Choose your own 538 adventure

by John Quiggin on September 6, 2020

Like lots of others, I’m anxiously watching forecasts of the US election outcome. But it’s hard to figure out what’s going on, with Biden way ahead in the polls, behind in the betting markets and rated a 70 per cent chance by the model at 538.com. Inspired by this post from Andrew Gelman, who is working on the Economist model (Biden currently a bit over 80 per cent), and an informative tweet from Nate Silver, I’ve managed to improve my own understanding a bit. At least I think so.

Silver’s tweet confirms that the Electoral College system gives Trump a significant advantage relative to an election by popular vote. He syas
Chance of a Biden Electoral college win if he wins the popular vote by X points:

0-1 points: just 6%!
1-2 points: 22%
2-3 points: 46%
3-4 points: 74%
4-5 points: 89%
5-6 points: 98%
6-7 points: 99%

With that information, it’s easy enough to fit a normal distribution to the margin, and get an estimate probability of winning. By fiddling with the numbers, it’s easy to replicate the 538 probability estimate and also to get a probability distribution looking fairly similar to those displayed on te site. My best estimate is N(5,4), that is, the mean value for the margin is 5 points and the standard deviation is 4. The mean value is consistent with the description of the state level estimates on the 538 site, which (very roughly speaking) take the existing polls (which currently have Biden ahead by 7.4 nationally) and then give Trump 1 point for an incumbency advantage (reducing the margin by 2 points).

Looking at the Economist model (which doesn’t necessarily agree with 538 on the exact distribution of the Electoral College advantage) it fits pretty well with N(6,3)

The standard deviation is a big deal here. N(5,4) implies a 95 cent range of, roughly, -3 to 13. I can’t say I find this plausible, at least assuming the election proceeds without armed intervention. Short of personally inventing a vaccine and hand-delivering it to the entire US population, I can’t imagine anything that would give Trump a 2.5 per cent chance of winning the popular vote. And it’s equally hard to see what would push him much lower than he is now.

If you would like a more optimistic story, you can get one by focusing exclusively on the polls where Biden’s lead has been consistently between 7 and 9 points, consistent with a distribution like N(8, 0.5), which puts Biden at 99 per cent.

I should alert readers that I don’t always get this kind of calculation correct, so feel free to check it out and correct it if necessary.

{ 43 comments }

1

anon/portly 09.06.20 at 10:56 pm

This seems like an even more informative tweet, to understand Silver’s “70/30” model outcome:

https://twitter.com/NateSilver538/status/1301141118889979904

The Electoral College component of this just can’t be emphasized enough. If Trump’s down 4-5 points in the tipping-point states, then just a little bit of tightening plus a small-ish polling error cold be enough to give him the win. That’s where a lot of his 30% comes from.

I.e. he’s winning in 30% of their simulations because of the possibility of polling having a general anti-Trump bias and because of the tendency of political contests to “drift,” or as Silver says (link below) for polls to “sharp[ly] increase in accuracy toward the end of an election.”

The standard deviation is a big deal here. N(5,4) implies a 95 cent range of, roughly, -3 to 13. I can’t say I find this plausible, at least assuming the election proceeds without armed intervention. Short of personally inventing a vaccine and hand-delivering it to the entire US population, I can’t imagine anything that would give Trump a 2.5 per cent chance of winning the popular vote. And it’s equally hard to see what would push him much lower than he is now.

Well, unlike the 10.6% chance of winning the popular vote that N(5, 4) would give him, 538 is giving him about a 15 or 20% chance.

(You can see this using the “How the forecast has changed” interactive thing with “popular vote,” as 90th percentile outcome for Trump appears to be about 52% and he only needs 49.3 to tie).

Silver’s explanation for incorporating what seems to JQ (and me) as a surprising high level of uncertainty:

On the one hand, the sheer number of uncertainties unique to 2020 indicate the possibility of a volatile election, but on the other hand, there are also a number of measures that signal lower uncertainty, like a very stable polling average. So when we calculate the overall degree of uncertainty for 2020, our model’s best guess is that it is about average relative to elections since 1972. That average, of course, includes a number of volatile elections such as 1980, 1988 and 1992, where there were huge swings in the polls over the final few months of the campaign, along with elections such as 2004 and 2012 where polls were pretty stable. As voters consume even more economic- and pandemic-related news — and then experience events like the conventions and the debates — it’s not yet clear whether the polls will remain stable or begin to swing around more.

https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/how-fivethirtyeights-2020-presidential-forecast-works-and-whats-different-because-of-covid-19/

It’s surprising to me that the stable polling, high polarization and lack of undecideds – i.e. the things that obviously reflect Trump’s peculiar genius – don’t in some greater way limit or reduce the overall uncertainty in the model.

