2020 Does Not Look Good For MAGA

In the first 48 hours after the 2016 election, I penned a letter to the President-elect. My message was simple and straightforward: Donald Trump began his first term down between 2-5 million votes to former Vice President Joe Biden in the 2020 election.  I added that, for Trump to have a chance at being re-elected, he would have to enjoy a near perfect first term. In short, if Trump implemented his campaign agenda, he would win re-election. If not, he would lose to Biden.  

I never sent the letter but my analysis has stood the test of time. I have since become convinced that Trump’s election was a fluke. In nominating Hillary Clinton, the Democrats succeeded in repelling just enough voters in key states to deliver an unlikely victory to Trump. Now that that the 2020 election is upon us and Joe Biden enjoys early front-runner status both in the Democrat primary and the general election, let us consider where Trump is likely to wind up on election night next year.

First, a quick review of 2016 presidential election. Trump became the 45th president by winning Ohio (18), Pennsylvania (20), Wisconsin (10) and Michigan (16), bringing his vote count in the Electoral College to 306 to Clinton’s 232. Since securing the presidency requires 270 Electors, if just three of said states flip in 2020, the Democrat wins the White House. Let's take a closer look at the margin of Trump's victory: 

Table 1 - Margin of Victory in Michigan, Oho, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin

Table 1 - Margin of Victory in Michigan, Oho, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin

Trump won Ohio by over 400,000 votes so it is unlikely to flip Democrat. Unfortunately, he won the remaining three state by fewer than 50,000 votes. In Michigan and Wisconsin, the margin was less than 25,000 votes. How likely are Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin to flip from red to blue?

Let us consider Trump’s gains over Romney versus Clinton’s losses compared to Obama in 2012:

Table 2 - Trump vs. Romney and Clinton vs. Obama (Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin)

Table 2 - Trump vs. Romney and Clinton vs. Obama (Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin)

In both Michigan and Ohio, Clinton lost significantly more votes than Trump gained.  Thus, Clinton repelled more voters than Trump gained. This does not bode well for Trump.  It means that even if Trump maintains his 2016 vote count in these states, by the fact that Democrats will be pulling the lever for someone other than Clinton, they gain more incremental votes than Trump can muster. Fortunately for Trump, he enjoyed such a large margin in Ohio that he probably does not lose there.  Biden gains Michigan while Trump maintains Ohio.

In Pennsylvania the opposite was true. Trump gained significantly more votes over Romney than Clinton lost versus Obama 2012. Therefore, Trump brought new voters to the polls where Clinton basically maintained Obama's level. However, this means that Trump has more votes to lose and Biden will probably perform as well as both Clinton and Obama. Biden gains Pennsylvania.

Wisconsin is unusual in that both nominees lost votes versus their 2012 counterparts.  However, again, Clinton repelled significantly more votes, losing nearly 240,000 versus Obama 2012.  Trump lost only a couple thousand versus Romney.  Even if Trump gains votes over 2016, Biden gains more just by being named anything but Clinton.  Biden gains Wisconsin.

The above analysis assumes that the rest of the map remains the same. It does not take into account Florida or Iowa, which may be in play for similar reasons. Again, let us compare Trump’s gains over Romney versus Clinton’s losses compared to Obama in 2012:

Table 3 - Trump vs. Romney and Clinton vs. Obama (Florida and Iowa)

Table 3 - Trump vs. Romney and Clinton vs. Obama (Florida and Iowa)

In Florida, both Trump and Clinton gained significantly over their 2012 counterparts, though Trump gained well over 400,000 to Clinton’s 267,000 gain over Obama 2012. For Biden to win Florida, he must improve on both Obama and Clinton and Trump must lose significant votes, which is possible, but not likely.  My calculations assume Trump maintains Florida in 2020. In Iowa, Trump gained 70,000 votes over Romney while Clinton collapsed by over 165,000 votes compared to Obama. For Biden to win Iowa, he must match Obama's vote total while Trump remains the same - not out of the realm of possibilities but I still award Iowa to the president. Should Trump lose both Florida and Iowa it will only add to the blowout.

There are other considerations such as migration from states like New York, Pennsylvania and California to Florida and Texas that could affect vote counts in all five states.  Texas appears to be safe at the top of the ballot despite the strong Democrat performance in the 2018 midterms. Florida could be in play regardless of migration, but this adds to the intrigue.

Simply stated, President Trump won by a fluke because Hillary Clinton repelled just enough voters in just the right states so as to make Trump’s victory possible while Trump attracted just enough white voters in just the right states as to make victory possible. If Biden gains by not being Clinton and Trump lost voters by failing to implement his signature issues and running an ineffective administration, Biden (or whoever) wins.  Period.

It is all but in the books.