By Rami Holzman
"Third-party candidates could pose a threat to both Biden and Trump from disgruntled Democratic and Republican Party members."
With the current polls and bookies favouring Biden, there will be many people thinking this election is a done deal just as people thought Clinton was the clear favourite in 2016. However, I am sceptical that anyone can confidently call the election. I believe Trump’s pro-mining, energy and agriculture stance will be enough to win key states, of which some swung right in 2016 after long streaks of voting Democratic, and secure him another victory. Additionally, third-party candidates could pose a threat to both Biden and Trump from disgruntled Democratic and Republican Party members. This article aims to look at some of the reasons why the election might not be as clear as the polls suggest and where Trump could have strong support.
Rust and Corn Belt States
I want to focus on two main regions in the US I believe will be crucial for a Trump re-election or a Biden presidency:
· Rust Belt/Iron Range
· Corn Belt
Rust Belt/Iron Range
The name was given to a region in the US that was a strong industrial hub that has experienced a large decline since the 1980s. The region includes all/part of the following states:
· West Virginia
· New York
Many of these states have seen a large decline in jobs and population over the last few decades because of manufacturing moving overseas to markets with cheaper labour and raw material costs.
The Iron Range is predominantly located in Minnesota but also includes parts of Michigan and Wisconsin. This region has been hit heavily with job losses caused by “China’s unfair trade practices”.
Donald Trump concentrated a lot of his campaign in the rust belt region and ran a campaign that promised to bring back jobs to America which is something that resonated with voters across large parts of America that have seen declines in employment. Trump won large support from rural voters in the rust belt and was able to swing Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, which have typically voted Democratic from 1922-2016. Minnesota has tended to support Democratic candidates and has voted for the party 11 elections in a row. With polls suggesting the state is leaning Democratic it would appear to be business as usual. However, 2016 saw Clinton win by only a 1.5% margin, the slimmest since 1984. In fact, the state swayed towards the Republicans when compared to the rest of the US - a first since 1952.
Minnesota has gradually been turning red in the last few elections as the Republican Party have continued to gain support in the more rural areas of the state. The politics and opinion poll analysis website FiveThirtyEight suggest that Minnesota is “now one of the likeliest states to be the Electoral College tipping point — the state that delivers the next president his decisive 270th electoral vote.”
Trump is once again campaigning heavily in the rust states as he aims to maintain the areas he swung in 2016 and attempt to swing Minnesota. If Biden is to hold onto Minnesota and its 10 Electoral Votes, he must ensure strong support and voter turnout in the Twin Cities.
Trump has seen strong support from the Iron Range, an area that has historically always voted Democratic but has been slowly swinging Republican. With the region heavily revolving around the mining industry, many in the region were upset by Obama’s decision to side with environmentalists to block the opening of new mines in the region. Trump however has reversed these bans and has been pushing to deregulate the industry in order to fast track new mine approvals which could create thousands of jobs in the region.
In addition to being pro-mining, Trump has also had a tough stance on China and has imposed tariffs on Chinese steel which has made it easier for domestic steel producers and miners to compete with low-cost Chinese steel.
On the 28th of August 2019, nine mayors from Democratic cities in the Iron Range signed a joint letter endorsing Donald Trump which could be crucial in swinging some of the last remaining counties in Minnesota to Trump.
Trump may also potentially gain the support of “law and order voters” in strongly held Democratic Twin Cities who have grown in number since the civil unrest in the Twin Cities following the killing of George Floyd. Damages are estimated at $500 million which is “second most destructive period of unrest in United States history, after the 1992 Los Angeles riots.” Trump and his “law and order” message have a strong chance of winning votes from concerned residents and business owners who lost their livelihoods because of the civil unrest.
"Remember, Minneapolis was burning down. Day after day and I'd call. ‘Let us come in. Let us come in,'" Trump said of deploying the National Guard amid unrest after George Floyd's May 25th death. "Anyway, they finally came in. How long did it take? About a half an hour. ... Then, they just walk forward, and that was the end of that. And I think we're going to win the state of Minnesota because of it, I think." Fox News, Rally in Sanford
Clinton beat Trump by just under 45,000 votes in 2016. With an additional 254,146 votes going to third-party candidates, Trump has an opportunity to swing some additional votes his way, couple this the likelihood of with securing stronger votes in the Iron Range and he has a strong possibility of winning the state and gaining an additional 10 Electoral Votes. This could be the first election since Nixon’s landslide victory in 1972 that sees Minnesota vote Republican.