2

Alan White 09.07.20 at 2:31 am

John, thanks so much for this. I’m obsessively checking 538 every day, even as I write my Dem checks to the tune of over 10 times what I have given in any previous election cycle, and I have been generous now and again. One question I would have is this: it seems that negative advertising has had a disproportionate effect in some elections since the notorious 1998 election. Has there been any quantitative measure of its effect, especially in the closing weeks? Because I know that Agent Orange will exponentially lie and distort about Biden and Harris as time runs out. (The Rethugs are already using footage from foreign social violence to misrepresent occurrences here, as well as manipulated media to make Dems look foolish in completely false circumstances.)

3

de Pony Sum 09.07.20 at 4:59 am

“Short of personally inventing a vaccine and hand-delivering it to the entire US population, I can’t imagine anything that would give Trump a 2.5 per cent chance of winning the popular vote. ”

Serious post office fuckery? I dunno, I haven’t done any back of the envelope numbers, but that’s the idea some people have floated.

4

CDT 09.07.20 at 5:06 am

National polls and the national vote are irrelevant. All that matters are individual states’ electoral college votes, generally winner-take-all except for Nebraska (which divvies it small share up by congressional district). As in 2016, it likely will some down to Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin, assuming purple-trending Florida and Texas don’t break for Biden. And that’s putting aside the effects of the traditional Republican voter suppression, an extra heaping of Bill Barr mischief, and Putin’s interest in chaos. Hope for the best, plan for yhe worst.

5

John Quiggin 09.07.20 at 6:37 am

@1 useful points, thanks

@2 I think Trump has rendered negative advertising largely useless. Obviously, there’s no point in telling people Trump is a liar, crook, misogynist, would-be dictator: everyone knows that, and 40 per cent don’t care. OTOH, anything Trump can throw at Biden and Harris is either trivial in comparison (and the media have finally worked out they can ignore this kind of thing) or can be dismissed as more Trump lies (even in the unlikely event that it’s true)>

@3 I meant to rule out large-scale cheating, going beyond standard Repub vote suppression

@4 “National polls and the national vote are irrelevant. All that matters are individual states’ electoral college votes,” Yes, that’s the starting point of the post. Given an aggregate vote, what’s the likelihood that it will be distributed across the states in a way that produces an electoral college win.

6

Zamfir 09.07.20 at 6:59 am

Does it make sense to put this as a normal distribution? I don’t think there is enough information to observe that distribution (especially in the tails) . On theoretical grounds, such distribution would make sense if the uncertainty is the sum of many smaller uncertainties, each independent from each other.

That does not apply here, does it? We have big uncertainties to deal with (or highly correlated smaller uncertainties). Polls that might be structurally biased one way or the other, swings in public opinion between poll and actual vote.

7

Tm 09.07.20 at 7:33 am

Election progrnosticating is a useless pastime. And even worse is quarreling over who can better forecast the outcome (remember 2016? You all remember!). Try to do something more fruitful with your time.

8

William Timberman 09.07.20 at 1:23 pm

Something suitable to be added to the long list of reasons to be depressed about this verkakte year. Posts like this remind me of the earnest cautionary tales that pop up from time to time in our mainstream media about terminal sufferers of this or that horrible disease heading off to Mexico, or to the Philippines, or to God only knows where, to get fleeced in this or that supposedly alternative therapy center.

The media analysis is flawless, but individual outcomes remain uncertain, and, as Brecht once had it, he who is laughing has not yet heard the terrible news. Desperately sick people absolutely will go to Mexico, or to the Philippines, or to wherever to be fleeced. It’s their right, and even if couldn’t possibly help, and even if the law forbade it, human sympathy would demand that we wish them well.

So do check 538, and do analyze all you will. I’m with you in Rockland. Nevertheless, I myself prefer to fill out my ballot, deliver it to my county’s pick-up site, close my eyes, and wait to see how it turns out.

9

anon/portly 09.07.20 at 2:52 pm

As a followup, N(6.3, 6.6) seems to work pretty well:

It’s using 538’s Sept. 2 popular vote forecast (Biden 52.5, Trump 46.2) for the mean.

