By Amr Ansari (‘22)
As a twelve-year-old somewhat naive seventh grader, when I awoke on November 8th, 2016, the victory of Donald Trump as the President elect was, well, inconsequential. Yet I was not completely oblivious. I knew, like most, that Secretary Hillary Clinton was expected to win the presidency, and perhaps even by a landslide. But how did I “know” so definitively that this would be the case? Brought to me by television pundits and the chatter around me, I failed to realize that those pushing this outlook, stating as a fact that Clinton would become the forty-fifth president of the United states, did not “know” either.
I think it is valuable to look into where the rhetoric that Clinton was surely going to win stemmed from. First of all, no one can truly predict who will win the election. Media outlets and other firms often conduct polls of a sample, usually likely voters, weighting demographics to predict an outcome. But in such a divisive and polarizing time, races are often neck and neck, within margins or error. Even further, the polls themselves can be flawed— not accounting for a particular demographic can compromise the integrity of a poll altogether. For example, a criteria that was often overlooked in the 2016 election was education, as white non-college educated men tended to vote for Trump overwhelmingly, breaking from white men overall. Moreover, to an extent, the polls themselves can influence the election.
Let’s take a look at Michigan, a state that propelled Trump closer to the 270 electoral college victory threshold. The Detroit Free Press pushed the fact that Clinton was 11 points ahead of Donald Trump in October. Yet, this in of itself hurt Clinton’s campaign. Some who felt that Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont should have won the Democratic nomination, for instance, might have begrudgingly felt as though they had to vote for Clinton, following a ‘lesser of the two evils’ mindset. With media outlets forecasting a blowout, these voters may have decided that their vote for Clinton would be better uncast, as a protest of the fact that their candidate was not on the general ballot. Alternatively, those who saw Clinton ahead by such a large margin may have felt that their vote would not swing the outcome. Yet this mindset may have cost Clinton the election— she lost the state by an extremely narrow third of a percent. Polls are nothing more than a prediction on the election based on how voters are expected to vote. However, without turnout for voters’ respective candidates, the reality is that the prediction becomes irrelevant.
So why won’t 2020 be a repeat? FiveThirtyEight is an election predictor that aggregates and averages polls, weighting the polls themselves based on their quality and sample size. The system FiveThirtyEight uses has gotten credibility as in 2016, they put Donald Trump’s chances at the presidency at a modest 28.6%, better than many were suggesting. Those odds are greater than the chances of flipping a coin and landing heads twice in a row. The favorite to win this time around is Joe Biden, who 3 days out from the election holds a 90% chance of victory compared to Clinton’s 71.4% chance on election day, according to the same model. There are several other differences this time around as well. First of all, the memory of 2016 hasn’t left the minds of the American people. The citizenry has already demonstrated this as more than 91 million people have already cast their votes even before election day. In Texas and Hawaii, more
people have cast their vote prior to election day in 2020 than in 2016 overall. That’s right, before election day has even taken place, there have been more votes than the total count in 2016 in some states. But what does this mean? To me, it means that America has gotten serious. Those who disapprove of Trump unite in that one motive, putting policy aside, or at least not considering it as heavily. In fact, several Republican groups, most prominently the Lincoln Project, have pushed this, stating how their beliefs as Republicans do not trump their disapproval of the president. And yet still, for those who support President Trump, turnout is key in propelling him to a second term; Democrats are more likely to have voted by mail, and to counter presumptive leads, Republicans will have to show up on election day. Based on this psychological aspect, I’d say that if anything, the polls will be more accurate— far less people are sitting this election out. And since 2016, pollsters have taken great measures to ensure even greater accuracy for predicting this election, ensuring that demographics are accounted for. Americans have realized that the only poll that matters is on election day.
In my opinion, Biden will win this election. Yes, Biden is ahead in the polls, but I think America wants a President Biden. Although he may be painted as such by some, Biden is no radical leftist. He is a man who has been in politics for nearly 50 years with a steady hand that will govern skillfully. 59% of Americans disapprove of Trump’s handling of the coronavirus, and because of this fact alone, I think a change of guard is inevitable. But how valid is this line of thought? Professor Allan Lichtman would say very. His methodology for predicting a presidential election derives not from the polls, but from thirteen factors, or keys as he calls them, weighing components from the economy to social unrest. Professor Lichtman has accurately predicted every presidential race since 1984, and in 2016, he predicted a win for Trump. He predicts a Biden win this time around, which goes to show how clearly things have shifted. Still, President Trump can very well win a second term. When I applied to the International Academy, there were 125 applicants in my district and 25 seats. In other words I had a 20% chance of clearing the lottery system and getting admitted to the IA. And yet here I am. Granted, if we placed our bets completely in accordance with FiveThirtyEight, Trump has a 10% chance of victory. But for many of us, attending the IA from districts with few seats and many applicants serves to show that the unlikely is very possible.
For those reading this eligible to vote, I urge you to exercise your civic duty to vote. Many of us in high school are ineligible to vote in this election as we are not eighteen yet, but we must reach out to all our family and friends and encourage them to vote. Whether Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal, whether engaged in politics or apathetic, Americans have a constitutional right and a civic duty to have their voices heard.