Corn Belt and Farming States
Farming states should also be watched closely. Trump has been a strong supporter of farmers over the years and has given them billions in farming subsidies. Subsidies this year alone are estimated at $40-46 billion, a record figure.
Voter Registration and Registered Voters
The key battleground states that will ultimately decide the election according to Politico include:
· North Carolina
Current polls suggest Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota are leaning Democratic with the rest of the states being a toss-up. However, voter registration could play a crucial role in ultimately deciding which way these states vote. In many key states, Republican voter registration has been strong since 2016. Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin don’t break down voter registration by party affiliation so we’re unable to examine those states how we can take a look at some others for party affiliation.
However, it’s important to note that a surge in voter registration for a party is not necessarily a sign of increased support for a candidate. An increase in voter registration for one party could be a sign of older voters changing their registered party despite voting for the other party. Independent and third-party voters are also likely to play a crucial roll in the outcome of this election.
Democrats have had a lead over Republicans in this state when it comes to registered voters since 2008. A gap of 6% in 2008 (42% of the voter share for Democrats vs 36% for Republicans which equated to a margin of 658,000 voters) is now just 1% (a margin of just 134,000 voters).
Voter registration has hit a record high in the state this election cycle. Although Democrats still hold a lead over Republicans by 700,000 voters this has narrowed by about 200,000 since 2016. Trump's victory in 2016 was the narrowest margin in 176 years of the state's history (44,292 votes, 0.72% margin).
Google Trends as a Prediction Tool
As someone who uses Google Trends regularly for my work, I was interested to see if there was any correlation between searches of presidential candidates and election outcomes - as it turns out there are a few articles that have done the hard work for me. By comparing search trends for [candidate’s last name] + [election year] over every election year since Google Trends data has existed (2004 onwards) the candidate with the highest search demand has won. Looking at data for 2020 makes Trump is the clear favourite. Although correlation does not imply causation, looking at search demand provides an interesting perspective on the race. As internet usage has become increasingly more popular, looking at search demand and sentiment for different candidates could be a potentially useful tool to judge sentiment for different candidates.
Other methods people have used to predict elections in the past include the stock market and, strangely, bakery sales of cookies. Both metrics are pointing to a Trump win but again, correlation does not imply causation. Time will tell.
Libertarian Party/Third Parties
The Libertarian Party has gained a lot of attention and support over the last decade with the 2016 election seeing a 3.29% share in the popular vote including a 9.3% vote in New Mexico where Clinton won by 8.3%. Following the last election, several politicians have since converted to the Libertarian Party including Justin Amash, a U.S. House of Representatives member from Michigan.
In the last year, there has been a steady increase in interest for the party and its candidate Dr Jo Jorgensen. In fact, Jorgensen reached #13 trending on Google Trends the day after the first presidential debates held on the 30th of September. This spike in search volume lead to her website being temporarily unavailable due to the surge in traffic it received. The Green party’s presidential candidates’ website was also down.
It’s clear many Americans were displeased by the debates as searches for “Jo Jorgensen”, “Libertarian Party” and “third-party candidates soared”. The hashtag #letherspeak has been a popular tag this last year and refers to support for Jorgensen being allowed to debate Biden and Trump. Additionally the search term “train wreck” had a huge spike in interest following the first presidential debate and CNN’s Jack Tapper’s description of the debate as “a hot mess, inside a dumpster fire, inside a train wreck“.
Whilst I don’t believe Jorgensen or any other third-party candidate can win the presidency, I do believe the party and others similar to it could attract support from voters who feel disgruntled at the choice of either a Biden or Trump presidency. Arguably, Gary Johnson had a significant influence in New Mexico (where he was Governor from 1995-2003) and was able to secure 9.3% of the popular vote. In some close states, if dissatisfied voters turn up to vote they could have a significant impact on the electoral vote's outcome.
Overall, I believe the election is a lot closer than the polls suggest. Trump has strong support from many voters in the rust belt and farming states and managed to swing three strong Democratic states in the region in 2016 and nearly a fourth (Minnesota) which I believe he could swing this election. In addition, voter registration for Republicans has been strong these past four years with many key states narrowing the gap between Democratic and Republican registered voters. Lastly, support for third parties has been growing which could take key voters away from the major two parties. With independent voters making up a large proportion of some key states there is all to play for if either candidate wishes to swing their vote.
Disclaimer: All views expressed in this piece belong solely to the author and do not reflect the views of Demographica as a company.