Using a step function derived from the Sept. 2 EC tweet, it gives Biden a 70.5% chance of winning, matching 538’s forecast that day (Biden 70, Trump 29).

The 10th percentile outcome for Biden is losing by 2.2%, which looks close to what 538’s graph shows that day.

10

John Quiggin 09.07.20 at 7:13 pm

@9 Thanks for that. I find it hard to believe that the standard deviation can be so high when people are already starting to vote.

11

SusanC 09.08.20 at 9:05 am

We’re seeing something of a race to the bottom in negative advertising.

It’s an interesting question if we have now reached the point where believing or not believing the various bits of propaganda is determined by how you were going to vote anyway, and so has little impact on the result.

I often make fun of conspiracy theories, but QAnon is so bizarre it’s hard to satirise.

(It’s a religion, basically. But Trump is a really unlikely messiah figure. Perhaps the extreme unsuitability is what makes it attractive. After all, in Gene Wolf’s Book of the New Sun, Severian got to be the Autarch).

12

William Timberman 09.08.20 at 2:50 pm

On second thought, a good faith contribution to these comments probably should include what I expect the outcome on November 3 to be. I expect war, that’s what I expect. Doesn’t it aways come down to war in the end? And say what you will, all you who are undoubtedly wiser than me, I think it’s at least a 50/50 proposition that the end is on its way.

On the morning before Kristallnacht, what did a Jew living in Berlin expect? That thought has never been far from my mind since the days when I was a Yankee kid trapped for a good part of my childhood below the Mason-Dixon line. Since 1968, though, it’s never been so dominant as it is now.

I’m old now, and fragile, and I was never a street fighting man anyway. I do think, though, that voting is never gonna be the way this ends. Even as the Atlantic is congratulating itself on its heroic effort to teach history its place, and the make-up people are carefully dabbing rouge on Biden’s cheeks before his big entrance, even the wise should be checking their exit plans.

13

Kevin D Hill 09.08.20 at 6:50 pm

I am struck by how few undecided voters are showing up in the polling. In 2016, between 12% and 20% of those polled were still undecided by Labor Day. Those undecided voters made Clinton’s lead much less safe and they broke strongly toward Donald Trump at the end of the race. In 2020, undecideds seem to range from 4% to 6% undecided. I’m not sure how that should factor into an analysis.

14

J-D 09.09.20 at 9:23 am

… I think it’s at least a 50/50 proposition that the end is on its way.

I’d like to know how you justify that piece of mindless optimism. The probability that the end is on its way is 100%, just as it always has been.

15

John Quiggin 09.09.20 at 10:20 pm

Looking at the 538 page, they give Trump a 15 per cent chance of winning the popular vote. Andrew Gelman’s model at the Economist gives 3 per cent, which seems a lot more plausible to me.

16

bruce wilder 09.10.20 at 2:56 am

Of course, the probability that this election season ends in an eruption of riotous violence is the interesting and practically relevant estimate to make.

“What is going on” in this election campaign are competing, reckless efforts to set up expectations that will serve to make it so. I would ask, “is this not obvious?” but apparently it is not obvious to many already mentally trapped in the propaganda or unwilling to bear the despair that comes with realistic assessment.

If there has ever been a Presidential election with less of a choice at the top of the ballot, I cannot remember it. 1924 had La Follette on some state ballots. It is no joke to say the certain plurality of non-voters will contribute mightily to what, on the numbers and dubious vote counting mechanisms, seems very likely to not have a ambiguous and undisputed outcome.

Either candidate or party might, to gain support, promise to do something about the depression enveloping the economy, but T has no credibility and B simply says, “nothing fundamentally will change.” The character of either man is open to serious question.

Instead of a policy program, the two Parties are engaged to setting the stage for violence. T appears to be hoping that urban protests transform into riots, fueling a backlash of support for the “strongman” he plays on teevee. Biden’s campaign, brought to us by the same amoral fools who thought Russiagate a creative narrative, have been noisily “gaming” out the “end game”. Instead of putting up partisan yard signs, some people are buying ammunition.

The only good outcome would be the overthrow of the political classes, but I do not see anyone willing to play a leadership role in defense of a formerly working class. Bernie embracing his ” friend ” Biden pretty much illustrated the impossibility, but if it did not, the Lincoln Project made it clear that whatever the differences between the Parties in this election, they do not concern the general welfare or justice.

