Our Final Forecast: Biden Remains Massive Favorite, Trump Has a Narrow Path
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because the 2020 presidential election is finally here.
By Nick Fouriezos
Four poor, rural Texan counties along the Mexican border. The city of Phoenix, that formerly staunch bastion of conservatism, and a melting pot suburb of Atlanta. Even The Villages, the premier retiree community of America. These are the Election Day battlefields, the places where Donald Trump’s reelection hopes hang in the balance. But the fact that they are contentious territories at all shows exactly the dire straits the president finds himself in.
In a world where Trump is running strong, places like Georgia, Arizona and Texas would be certain footing … not toss-up states at risk of slipping beneath his feet. Instead of fighting to win back seniors in Florida, a stronger Trump would be using the incumbency (and his mild gains with Latino voters) to widen the 1.2 percent victory he won as an insurgent in 2016. The Trump of four years ago, who often seemed invincible, would be pressing to convert blue strongholds like Minnesota, Maine and New Hampshire — yet none of those states are viable in 2020.
Trump is still acting like Teflon Don, of course, fighting off COVID-19 to do as many as five rallies a day — thumbing his nose at institutions as ever. But the polls and other data aren’t playing along, according to OZY’s exclusive prediction model, in partnership with the Republican data firm 0ptimus. The final forecast of 2020 gives Joe Biden an 88.4 percent chance of beating Trump.
[If Trump wins the early states,] the networks and everyone else will think, ‘Holy shit, he has a chance.’
Scott Tranter, co-founder of 0ptimus
Meanwhile, the model — which crunches polls, historical data, economic indicators and more — gives Democrats an 83.8 percent chance of winning an outright Senate majority and 98.1 percent of keeping control of the House of Representatives. Democrats need a net gain of four seats to control the Senate (or three, if they win the presidency and Vice President Kamala Harris can break ties). Our final forecast gives Democrats a substantial edge to flip North Carolina and Maine, and makes Democrats heavy favorites to take out GOP incumbents in Arizona and Colorado, while losing a Democratic senator in Alabama. The current Senate toss-up races are Iowa and Montana, plus two races in Georgia. “Much like the president, Senate Republicans are out of time and will need to depend on a dramatic over-performance relative to public polling,” says Scott Tranter, a Republican data scientist and co-founder of 0ptimus.
The path to a surprise Trump victory is clear, if unlikely. Results from states that Trump must, and historically should, win will come fairly early Tuesday night — in Texas (he has a 60 percent chance, according to our model), Ohio (55%) and Georgia (49%). If he sweeps those, he must then pull out victories in Florida (38%) and North Carolina (39%). He would also have to survive the likely 2 a.m. ET results in Arizona (41%), which is in danger in part because Trump has ceded ground with seniors, a traditionally Republican cohort. “That would be a pretty big trend shift for Biden,” Tranter says. But if Trump can win Arizona after taking all those states, “the networks and everyone else will think, ‘Holy shit, he has a chance,'” Tranter says.
Only after all of that would Trump then be poised to beat Joe Biden — if he could also win in Pennsylvania, where he has a 24% chance. The state doesn’t expect to tally full results until Friday and has already faced a slew of concerns over its mail ballot system. Pundits would face unprecedented pressure to make a call, most likely from the president himself, who has suggested he may take a victory lap before the finish line is even crossed.
However, there are reasons to suspect this isn’t a 2016 replay. There isn’t a large swath of undecided voters waiting in the wings to save Trump: Most have made up their minds and nearly 100 million votes have already been cast — in 2016, total voting hit 136.5 million — with independents mostly preferring Biden anyway. Polling errors, if they do lie in wait, will have to be even bigger than before to save Trump. Plus, Biden has more paths to victory, given that he could lose Pennsylvania and still block Trump’s path to 270 electoral votes by picking up Arizona, North Carolina, Florida or Georgia.
Most of all, the mere fact that Texas is in play complicates Trump’s map: Experts estimate that Democrats could win the state for the first time since 1976 if turnout surpasses 12 million people (it is currently at about 9.7 million). “The race is right now essentially tied, and there are more of our voters left than their voters,” says Abhi Rahman, communications director for the Texas Democrats. State party chair Manny Garcia noted how a visit by vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris last Friday could lift Texas, which typically doesn’t see the top of the Democratic ticket campaigning in the final days, to becoming a perennial swing state. “That is the kind of visit that will last for generations: Her going to Fort Worth and Houston and McAllen, in the middle of a pandemic,” Garcia says.
That those are the types of visions Democrats are comfortable entertaining before election night is just one more sign of the plight the president is in. Still, Trump has dug himself out of a hole before. And so the nation waits, and watches, to see if the ultimate political showman has one last Houdini act in him.