Is the Past Prologue? What 2016 Means for the 2020 Presidential Election

by Dr. Watson Scott Swail, President & Senior Research Scientist

As we get closer to the Presidential Election, it is worth taking a look back at 2016 voting in America. As most people know, almost 3 million more people voted for Hillary Clinton than Donald Trump, equal to three percent of voters. But here are some other important stats:

  • Young people voted for Clinton 58 to 28 (18-29 years old)
  • Older people (65+) voted for Trump 53-44 percent
  • White men voted for Trump 62-32 percent
  • White women voted for Trump 47-45 percent
  • Black women voted for Clinton 98 – 0 percent (not statistically significant for Republicans)
  • College graduates voted for Clinton 57-36 percent
  • Non-college graduates voted for Trump 50-43 percent
  • White non-college graduates voted for Trump 64-28 percent

Right now, the polls have Biden far up on Trump, but people also know that Trump wasn’t expected to win in 2016, so why trust the polls this time? From a statistical/polling point of view, I have been espousing that Biden will win the popular vote and electoral college fairly comfortably. That stated, I also think both Republicans and Democrats are very nervous about November 3, especially considering the various issues around COVID-19, mail-in ballots, and other factors. In the end, in such a partisan nation, we won’t know what will happen until it does.

So, with all that, it is interesting to revisit what happened in 2016 and how Trump won the election. Even the night before, most people thought Hillary was a slam dunk. Then she wasn’t. Some of the pundits and pollers did say Trump would win, but I still don’t buy their logic on promoting that scenario. The numbers didn’t support it at the time. But he did win. Here are some thoughts. By the way, this is a political, not a partisan, conversation.

REASON 1. Young people didn’t show up. If you had to put one thing on the list for why the election went the way it did (beyond Comey and Russian influence), it was the turnout of the youngest voters (18-29 years of age). They just don’t vote like older people do. Only 13 percent of voters were under 30 years of age compared to 33 percent of non-voters. Meanwhile, 27 percent of voters were over 65 compared to only 9 percent of non-voters. If young people showed up in even normal numbers, this election would have been a landslide for Hillary.

REASON 2. Black voters stayed home. The group that perhaps has more on the line than any other demographic and they didn’t bother to vote. In fact, their showing was a massive decline from 2012. That alone would have swung the election greatly. Hispanics stayed home, too.

REASON 3. Protestants and evangelicals showed up at the polls in huge numbers for Republicans. How big a deal? Sixty-seven percent of the voting population are made up of those two populations. If you attend church weekly, you were twice as likely to vote for Trump. What would Jesus do?

REASON 4. The uneducated did show up to vote, and the Republican party is built on the backs of the lesser educated in the US. This is a statistical reality, not a whack at the GOP, so take it for what it’s worth. These are the people who do not believe that COVID is a big deal, do not believe in wearing masks, and think that confederate flags is a cool symbol of their patriotism and nationalism. This is Trump’s bread and butter and he has publicly stated this. (“We won with poorly educated… I love the poorly educated!”, February 24, 2016)

REASON 5. James Comey. Yes, Comey mucked up the election for Hillary with his letter 10 days before the election. He didn’t mean to. He was stuck between the figurate rock and a hard place. But he did it anyway and it cost Hillary the election. Even if the first four reasons listed remained the same, this one tipped the scale. If Comey hadn’t released the letter, and if the Russian influence was still there, Hillary would have won. But she didn’t. This year, the Administration is set to announce, on October 22, a dozen days before the election, a vaccine for distribution. Is this politically motivated or happenstance? It worked in 2016, even if it wasn’t them orchestrating it.

The Bottom Line

For Trump to win in November, he needs to do what he did in 2016: scare the hell out of old people, keep the young cynical so they don’t vote, and continue to suppress voters from showing up. He is actively doing all three. For Joe Biden to win, he just needs to show up and not make any gaffs. Ultimately, the Dems need to get voters to show up, and their biggest worry is that voters will be complacent because bloggers like me say the Dems will win. The Dems only win if voters vote. The mail-in ballots gaining ground around the country could be a major blow for Republicans, but that is also putting fear into Democrats. It also means that we likely won’t know who won the presidential election on Election Night 2020.

So, my sense is that Democrats will have a huge (sorry, that’s “Huugge”) night in November. It will be a landslide in terms of the electoral college and in the popular vote. There are many Republicans who solidly support their party but are uncomfortable with Trump. They may either sit at home or leave the Presidential box unticked. They won’t vote for Biden, but they may not vote for Trump. As of this writing, Biden is leading the polls nationally, but more importantly, he is leading in Arizona, North Carolina, and Wisconsin.

The Democrats will definitely keep the House, but they also have a chance to take over the Senate. Susan Collins will lose in Maine. McSally will lose to a hero in Arizona. Loeffler will lose in Georgia. Ernst will lose in Iowa. Gardner will lose in Colorado. Even McConnell is in trouble but I expect him to grab his seat. He will likely pull it off because he brings a lot of money home. But if he loses his seat, that will be the signature sign of the 2020 elections.

For what it’s worth.

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