17

Glen Tomkins 09.10.20 at 8:44 pm

It is pretty much a certainty that Trump will believe quite sincerely that he won, no matter what happens at the polls, and will not be shy about telling us all that Trump Really Won. If he fails to find many enablers and facilitators in his party (its overtly political arm, its judicial appointee apparatchiks, or its media fellow traveler arm), then, the Trump Really Won claim has no effect except to make Trump look like even more of a loser.

The problem is that the US has a gulf between its written and its unwritten constitutions that creates a chink in the armor of its defense against succession struggle. The unwritten norms say that every state conducts a popular election to choose electoral college votes (EVs), resulting in a pretty much popular election of the president, the “pretty much” being the acknowledged potential difference between PV and EV results. The actual written rules give every state the power to choose electors however they might wish, and then they give the new Congress meeting in early January the power to decide on the validity of the EV tallies the states send in. It is not at all clear how most people, and, of particular interest, most people with guns, will react if their side loses because the president is chosen by the written rules rather than the norms that everyone imagines are the rules, but really aren’t. The courts are not the controlling legal authority in presidential elections, so don’t expect them to save the US from this design flaw.

Of course the claim by the (presumably) losing Rs will be that the norms could not be followed because of COVID. It’s not as if very many of them at all would follow Trump if the claim were I Lost But I’m Not Leaving, but it’s going to be Trump Really Won. Their claim will be that the election could not be successfully carried out this year by all the old norms, because of COVID itself, because of the inadequacy of the mails to handle the changes to the normal ways of voting created by COVID, because Soros and the Chinese taking advantage of these changes in normal voting to steal votes, etc. Because the election as normally conducted could not happen, R state legislatures will have no choice but throw out as invalid the obviously corrupt and incorrect results of the voting, and send in instead EV tallies for Trump, since these democratically elected legislatures are obviously the only democratic solution left now that a popular vote was tried but failed. It goes without saying that the legislature of, say, Florida, knows best how the people of Florida would have voted, if only they had been given the fair chance that COVID, and the USPS, and China sadly denied them.

18

Hidari 09.11.20 at 8:18 pm

Tm is right.
It’s September, for God’s sake.
The election isn’t until November.
The time to begin with serious predictions is about 3/4 days before the election. Until then, this is all just a waste of time.

19

John Quiggin 09.13.20 at 9:23 am

@18 Most people will have voted by 3/4 days before the election.

20

J-D 09.13.20 at 9:52 am

The actual written rules give every state the power to choose electors however they might wish … Because the election as normally conducted could not happen, R state legislatures will have no choice but throw out as invalid the obviously corrupt and incorrect results of the voting, and send in instead EV tallies for Trump, since these democratically elected legislatures are obviously the only democratic solution left now that a popular vote was tried but failed.

I think you’ll find, if you check, that many States have laws which give the Governor and/or the Secretary of State a role in certifying the State’s choice of electors. In States where these officials are Democrats, they are presumably not going to cooperate in Republican efforts to steal their States’ electoral votes. Of course, it’s possible that in States where both houses of the legislature are controlled by the Republicans they can change the law to remove any role for the Governor, but the Governor may be able to veto those legislative changes. Interestingly, States which have a Republican-controlled legislature but a Democratic Governor include Pennsylvania, Michigan, North Carolina, and Wisconsin.

21

Tm 09.14.20 at 11:35 am

I’m not saying that election forecasts are worthless per se. What I mean is that checking and comparing different forecasts is not a fruitful way to spend one’s time. If one cares about the outcome of an election, one should act to increase the likelihood of the desired outcome, rather than spending one’s time trying to estimate that likelihood.

The outcome of this election specifically is essentially open. I don’t doubt that Trump will again lose the popular vote but he can still win the EC. Forecasts giving Biden a big lead are dangerous since they might convince some Dem-leaning voters to not bother voting or vote third party. This complacency effect has of course played a role in 2016. I hope Democrats have learned.

17, 20: The absurdity of US election rules never fails to evoke shocked disbelief among non-Americans. Is there any other country (perhaps apart from North Korea) where the integrity of elections is in the hands of party politicians? In some cases the very candidate running for office has been tasked with running the election and certifying the outcome (e. g. Georgia 2018). That the people of the US accept this without rebellion explains a lot about the sorry state of this country.

