The 2020 United States Presidential Election is nearly upon us, with unprecedented stakes being represented during unprecedented times.

Donald J. Trump, the sitting President and Republican Party nominee, is seeking re-election four years after upsetting Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election. While the polls show him behind in the polls once again, the President is confident he can win re-election.

Joe Biden and his running mate Kamala Harris represent the Democratic Party, building on a Clinton 2016 voter base that had over 65 million voters, the most in American history. While Biden certainly doesn’t as a fan base as energized as Trump’s, this strong Democratic voter base coupled with Trump’s 52.6% disapproval rating gives the former Vice President a strong chance to be elected as the next President of the United States.

But anything could happen: and I mean anything. From another Trump surprise victory, to a contested legal battle, as well as the possibility of Electoral College voters voting on their own accord all make this an Election cycle that will likely be like no other.

Electoral Map

270towin.com‘s Consensus Map as of November 1, 2020. Even without winning any of the gray/up-for-grabs states, Biden would be projected to be the next President of the United States with over 270 electoral votes.

Biden’s path to victory almost couldn’t be simpler. In 2016, Hillary Clinton carried 20 states as well as Washington D.C., earning the rights to 232 electoral votes (though due to faithless electors, she only received 227 electoral votes. Trump carried 30 states as well as Maine’s second congressional district, receiving 304 of the 306 electoral votes he earned.

Essentially, I’m operating under the belief that Biden won’t lose any states that Clinton carried in 2016. Besides maybe a congressional district or a small state that doesn’t hold more than three or four electoral votes, it’s not expected that any states Clinton won in 2016 will end up being carried by Trump in 2020.

If this holds to be true, Biden enters Tuesday’s election with a super-strong base of 232 expected electoral votes. He would need just 38 more to secure the necessary 270 electoral votes to secure victory over Trump.

ElectoralCollege2016.svg
The 2016 Electoral College results, per Wikipedia. Note the seven faithless electors, with the recipients of those electoral votes listed under Clinton and Trump’s names.

The consensus map from 270towin.com projects just what I said, Biden winning every state that Clinton won in 2016. In addition, the map also hands Arizona (11 electoral votes,) Wisconsin (10,) Michigan (16,) Pennsylvania (20,) and one of Nebraska’s Congressional districts (1.)

Again, if Biden wins those states as projected, the 85 “up-for-grabs” electoral votes from states including Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Ohio, and Iowa would be inconsequential, as Biden would still win the election without carrying a single one of those states.

The only contention I have with this projected outcome is handing Biden Pennsylvania prematurely. Biden is favored to win the Keystone State, but so was Clinton in 2016. Biden is polling anywhere from +5 to +9 over Trump in Pennsylvania, but as one the most important states in deciding the 2016 election, I think it’s too close to safely project a Biden victory a day ahead of the election.

Playing into Biden’s favor? Pennsylvania was carried by Democrats in six straight elections, dating from 1992-2012. While Trump’s 2016 victory was an upset, the state may get back to its roots in 2020. Trump won 48.6% of PA voters in 2016, compared to 47.9% by Clinton.

But even if Trump does carry Pennsylvania, and the rest of the projected map holds, Biden would have exactly 270 electoral votes. Even if Trump won every undecided state, he would lose the election in the tightest of fashions: with a 270-268 loss in the Electoral College.

Technically, that result could be struck down if faithless electors rear their heads again in 2020. If Biden lost just one electoral vote, the election results would be up in the air with no true winner. But with less scandal surrounding his campaign, there’s no clear reason to see that electors would refuse to vote for Biden in 2020. If anything, I would expect a couple faithless electors from states that were supposed to cast their votes for Trump.

While I keep mentioning the possibility of Trump winning “every undecided state,” that is an unlikely outcome. Biden will be competitive in Ohio, North Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, and should carry at least one or two of those states. Winning Ohio (18,) Florida (29,) Georgia (16,) or North Carolina (15) could offset a potential upset in Pennsylvania.

In completing the unfilled map, I’ll hand out the final states and votes as follows (with poll numbers via fivethirtyeight.com):

  • Iowa (Biden +1): Trump wins
  • Pennsylvania (Biden +6): Biden probably wins, but we’ll go Trump to make things interesting
  • Ohio (EVEN): Trump wins
  • Florida (Biden +2): Trump wins
  • North Carolina (Biden +2): Trump wins
  • Georgia (Biden +4): Biden wins
  • Maine’s 2nd Congressional District: Trump wins

In reality, I think Biden will carry more than one of these states. But we’ll give Trump the benefit of the doubt: as we’ve seen before, more people could show up in support of him on Election Day than the polls anticipated.

My first scenario in a completed election map, with Trump winning Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Florida, even though there’s a chance he doesn’t win those states.

Biden would carry 286 electoral votes in this scenario, and even without Georgia’s 16 votes, he would still be at the 270 vote threshold. This would be a close election, the closest since a 286-251 George W. Bush re-election victory over John Kerry.

In another scenario where Biden carries Pennsylvania, Florida, North Carolina, and Ohio, the former Vice President would win in the biggest Electoral landslide since Bill Clinton’s re-election in 1996. Biden would win handily, 368-170 in with this projected map.

Could Trump Contest the Election?

Trump tells Wisconsin rally: We're sending migrants to sanctuary cities -  Axios
Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Creating the second map, where Biden wins in an electoral landslide, as opposed to a narrow victory in the first map, could be more important than you think.

The closer the outcome is, the easier and more likely it becomes for the current President to contest the results of the election.

