Analysis,  Polls,  US elections

The US Elections

Tomorrow the first out of three debates between current US president Donald Trump and the main democratic contender Joe Biden will take place, signaling the final straight line before election day on November 3rd.

This is a momentous event, on which a lot of important worldwide issues hinges, from the future of global warming to nuclear de-escalation and arms control, the stature and strength of the western world order, and how it responds to the growing might of China and the rise of authoritarianism and populism, the internal stability and democratic nature of the US system, and of course the fate of Lebanon and the Middle East.

Knowing how much elections, polling, and politics interest me, it does not come as a surprise that I will be closely following the election, sharing my analysis, and observations, culminating with a live blog of both the first debate and elections night. I have also compiled a brief list of resources (websites, twitter accounts, and TV stations), mentioned at the end, to help those who are interested in following the race.

Meanwhile, in this introductory article, I will overview the current state of the race followed by a discussion on the accuracy of polling in view of what happened in 2016, to end with a brief overview of the US electoral and political system.

Who is winning?

Currently, the situation is as follows: Biden enjoys a solid average lead of 7% on Trump, nationally, and Biden has the upper hand in enough battleground states to give him the necessary 270 electoral college votes. The most important among these states are Pennsylvania, with Biden +4.5, and the rest of the rust belt (Michigan and Wisconsin), that Clinton unexpectedly lost in 2016.

The Democrats have a clear advantage to win the majority in the house of Representatives and a narrow path to win 51 senators in the senate (data compiled from the websites listed below).  Most analysts point out that the Senate would probably fall to the party that wins the Presidential election. In these hyperpolarized days, most US citizens tend to vote for one party down the ballots for all open positions.

 

Are polls Broken? 

One of the most recurrent questions I face when discussing polling and electoral prediction is whether we can still trust polling or if “polling is broken!”, especially after what happened in 2016, when most pollsters wrongly predicate a win for Clinton.

Concerning the 2016 US presidential elections, a Pew Research article explains that in that year “problems with polls in a few key Midwestern states led many people to underestimate the chances of a Donald Trump victory.” Thus, several politicians and pundits blamed the polling industry, casting doubt on their models. But this narrative proved to be oversimplified, according to the same article “The 2016 election was not, in fact, an industry-wide failure for the polls. Rigorous national surveys were quite accurate by historical standards. The poll average predicted that Hillary Clinton would win the overall popular vote by 3%, and she ultimately won by 2 points.”[1]

Even more, several comprehensive reviews[2] and rigorous research point out that “Well-designed and carefully administered surveys still work”[3], and their accuracy is growing, as shown in this graph – compiled by the American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR)[4].

A Brief Overview of the US electoral system:

Every four years the US citizens elect its president, who is only allowed to run twice for a total of 8 years. Donald Trump was elected in 2016 and is now trying to win his second mandate. Meanwhile, on the legislative side, being a federal state, the US parliament has two chambers: The Senate and the House of Representatives. The mandates of each senator is six years, while House Representatives stay for two years. Thus, every two years the 435 members of the house of Representatives have to face elections, while only a third of the 100 senators run. In 2018, the last midterm elections, when only the representatives and a third of the senators competed, the democrats reclaimed the majority in the house of representatives, while losing in the senate. In a bit more than a month, the American people will once more cast their ballots, but this time to also elect a president in addition to the full house of representatives and one-third of the senate.[5]

The US follows the first past the post electoral system for the legislative voting, where the candidate with the most votes (doesn’t have to be a majority) wins the seat. Meanwhile, the presidential election follows a more complicated system, the president and vice president are not elected directly by citizens. The people of the US votes for one of the presidential candidates on the ballots, but it is not the candidate with the most national votes that wins the elections, if that was the case Clinton would have won in 2016 with 65,853,516 votes to Trumps 62,984,825[6]. Instead, the candidate with the most votes in each state will win the pre-distributed electoral college votes allocated to this state (each state has a number of electoral votes equal to the number of U.S. Senators in the state plus the number of U.S. House members in the state. For example, Maryland has eight House members and two Senators, so it has 10 electoral votes, while New York has 29, Texas 38, California 55, while North Dakota has 3)[7] and the first candidate to win 270 electoral votes becomes the next US president.[8]

Finally, in the next few weeks, one can only hope that democracy prevails, that the election is transparent, fair, and without violence! Meanwhile, I have only one wish for the next day: a peaceful transfer of power! Now go vote!

 

Resources to follow the elections:

Website list:

538 poll of polls: https://fivethirtyeight.com/

Real Clear Politics: www.rcp.com

The New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/news-event/2020-election

The Washington Times (conservative-leaning): https://bit.ly/3ieAKlI

Twitter Accounts:

Nate Silver @NateSilver538

Nate Cohn @Nate_Cohn

Sean T at RCP @SeanTrende

TV Stations: To watch live US news, like the debate and all the action on election night in Lebanon, I have found that the easiest way is to subscribe to Cable Vision, while most local services only have CNN. Cable Vision has CNN, CNBC, Bloomberg, FOX News, Sky News, Euro News, France 24, and OSN News that broadcast a mix of US national networks. It is also possible to directly subscribe to these networks over the internet.

 

References:

[1] https://www.pewresearch.org/methods/2019/11/19/a-field-guide-to-polling-election-2020-edition/#fn-585-1

[2] https://go.nature.com/2G4X83S

[3] https://www.pewresearch.org/methods/2019/11/19/a-field-guide-to-polling-election-2020-edition/

[4] https://www.aapor.org/Education-Resources/Reports/An-Evaluation-of-2016-Election-Polls-in-the-U-S.aspx

[5] https://www.ifes.org/sites/default/files/english_primer_0.pdf

[6] https://edition.cnn.com/election/2016/results/president

[7] https://ballotpedia.org/Electoral_College#Electoral_votes_per_states_in_the_2020_presidential_election

[8] https://www.usa.gov/election

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