2016 is not 2020.
In 2016, the political world was stunned by Hillary Clinton’s loss to Donald Trump. Even the Trump campaign could not believe that its candidate had won. Clinton had led in all of the nation’s polls. She had outspent Trump by more than two to one. She locked up numerous endorsements from both leading Democrats and Republicans. She was also able to run on a competent platform to help the nation’s problems. In short, Clinton did everything right and still lost.
The immediate results were dramatic, to say the least. Pollsters lost their jobs. Thousands of people did not show up for work or school. Hundreds of thousands of people poured into the streets over the next two months. An entire social movement, the #Resistance, was born overnight. Millions of people around the country feared that the Trump administration would directly or indirectly ruin their lives, and for many this prediction turned out to be true.
The truly shocking nature of 2016 made many liberals terrified to predict another Democratic victory. In the run-up to Tuesday’s election, Democrats simply do not want to assert that Joe Biden is winning the election. They cherrypick polls, including the Saturday Selzer poll that showed Trump up by seven in Iowa. They relate terrifying narratives about Proud Boys or rogue state legislators stealing the election, the former by force and the latter by fraud. The fear seems to be clear: acknowledging the chances of a Biden victory will mean that the victory will be taken like Hillary Clinton’s was in 2016.
But this time around, the situation is different. And, for reasons both historical and contemporary, I predict that Joe Biden will be the next President of the United States.
Back in June, I argued that Donald Trump would always be the frontrunner because he is the incumbent in the American political system. In this system, incumbents have an air of legitimacy. They gain more airtime than their opponents and have greater name recognition. Twenty out of 30 presidents who have run for reelection have gone on to win in that race. No matter his many flaws, Trump will still have these advantages going into Tuesday, along with the lockstep support of conservative media.
But 2020 is a unique election year, and Trump is most certainly a unique candidate. The raging national pandemic has created a challenge that the president has shown himself unable to overcome. His behavior is odious to large swaths of the electorate who might otherwise have considered keeping an incumbent in office. Public health circumstances have led to economic weakness that Trump does not acknowledge, let alone try to fix. Trump has also openly sabotaged the nation’s latest coronavirus relief bill, one of the last chances he had to change the narrative of the race and take a lead.
These factors have resulted in a massive polling disadvantage for Trump in the previous few months. Trump currently trails in the national FiveThirtyEight polling average by over 8 points. According to FiveThirtyEight, Biden has a 99% chance of winning the Electoral College if he wins the national popular vote by more than six points.
It is not just the aggregate polls that show concern for Trump. Biden is a much healthier candidate in every demographic group. He is ahead by 20 points with seniors, whom Trump won by seven points in 2016 and who are one of the nation’s most dedicated voting groups. Biden is leading Trump with suburban women by seven points and military members by four points. He is leading the young by over 35 points in a year when voting enthusiasm from young Americans is at an all-time high.
In addition, Biden is benefiting from a more dedicated electorate than in 2016. Back in the last presidential election, there were still many millions of undecided voters in the last few weeks of the race. These men and women hated both Clinton and Trump. They ended up being swayed by an anti-establishment mindset and the many negative news stories that emerged about Clinton in the race’s final days. Many of them turned towards a third party. Biden has avoided these pitfalls. He has remained more popular than Clinton ever was, and both Democrats and Republicans are wedded to their candidates this election cycle. According to Google Trends, the nation’s third parties have received significantly less attention than they got in 2016.
One hundred years ago, Americans voted for a “Return to Normalcy.” They were tired of the upheavals from the Second World War, the influenza pandemic, and the preceding year’s race riots. Their preferred candidate, Republican Warren G. Harding, was not competent and could not solve the problems that still plagued the country. But it almost did not matter. The American people wanted comfort, security, and a candidate as different from the preceding Wilson administration as possible. All of the evidence points to the American people being in the same position this year. Joe Biden will restore normalcy and end the horror show of the Trump years. His decency, humility, and empathy represent the antithesis of his opponent and will be the major reason he will win on November 3rd.