22

anon/portly 09.14.20 at 6:59 pm

Re 15, Gelman seems to think 538 is not accounting for correlations between states properly:

For example, the Fivethirtyeight site gives a 95% predictive interval of (42%,60%) forBiden’s share of the two-party vote in Florida, and it also predicts that Trump, in the unlikely event that he wins California, has a 30% chance of losing in the electoral college.Neither of these predictions seem plausible to us.

….

Thus, implausible state-level predictions may be artifacts of too-low correlations, along with the forecasters’ desire to get an appropriately wide national forecast.

http://www.stat.columbia.edu/~gelman/research/unpublished/forecast_incentives3.pdf

This could be wrong, but I get the sense that the Economist model basically reflects the idea that things like polarization and the decrease in undecideds make it unlikely that polling will shift enough in Trump’s favor, while the 538 model reflects a view that elections in the past have shifted a lot, so why couldn’t this one? This is seen in the quote at the end of 1, also in this recent tweet:

https://twitter.com/NateSilver538/status/1304478061564436485

23

nastywoman 09.14.20 at 9:11 pm

Don’t worry guys –
as this time US Germans –
(pretending to be ”Pretty Blonds” or ”Russians” or ”GOD” – or whatever our fellow Americans prefer) – will erect the US President – it will be the Dude who is running with my sister Kamala.

AND I know that – BE-cause – since I live I won every bet about who is going to be the next US President –
(with the exception – that I didn’t bet on HillaryversusTrump – as one NEVER should bet on… ”accidents”)
BUT – as did I tell you guys – that I always win my bets – juts don’t worry – Kamala will run the show from November on – and every American will say: ”Trump” -(the German Word for: ”STUPID”)

WHO WAS… TRUMP?

24

Tom 09.15.20 at 6:55 pm

The optimism of the OP seems excessive to me. 538 gives Biden a 75 chance, as of today. 538 gave HRC 71.4% of winning in their final 2016 forecast:

https://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/2016-election-forecast/

Clearly, the models cannot fully account the effect of future news, such as Comey’s letter (not a critique of the models, obviously, as they can only condition on available information).

Moreover, it is not clear to me how much polls reporting itself affects elections: if somebody cannot bring himself to vote for Biden, he may more at ease with his decision if he knows that Biden will win anyway. Sam Wang, irresponsibly in my opinion, promoted a 99% chance for HRC. And here we are, four years later, approaching 200k deaths on US soil, and abundant govt incompetence. So, my position is that it ain’t over til it’s over.

25

John Quiggin 09.17.20 at 1:53 am

@24 I’m surprised you find the post optimistic. I am a bit more optimistic than 538, because I think their estimated variance is high, but I don’t think a Biden win is a certainty by any means. That’s why I did the numbers and posted the result.

I’m struck, though, by the claim that future news like the Comey letter might shift things. IIRC, the burden of the Comey letter was that Clinton’s private emails, which might possibly have included some classified information were on the home computer of a senior staff member whose husband had made an idiot of himself.

In the time since I posted, we’ve had news that Trump failed to visit a war cemetery because he thought the troops who died were suckers and deliberately played down the risks associated with a pandemic that has now killed 200 000 people, along with a string of other stories any one of which would have been huge in 2016. None of this moved the needle by any detectable amount. Think of the most absurd and extreme possible news you could imagine and then take a guess at how many votes would change as a result. Trump himself observed that he wouldn’t lose any votes if he shot someone dead in 5th Avenue. Do you disagree with him?

AFAICT, the one thing likely to change the outcome is differences in turnout (or voter suppression). So, I think the message ought to be: as long as everyone who is horrified by Trump and the Republicans turns out, an electoral victory is certain. And, if it’s big enough, Trump will go quietly.

26

Alan White 09.17.20 at 2:59 am

John you are completely right that turnout vs. suppression vs. (I would add) disqualified mail-in votes (not inconsequential) will determine the outcome. One thing I’ve thought about since 2016–and posted on Sam Wang’s page two weeks before the election then–was concern about data gathering for polling, and how much more varied media might make for greater uncertainty. Look–I’m about the least qualified person here to weigh in on the current status of polling–but can you say to what degree pollsters have accounted for the transition from old-school landline calls, where the psychology of answering cold-calls was generally non-cynical and honest, to where we are today, skeptical of everything media-related, even to the point of double-digit believers that ordinary journalism is “fake news”? Do you know anything about meta-psychological analyses of social group data sampling? That was my concern in 2016, and even though there is undoubtedly much more rigidity of polarization as you say now than then, it still worries me that even the best pollsters might have not properly meta-analyzed how really accurate the data they obtain is.

