Nate Silver Warns That Donald Trump Has the Same Chance of Winning Today as in 2016

In August 2016, Donald Trump’s presidential campaign was considered by many to be a dead horse. His gaffes, lack of specific policy proposals, poor polling, and casual racism had rendered him more of an annoyance than a potential winner. At the time, Nate Silver gave Trump slightly less than a 29 percent chance of defeating Hillary Clinton in the Electoral College.

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Granted, Clinton made some serious missteps, and Trump undoubtedly enjoyed boosts from Republican voter suppression efforts and Russian interference. And the United States was not in the midst of the worst pandemic since the end of World War I, which has killed almost 165,000 Americans and shattered a decade’s worth of economic growth.

This is 2020, after all, a year riddled with unpredictability and surprises.

According to Silver’s Wednesday morning analysis on his FiveThirtyEight political blog, if the election were held today, former Vice President & presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, who is crushing Trump in the polls, would have a 93 percent chance of becoming the 46th president.

Biden “might even win in a landslide,” Silver said, “carrying not only traditional swing states such as Florida and Pennsylvania but potentially adding new states such as Georgia and Texas to the Democratic coalition.”

August is not even halfway over, however, and a lot can change between now and November.

“The debates and the conventions have yet to occur,” Silver wrote. “Biden only named his running mate yesterday. And the campaign is being conducted amidst a pandemic the likes of which the United States has not seen in more than 100 years, which is also causing an unprecedented and volatile economy.”

Thus, Silver cautiously gives Biden a 71 percent chance of winning November’s election.

“If you’re not taking a 29 percent chance as a serious possibility, I’m not sure there’s much we can say at this point, although there’s a Zoom poker game that I’d be happy to invite you to,” he said.

How the COVID-19 pandemic plays out be a big factor determining who wins, even though Trump’s handling of it has been terrible, Silver explained.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has led to more than 150,000 fatalities and has upended pretty much every American’s life, and Trump’s approval ratings for his handling of it have been awful,” Silver said. “Cases have recently begun to come down after an early-summer spike, and recent economic data has shown improvement there, too. There’s also the possibility that a vaccine could be approved — or rushed out — by November, though it’s highly unlikely it could be widely distributed by then.”

Turnout as well is an important wildcard this year. Trump’s efforts to sabotage the United States Postal Service and cripple mail-in voting could also have an enormous impact on the outcome, and even more frighteningly, the legitimacy, of the election.

Silver notes that Trump’s saving grace could still be the economy (yeah, really).

“Trump’s approval ratings on the economy are still fairly good, so our model seems to be doing a reasonably good job of capturing how voters actually feel about the economy,” he wrote. “Another way to look at it is that our model is just saying that, in a highly polarized environment, the race is more likely than not to tighten in the stretch run.”

Right now though, Biden “is in a reasonably strong position: Having a 70-ish percent chance of beating an incumbent in early August before any conventions or debates is far better than the position that most challengers find themselves in,” said Silver. “And his chances will improve in our model if he maintains his current lead. But for the time being, the data does not justify substantially more confidence than that.”

Bottom line: ghosts of 2016 and a nation in turmoil make it impossible to predict who will win. The future of the pandemic, coupled with voter turnout, especially in critical swing states – where polling remains tight – will ultimately have the final say on who takes the White House. Vote.

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