Presidential election: It’s still a toss up

The complicated electoral system of the US puts less store on popular votes than the Electoral College. In 2016 Hillary Clinton secured more popular votes than Trump but lost in the electoral college

Presidential election: It’s still a toss up

Saurabh Kumar Shahi

If you are not a resident of the United States, you can be forgiven for thinking that the upcoming presidential polls is skewed in favour of Democrat nominee and former US Vice-President Joe Biden. After all, most of the independent and reputed polls put Biden in the clear with an average of around eight per cent lead. Some show a double-digit lead.

However, popular votes in the United States do not matter. The real game is the Electoral College that distributes delegates across 50 states in a manner that appear confusing to the general reader. However, because it is the Electoral College that finally decides the winner, the focus remains on winning more and more states than the popular vote. And it is here that the “Swing States” come into play.

While a lot of states vote solid Democrat or Republican, some are a toss-up. These Swing States are what finally decide the game. Also known as the battleground states, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Florida, Michigan, Arizona and Pennsylvania are what will finally decide the elections, come November.

And only when you look at the polls in these states that you realise that we have a very even contest on hand. As of now, a poll of polls average collated by Real Clear Politics still put Biden in lead in five out of the six states with North Carolina in a dead heat. However, this lead has shrunk by almost half since last month and has been going down.

There are a few factors in play here; the first and foremost being a clear lack of enthusiasm among voters for Biden. While registered Democrats still overwhelmingly plan to vote for Biden, they want to do so because they hate Donald Trump more than they love Biden. The situation is the same among the independents. A large number of them have broken towards Biden because they hate Trump more. However, that would not be enough to defeat Trump who is overwhelmingly leading among registered Republicans.

Establishment Democrats who sabotaged the chance of Bernie Sanders always gave an excuse that a Centrist (And White) like Biden will wean away lots of moderate Republicans from Trump. The cat is out of the bag now. Several polls suggest that this strategy has turned out to be a spectacular failure. Polls suggest that fewer Republicans are expected to break for Biden than they did for Barack Obama and even Hillary Clinton who was universally hated. So that ship has sailed for Biden.

Biden also has to firefight his way out of the protests currently happening in the United States. The violent nature of these protests is helping Trump who is trying to project it as a law and order issue. Biden has given some statements against the protests in the last few days and we will have to wait for a week or so to see if they have found any traction at all. Also, this cuts both ways. Biden famously said, “Do I look like a radical socialist with a soft spot for rioters?”, possibly angering more Democrats than winning independents. But he is at least trying.

However, this is not to say that all is lost for Biden and the Democrats. Despite their abysmal efforts, things are conspiring in their favour; the primary one being the changing demography.

Recent surveys suggest that as more and more young and educated people join the voting pool, the Republican base is shrinking. Trump’s primary base has been non-College going Whites. They are who propelled him to the White House. Their share in total voter pool has shrunk by a massive four per cent since the last polls. This shrink also reflects in the six aforementioned battleground states. Three out of those six have themost number of non-College going Whites by percentage. Since Trump won with whiskers in many of these states, this is not good news for him.

However, Trump strategists maintain that they have another trick up their sleeve. Their focus now is on bringing out more of their base to vote rather than expanding the base. Do remember that only 58 per cent of the non-College going Whites voted in the last polls as compared to 68 per cent who had done so for George Bush. This gives Trump’s team a good breathing space.

However, there is another area of concern; suburban female voters. Last time, they broke in large numbers for Trump. However, this time they appear to be breaking in a substantial majority for Biden. This is here that Biden’s complexion is helping Democrats. The Trump team has been going hard to reverse this with targeted advertisements and other efforts. The most nauseating one among all is Trump’s resorting to racial dog-whistling every day. Trump has said that he will stop low-cost housing to come up in the suburbs, a dog-whistle meaning he will not let the people of colour come to those neighbourhoods. However, these efforts have failed to find much traction until now.

Trump’s team is also banking on the televised presidential debates where Trump is expected to walk all over Biden who in general is less coherent, not to mention a gaffe machine, even if one dismisses Republicans’ assertion that he is in a cognitive decline. It is not for nothing that Nancy Pelosi only last week tested the weather balloon suggesting that Biden decline the presidential debates with Trump. Since many saw it as an admission of defeat, Biden had to quickly come out and douse the fire.

Having said that, the Damocles’ sword is still hanging over the Democrats and they will have to find a way around it. One good thing going for them is the early polls through the ballot in the view of COVID-19 situation. It is expected that over 50 per cent of the voters would have already voted by November 3 when physical voting is about to take place. It is also expected that quite a few will vote even before the first debate.

As of now, the Trump team looks more buoyed and Biden’s more nervous even if the polls are breaking in the latter’s favour for the time being.

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