All I know anecdotally is that here in small-city Wisconsin Trump signs are everywhere, and three of my Biden signs have been stolen and I must take them in at night to prevent further loss (ah, law-and-order Trump supporters!), and my own psychology about the election is not sanguine. But dammit I will write checks, now into the thousands, to try and save my sick country.

27

John Quiggin 09.17.20 at 6:57 am

Hi Alan,

I don’t think anyone knows for sure, but the polls were pretty accurate in 2018.

28

Gorgonzola Petrovna 09.17.20 at 8:02 am

No one is going to vote for Biden, obviously. People will vote for Trump or against Trump.

This is what a meaningful poll would look like, imo:
– are you planning to vote in the presidential election? If yes,
– are you planning to vote for Trump or against Trump?

Although, in view of recent troubles in D-controlled cities and Democrats’ embrace of ethnocentric radicalism and assaults on police officers, it seems that some might actually vote against Biden. This complicates the scenario.

29

J-D 09.17.20 at 9:10 am

Think of the most absurd and extreme possible news you could imagine and then take a guess at how many votes would change as a result.

A challenge!

Hmmm.

A second Chicxulub impact? How many votes would that change? I think it is fair to say ‘All of them’.

But the challenge was ‘absurd and extreme’. The Chicxulub impact was certainly extreme, but not absurd. So …

…. hmm …

… Trump, broadcasting live from the Oval Office, says ‘Jesus was a loser! Hail Satan!’ and follows up with tweets confirming that he meant it. Is that absurd and extreme enough for you?

I ask again, how many votes would that change? Again I think it’s fair to say ‘All of them’.

30

John Quiggin 09.17.20 at 9:46 am

@29 It’s striking that you need to invoke confirmatory tweets. Implicitly, the live broadcast alone would be nowhere near enough to shift the needle, once the denial machine sprang into action “The President was just describing what Democrats believe”, “The leftwing media edited the tape” and so on.

31

J-D 09.17.20 at 10:13 am

It’s striking that you need to invoke confirmatory tweets.

It is, but also …
It’s only recently that I read about deepfakes. If there was video circulating on the Internet purporting to show a public figure having sex with a donkey, I wouldn’t believe it, and I would be justified in not believing it. I imagine the Trump campaign being the victim of such an operation is less likely than its being party to the perpetration of one, but it’s not actually impossible, and since what I was suggesting was, to meet the challenge, absurd (more absurd than a public figure having sex with a donkey), I added the confirmatory tweets for additional absurdity and extremity.

Remember, after all, that Trump shooting somebody dead on Fifth Avenue is not something that has actually happened, so we don’t actually know for sure that it would change nothing. But of course he isn’t doing to shoot anybody dead on Fifth Avenue. His agents would pay somebody to carry out the shooting, without discussing it with Trump, because why would they?

32

Tom 09.17.20 at 12:52 pm

John @25, re optimism: sorry, I misread the tone of OP and your comments. I am likely over-reacting to this issue as I am frankly terrified of four more years of this.

As to Comey’s letter, I go by Silver’s article here:
https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/the-comey-letter-probably-cost-clinton-the-election/
The title of the article sums it up: “The Comey Letter Probably Cost Clinton The Election”.*

I unfortunately agree with Trump’s quip. But that’s the problem. Republican voters seem to close rank much more behind their candidate than Democrats are. As I am sure you know, the 2016 election was decided by a handful of votes in few states, with third party candidates (Stein and Johnson) experiencing a surge in votes. In Michigan e.g., Trump had 47.3% of the vote, Clinton 47.0%, Johnson 3.6% and Stein 1.1%. I believe that “picky” voters will behave differently this year because, even if, say, one hates what Biden represents, still it takes a lot of hate to consider him worse than Trump. But after 2016 I do not take anything for granted. So, I agree with your last paragraph.

*Note to others: this of course does not mean that there were no other reasons for why Clinton lost. I do not want to re-open for the n-th time that debate here. Silver just claims, correctly in my view, that, other things equal, had Comey not written the letter (or had the media decided to give it the weight it deserved (after all as Silver says, “Two days before the election, Comey disclosed that the emails hadn’t turned up anything new”), Clinton would be president.

33

ph 09.17.20 at 2:18 pm

Interesting post and comments. There are two fairly distinct information environments. Consumers who lean Trump are unlikely to regard anything published as ‘news’ as anything but anti-Trump propaganda – that’s been the case for a long time.