For example, say Biden wins by less than 20 electoral votes but carries Pennsylvania. Trump wouldn’t have to attack the entire election process or national results: he would simply target Pennsylvania in a legal battle to try and flip the outcome. But if Trump is five to ten states short of victory, it becomes much more complicated and outlandish for Trump to insist on a rigged election.

Trump has repeatedly stated, at his rallies, in his interviews, and via his Twitter account, that the election results must be known by November 4. With mail-in and absentee votes expected to be counted for over a week after the election, these assertions by Trump are just one of the many ways the sitting President is attempting to undermine the democratic process.

Everything I’ve predicted so far would be based on the final results, and not Election Day or November 4 projections. But this prediction would be incomplete without mentioning how I think the week and moths following the election will unfold.

Barring a Biden landslide that make the results uncontestable, I think the race will be close enough on Election night for Trump to prematurely declare victory. Registered Republicans and other Trump voters are expected to show up in droves on Tuesday, while Democratic Party and Biden voters have been utilizing early and mail-in voting at a very high rate. The result could be an apparent Trump lead on Tuesday night, especially in key battleground states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida, North Carolina, Georgia, Wisconsin and Arizona, in such a way that would also project a Trump Electoral College victory.

But with the huge Biden-leading advantage in mail-in voting, which could take days or even up to a week to accurately count, these states could shift from red to blue by say, November 11.

There is of course, no rush to crown a President despite Trump’s continued rhetoric about the timing of the election. State results do not need to be finalized until December 8, six days before the Electoral College casts their official votes on December 14. This would also be the likely deadline for any legal battles Trump pursues, and delaying the vote would put America’s democratic republic in jeopardy.

As we know, citizens don’t elect the President directly in a democratic republic, but rather elect electors who cast votes for them. But as mentioned as seen in action in 2016, these electors aren’t legally obligated to side with the voters they are intended to represent.

Your Vote Counts… Unless Your Elector Goes Rogue

Reasons to Keep the Electoral College
Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

After the chaos that will surely ensue during Election Day and week, followed by the the subsequent legal battles and uncertainty, could there be a third wave of drama: the Electoral College vote itself?

The 535 electors are composed of the 100 United States senators (two per state) and the 435 members of the House of Representatives. There were seven faithless electors in 2016, with two refusing to cast their vote to Trump despite their state or congressional district voting favor of the current President, and five not casting their vote to Hillary Clinton.

In an unprecedented landscape, could the Electoral College be used to essentially choose the next President, regardless of how the United States population votes? While I don’t think it’s completely likely, it’s a possibility worth considering. The reason I don’t think it’s likely is because most electors don’t want to lose public faith or shift the long-held norms of United States democracy.

But in all likelihood, if such a scenario were to arise, it likely wouldn’t go in Trump’s favor. Perhaps if he was down less than 20 electoral votes, he could swing a blue state to red by riling up some faithless (likely Republican) electors. However, with a Democratic majority in the Electoral College, a more foreseeable scenario would be Democratic electors refusing to cast votes for Trump.

At the end of the day, there are a number of ways this election could be messy and shift the paradigm on how the United States handles transitions of power. The cleanest outcome is a Biden landslide, both in the popular vote and on the traditional Electoral College, though it wouldn’t be out the realm of possibility for Trump to do anything he can to extend his Presidency.

The messiest scenario is one where Biden wins and receives the majority of the Electoral votes in December, but Trump continues to push an alternate narrative into January and towards Inauguration Day. I won’t speculate on what could or would happen at that point, but it probably would not be a desirable situation.

Predicting the Popular Vote

Joe Biden says he will debate Donald Trump, rejects calls to ignore the  president - MarketWatch
Photo: CHIP SOMODEVILLA/GETTY IMAGES

On a lighter note, I thought it would also be fun to predict the popular vote totals of the candidates, including Libertarian Party candidate Jo Jorgensen, Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins, and of course, write-in nominee and “Birthday Party” candidate Kanye West.

If West had gotten serious about ballot access earlier (he didn’t start until July,) I think he actually could have gained a small chunk of the vote as a protest of the current system. But with ballot access in just 12 states, largely relying on write-ins, West is unlikely to make a substantial impact.

But could he finish third in the popular vote, above Jorgensen and Hawkins? I think it’s actually possible. Jorgensen has a strong social media following, but little mainstream appeal. Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson earned 4,489,341 votes in 2016, 3.38% of the popular vote. Green Party nominee Jill Stein garnered 1,457,218 votes, 1.07% of the popular vote. While America is arguably in more need than ever of a “third” or at least more than two options, Jorgensen and Hawkins don’t seem to be pushing their parties forward much in 2020.

In 2016, Hillary Clinton received a United States record 65,853,514 votes, 48.18% of the popular vote. Donald Trump received 62,984, 828 votes, 46.09% of the popular vote.

With a record number of early voters and a huge turnout expected on Election Day, expect a significant increase from the 136,669,276 votes that were cast in 2016.

Predicted vote totals and popular vote percentage:

  1. Joe Biden, Democratic Party: 75 million votes, 49.67%
  2. Donald Trump, Republican Party: 65 million votes, 43.05%
  3. Kanye West, Birthday Party: 5 million votes, 3.31%
  4. Jo Jorgensen, Libertarian Party: 4.5 million votes, 2.98%
  5. Howie Hawkins, Green Party: 1.5 million votes, 0.99%
  6. Other: 3.0 million votes, 1.99%

Total Votes: 151 million (10% increase from 2016)

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