the Democrats winning a bare majority of 278 electoral votes, just above the 270 needed to win. Trump is at 197, with four toss-up states. But Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin are not toss-ups in your model. You write that Trump is in trouble in the Midwest and that there's a profound misunderstanding of how we won those states in 2016. What's at the heart of this misunderstanding, and why does it matter for 2020?

When we hear the punditry talk about what happened in the Midwest, generally speaking they'll say the Midwest swung toward Trump, right? Well, that's only true in two states. In Iowa and Ohio, where Trump cracked 50%, you can genuinely say he won over voters in those states. The others -- Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania -- Trump won those states by carrying only a plurality of the vote, and I would categorize that as a win by default. He won somewhere around 46 or 47% of the vote.

The reason that neither candidate was above 50% was that a huge numbers of voters in those states cast what we call protest ballots, and in the polarized era, the average that goes to a protest ballot is about 1.5%. The famous Ralph Nader election, the spoiler in Florida in 2000, that was about 1.5%. In Wisconsin, 6.2% of voters cast protest ballots in 2016. That's an extraordinary amount. 

So when you understand the role that third parties made in Trump's victory there in the Midwest, and his inability to crack 50%, you realize that it's a path to victory which was very complex. It becomes heavily tied to the fact that he was up against not just a Democrat, but that particular Democrat the GOP had managed to cause a public opinion backlash toward. That's certainly not going to be the case in the 2020 cycle.

So what about 2020. What does your model say? 

My model for 2020 starts off with Democrats at 278 Electoral College votes, and that's a problem for Trump, because of course you need 270 to win. It does that because of my model's prediction, based on turnout and predicted vote share, that Pennsylvania and Michigan will slip back to the Democrats. I'm uncertain about Ohio, but even if Trump wins Ohio, he can't win the other three Midwestern states. Then as you point out I have four tossup states: Arizona, North Carolina, Florida and Iowa. Even if he wins all four of them, the Democrats have already won the election -- and the idea that he would win all four is pretty unlikely. 

I will have a much better sense about this once we see the participation rates in the Democratic primary. But I think what we're going to be looking at is Arizona, Texas, North Carolina and Georgia as states where Trump is forced to play defense to hold on. I think by the time we get into September [of 2020] -- I don't think we're going to get to the point where Democrats are comfortable in the Midwest. I think we'll see a full-bore campaign and spending press in the Midwest all the way through to Election Day. But I think coming into September and October, they're also going to be spending resources in the Sun Belt and other states like that.

Posted by at February 18, 2020 4:56 PM