Moreover, many who lean Trump don’t like Trump, or at least what we see of him. Active supporters point to the threat to the economy posed by a change, and the stay in the basement strategy of the D nominee. This community has no sense that the world is upside down, or coming to an end. Whatever sickness exists in America resides in failed policies and leaders of ‘left’ leaning politicians, who are in many cases anything but.

The V-shaped recovery is taking place. Despite non-stop references to COVID deaths in the media Trump’s numbers remain fairly steady and may be climbing. We’re still a long way out as others have noted. Harris-Biden could win, but Joe Rogan just reminded folks that he can’t vote for anyone so obviously suffering from some sort of mental decline.

Hating Trump wasn’t enough to get Dems over in 2016 and is unlikely to move the needle much. The grave-yard story coincided with the release of the economic numbers and was designed for MSNBC audience. Support for Biden is extremely weak. Biden’s campaign has elected to avoid knocking on doors in Michigan and Wisconsin, at least up to this point. The press and the Biden campaign is working overtime 24/7 to prevent Biden’s support from crumbling, which it very likely will the first time Biden is forced to present himself unscripted before the American public. The anti-Trump base will vote for anyone to replace Trump.

But there are plenty of self-serving voters who are concerned only with pocket-book issues. As I mentioned months ago, few normal people are willing to risk turning the somewhat shaky economic recovery over to anyone no longer able to complete simple sentences, as Rogan just a day ago reminded us. Hispanic support for Trump is up, as is support among African-Americans.

The real question is whether Biden drags down the entire ticket. Dems try to avoid discussing time wasted on impeachment, but voters are unlikely to forget how Congress spent the early months of COVID. Ditto all that Putin-puppet porn served up cynically by media outlets to boost ratings.

Folks interested in climate change have real cause for alarm should Trump win. However, Biden is waffling on his opposition to fracking and fossil fuels. He was and is a staunch supporter of whoever pays him most and has long been seen as such. He has no convictions, which isn’t such a bad thing, but has no ideas – which is obvious to anyone.

In the anti-Trump information eco-system Hillary Clinton won and Trump never became president. We know how that turned out. Trump winning in 2020 is as unthinkable as it was in 2016. The smarter folks like Joh, however, understand that absent any compelling reason for Trump supporters to bail (none that I can see on balance exists) and for economics voters to vote against their own positive experiences up to COVID, the unthinkable is almost certain to occur once again.

Why not?

34

Alan White 09.17.20 at 11:34 pm

“[Biden] has no convictions, which isn’t such a bad thing, but has no ideas – which is obvious to anyone.”

And Trump does? ph declares himself finally to inhabit his own solipsistic fantasy–and actively pushes this malarkey about Biden. If by some “miracle” Biden wins, I for one will not miss certain posts in the wake of victory.

35

Tm 09.18.20 at 8:25 am

“Trump shooting somebody dead on Fifth Avenue is not something that has actually happened”

No, but a militia fanatic encouraged and defended by Trump has murdered two BLM protesters. Has it changed any minds? I don’t know but it is a depressing thought that > 40% of Americans approve this outrage.

Gorgo 28: is that the fake news of the day, Democrats “embrace assault of police officers”? Do you think it works better than “we all do stupid things at 17”?

36

J-D 09.19.20 at 12:06 am

If by some “miracle” Biden wins, I for one will not miss certain posts in the wake of victory.

I do not have confidence in anybody’s ability to predict the result of the election, but I have confidence in my ability to predict that no matter what the result of the election ph will find a way to continue to assert superiority.

37

ph 09.19.20 at 12:50 am

Malarky about Biden – from Biden: https://thefederalist.com/2020/09/18/joe-biden-resurrects-false-college-claim-that-helped-ruin-his-1988-presidential-run/

The information problem is simple, a majority of vocal academics and media voices now share the view that America is a kind of hell. Academics do so, because they believe this to be the case, and media voices do so to provide comfort food to the anti-Trump choir. For good reasons and others, they’re not likely to budge. Fox and other other pro-Trump outlets essentially provide the same.

Failure to consume a moderate balanced of both spheres means that we end up missing half the picture of pretty much all stories, which are all hyped, rather than nuanced, for maximum outrage, and the resulting echo chamber clicks. Even judicious consumption leaves much unknowable, which I think is the problem JQ and others here are addressing.

