Tuesday the 3rd of November is a date that the blue half of America has been eagerly anticipating for 4 years. Donald Trump’s shock election as President of the United States back in 2016 was met with elation from Republicans and confusion, devastation and a loss for words by their counterparts – the Democrats.
Polls predicted that Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee, had an easy path to the being the first female President ahead of her, with respectable news outlets such as the Huffington Post giving her a 98% chance of winning the popular vote and the electoral college.
However, despite nearly 3 million more Americans voting for her, Hillary lost the Presidential race due to missing out on certain key states and, as we all now know, her rival, now President Donald Trump, was elected and is now fighting again for another shock victory against former Vice-President Joe Biden.
This results in a system where it is possible to become President, despite getting less votes than your opponent
The Electoral College
It is easy to assume that all Joe Biden or Donald Trump need to become President is the plurality of votes from Americans. If only it was so easy, many Democrats would say.
They have won the plurality of votes in every Presidential election since 1992, bar 2004 (George W. Bush vs John Kerry). The American system, unfortunately for them, is a bit more complicated.
Each state has a number of delegates, proportional to their population. When Americans vote, they do not vote for President. Their vote is for who their delegate will vote for President.
The winner of a particular state receives all votes from the delegates of that state (with the exception of Nebraska and Maine, who allocate delegates according to the Congressional District Method). This results in a system where it is possible to become President, despite getting less votes than your opponent.
It also results in a system where certain states who have the capability to swing either way get disproportionately more attention by both of the parties and the media. These are referred to as swing states.
Polling from other organisations tend to indicate Biden to win most swing states, but give different levels of certainty
Which States are Swing States?
States like California and New York poll at 60% of votes going to the Democrats. Polls predict states like Alabama and Mississippi have over 55% of votes going to the Republicans. Democrats and Republicans can safely assume they will get these states respectively.
But not all states are this certain. This year’s swing states are Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, North Carolina, Arizona, Wisconsin and Iowa. This totals up to 125 delegates out of a possible 538 delegates. 270 is the number of delegates required to become President.
Polling from the Guardian indicates that Joe Biden is ahead in 6 of these swing states, with a lead as big as 8.8% in Michigan, but also as low as 1.8% in Florida.
Polling from other organisations tend to indicate Biden to win most swing states, but give different levels of certainty. This would give Biden 284 delegates and make him the 46th President of the United States.
Despite the optimistic polling, Democrats are concerned about repeating the overconfidence of 2016.
Another reason to be hopeful is that the margin by which Biden is predicted to win in swing states is far higher than Clinton in 2016
Trust Not in Polling?
2016 damaged the reputation of pollsters. Predicting a Democratic victory, especially by the margin by which they did (two major forecasters had Hillary Clinton at 99% to win), and then to be shocked with a resounding Trump electoral college victory, had the polling industry scratching their heads.
Where did they go wrong? Theories such as the ‘shy Trumper’: voters who do not want to admit to pollsters that they intend to vote for the New Yorker, algorithmic errors, and a lack of ability to identify likely voters meant that their predictions ended up falling short – very short.
Since then, polling companies have homed in on their techniques to ensure they are not embarrassed again. This will give Democrats hope in the current polls.
Another reason to be hopeful is that the margin by which Biden is predicted to win in swing states is far higher than Clinton in 2016. A Clinton victory in some states fell within the margin of error according to some polls, whereas Biden is predicted resounding victories in enough swing states to theoretically ease any tensions.
Fears surrounding Covid-19 has meant that far more Americans than ever before have used mail-in ballots; currently over 94 million
Time to Wait and See
Though the election is on the 3rd of November, we might have to wait longer than usual to find out who is going to be President come inauguration day.
Fears surrounding Covid-19 has meant that far more Americans than ever before have used mail-in ballots; currently over 94 million.
These can take up to a few days after the election to count and so, though it may appear there is a winner on the night of the election, not all ballots will have been counted. It may take longer than usual to announce a winner as most states will never have had to deal with such a surge in postal voting.
President Trump has already expressed a lack of trust in mail-in ballots, raising fears as to whether he will allow a peaceful transfer of power in the event of him losing.
It should be noted that voter fraud is extremely unlikely, with only 4 documented cases of voter fraud in the 2016 election out of a total of 128,838,342 votes (per the Washington Post).
Regardless, a tense night is expected for both parties, and the result, and the aftermath of the result, will be something even the improved polls have no chance of being able to predict.
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