Back in May 2016, I wrote that Donald Trump would win the US election. I was lambasted, but I ultimately and unfortunately was proved right.
Mr Trump won then and he could win now, even allowing for Friday’s announcement that he and First Lady Melania have tested COVID-positive This is how.
The US population can be broken down into three broad components.
Firstly, there is approximately 50 per cent of people who never vote.
This number changes each election, with 60.7 per cent voting in 1968 and less than 50 per cent voting in 1996.
For the ease of maths let’s call it 50 per cent of the voting-age population who normally don’t vote.
The second category is the normally Republican-voting people. Let’s say that is somewhere around 25 per cent, being half of the 50 per cent of people who vote.
The third category is the Democrat voter, also 25 per cent.
So, the electorate is made up roughly of 50 per cent who don’t vote, 25 per cent who vote Republican and 25 per cent who vote Democrat.
In normal elections, the entire system, the polling, the marketing, the campaigning, is all designed around ‘the likely voter’.
The 50 per cent who normally don’t vote are ignored and all the focus goes on the 50 per cent who do vote – the even split between Democrats and Republicans.
Elections are normally won and lost in two places.
Firstly, by getting a small number of ‘your 25 per cent’ to vote for me, turning my vote from 25 per cent to 26 per cent while diminishing the opponent. I win.
The second way to win is by maximising voter turnout.
For us in Australia, it is always difficult to think through the ramifications of low turnout and ‘get out the vote’ campaigns because we have compulsory voting. But getting out the vote is critical in the US.
Unfortunately, you don’t get people to vote by being moderate.
You get people to vote by making them angry and by demonising the other side. This is one critical reason why US elections are so polarising.
In 2016, Donald Trump understood this but did something different. He looked at the 50 per cent who normally don’t vote and wondered how he could get them.
Mr Trump effectively said to Democrats ‘Screw you!”.
To many Democrats, he was rude, offensive and racist. They were angry and voted with passion. But still, their voices were worth one vote.
Mr Trump then said to the Republicans ‘Screw you too. You have to vote for me or Hillary wins’. Republicans voted for Mr Trump in part because Republicans hated Hillary Clinton.
He then went to the 50 per cent who never vote and said, ‘See how I told those politicians ‘screw you’? Now vote for me’.
Just enough of them did.
In 2012, roughly nine per cent of voters were first-time voters.
Most were young and most voted Democrat. But 2016 saw an increase in first-time voters to 15 per cent. Most of the increase was made up of older, white, working-class people who had never voted before.
These older, white working-class voters lived in swing states and voted for Mr Trump.
To win this time Mr Trump needs to do the following. Firstly, he needs to hold his base, who will vote for him come what may. This is almost certain and is why Mr Trump still feeds ‘red meat’ of racism and misogyny.
It is why he can be so rude and bombastic in the Presidential Debates. Mr Trump’s base loves it and Democrats hate it – but Democrats were never going to vote for Mr Trump, so he just doesn’t care about them.
Secondly, Mr Trump needs to demonise Joe Biden in the minds of Republican-leaning voters so they hate him as much as they hated Mrs Clinton.
This is very possible. It is the reason why he calls Mr Biden a puppet of the ‘Radical Socialist Left’.
The current Supreme Court appointment plays right into Donald Trump’s hands.
In 2016, about one in five people said the appointment of Supreme Court judges was the most important factor in casting their vote and the majority of those voted for Mr Trump.
These people will vote for Mr Trump again on that issue alone.
The third thing Donald Trump needs is just enough of the people who never normally vote to get off their backsides and vote for him in the key swing states. He needs enough white working-class people to vote for him just like they did in 2016.
Hillary Clinton had a margin on the popular vote of about three million.
However, most of those were in California and New York – states that normally vote Democrat. Under the US Electoral College system, the states’ Electoral College votes were always going to go Democrat.
On the other hand, Mr Trump openly declared that he was going to flip the ‘swing states’ to vote for him – and he did. Even though the margins were small, he still won their Electoral College votes.
One of the extreme ironies of the 2016 election is that Mr Trump understood the Electoral College better than Mrs Clinton. While she focused on building her margin in the Democrat strongholds, Mr Trump won Ohio, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and others.
Similarly, absent a left field event, this is where the 2020 election will be won and lost. Trump will keep his base. The Republicans will vote for him out of fear of the ‘radical left agenda’ and the Supreme Court appointments. The question is whether Trump can get enough normally non-voting people to vote for him in the swing states.
On this model, to determine if Trump will win or not, do not listen to people in California or New York. Listen instead to the white working-class people in Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania.
But 2020 is the year that keeps giving and there is a left-field event. Trump has COVID-19. How bad will he have it? Was he contagious on debate night? Who else has been infected?
As morose as it might sound, this is such a strange year that perhaps the two septuagenarian candidates will spend election day on ventilators while we try to predict the outcome of a very curious election indeed.
Andrew MacLeod is a former CEO of the Committee for Melbourne and is now a non-executive director and chairman. He can be followed on Twitter @AndrewMMacleod