Helmut Northpoth, who studies only early primary results, argues that candidates who do very poorly in early primaries, and end who up being the nominee, rarely do well in general elections.https://cbsaustin.com/news/nation-world/political-scientist-predicts-landslide-win-for-president-trump-in-2020-election “When applied to previous elections, Norpoth’s model reportedly correctly predicts 25 of the last 27 contests.”

Will 2020 prove to be another exception in the Norpoth model?

The extremely low enthusiasm for Harris-Biden in the primaries is reflected, now in low enthusiasm for Harris-Biden among Democrats. Even in the pro-Dem media we rarely/never read of ‘excitement’ ‘enthusiasm’ or an ‘electrified crowds’ (Typo corrected was ‘crows’ which works better.)

Norpoth’s model, btw, gives Trump a 90 percent chance of winning the electoral college: 362-176 while still losing the popular vote.

https://news.stonybrook.edu/facultystaff/maverick-modeller-helmut-norpoth-predicts-another-win-for-trump/

Polls

38

Alan White 09.19.20 at 12:58 am

And now Ruth Bader Ginsberg is dead–as is any hope for a balance on SCOTUS in my lifetime. “Wait for the election”–sound familiar? Hah! Rethugs are dancing in the street–and Dems seriously need to rally whatever is left to resist Trumpian tyranny.

39

nastywoman 09.19.20 at 5:35 am

@33
”Why not?”

BE-cause THIS TIME all the people who say in the polls they will vote for Trump –
will vote against him.
It’s a bit like working for Trump – by working against Trump – or saying ”many who lean Trump don’t like Trump, or at least what we see of him” – and never forget –
on the German Angst-Index ”Trump” -(the German Word for ”STUPID”) is FIRST.

And what does German Philosophy say:
”Die letzten werden die Ersten sein”!

And German Philosophy ALWAYS comes through –
which not only Crooked Timber proves!

40

nastywoman 09.19.20 at 6:20 am

AND
WE had posted on the Intercept that we try to help ”Fridays for Future” with some ”donations” – and one of our major contributions -(hopefully!) –
will be a (at least) a ”Spende” of 20 000$ –
(after we have gotten rid of Trump)

And in order to collect the money – we placed 19 bets – each for 1000$ on ”Trump” – having to retire to his golden toilet(s).
AND there was just ONE bet missing –
BUT!! – THEN a TI commenter – who goes by the name of: ”AussieHub” wrote:

”I will take that bet. Easy money. I’m not sure if you have noticed but Trump has a bigger following than any President ever. Clearly you are looking at the world through the propagandised version presented to you”.

So we wrote him back: ”Please mail US at gertv@gmx.de – to confirm and in order to exchange all the necessary data! BUT THEN – somehow he didn’t respond – and we were getting a bit… worried?

BUT THEN – he – didn’t e-mail
BUT! – wrote back on the thread:

”$1000 sounds good to me. I will send you an email on November 4th to collect my money.”

Now – isn’t that one of the funniest ”538 adventures”?

And ph –
Really?
are you the poster ”AussieHub”?

41

nastywoman 09.19.20 at 6:28 am

”And ph –
Really?
are you the poster ”AussieHub”?

AND if you are ”NOT” – let ME try to explain anywhoo:

See – that’s NOT how economics work. If you place a bet -(even in Trumpland)
YOU have to confirm BEFORE – Trump retires to his golden toilet(s) that you are willing to pay when you lose –
dimwit!

42

nastywoman 09.19.20 at 6:44 am

AND about:
”Die letzten werden die Ersten sein”!

Ph – the GREAT think -(not ”thing”) – about the coming election –
IS –
that
IF! –
another ”accident” would happen – AND America AGAIN – would find herself in Trumpland – WE (21 Expats) who plan to celebrate in CA the defeat of ”Trump” –
(the German word for ”STUPID”) – would save waaaay over 20 000 Euros – by NOT having to celebrate in CA –
And so we would pay our ”Wettschulden” – and give Fridays for Future 20 000 anywhoo – and instead of NOT visiting our homeland anymore – as long as it is Trumpland –
Let’s go again Italy instead – to the Isle of Silence –

https://youtu.be/xhwHXDhTZ9k

AND never – ever say a word again!

43

nastywoman 09.19.20 at 6:47 am

Ups –
wrong link!

This is ”Silence”

https://youtu.be/RBgJjYzHbQE

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