Whatever your personal politics, I think we can all agree that that was one hell of an election night!
The stunning victory of President Trump in storming the key swing state in Florida in the early hours indicated that we were about to see a repeat of 2016. On the betting markets, the probability of a Trump victory soared to nearly 80% and the Chinese yuan currency started to crash.
Ohio, another key swing state, where mainstream polls had shown for months that Trump was tied with Biden, Trump smashed it with an eventual lead of 8%. At that point it was probably Peak Trump, because after that, the race got tighter and tighter.
Georgia and North Carolina, both critical seats for the GOP to win, remain to close to call, although both are likely to end up in the Trump camp once all the votes are counted. Arizona, which was always going to be a tight race, surprised me by going for Biden. I really thought that this election cycle it would have stayed in the Red camp.
But it was the Rust Belt that was always key to this election. In my last blog post, I wrote that I was nervous about the Rust Belt, given the very tight polling coming out of those key states, even among the outlier pollsters I followed. That was why I kept my probabilistic forecast of Trump winning at only 60%. It was also a key factor why I kept my betting deposits to a minimum.
In the end, my forecast that Trump would just edge Biden in these battlefield states looks likely to be proved wrong (PA and Michigan remain to be called).
On the plus side I did successfully anticipate the surge of support for Trump among blue collar minority voters, particularly in places in Florida, and his rural base who came out in large numbers for Trump and GOP candidates in the Senate and House.
On the negative side, I had underestimated the chances of strong turnout among key demographic groups who were tired of the Trump reality show and shocked by his poor handling of the Covid crisis. These voters voted for Biden in sufficient numbers to overcome Trump’s fired up base in those battlefield states.
The Senate is looking likely to remain a majority for the GOP which, if true, will be a crushing blow to the Democrats. Without a majority in the Senate their agenda will be crippled from Inauguration day. For those of my readership who are Trump supporters and fear a Biden presidency, that reality – assuming the GOP do keep their majority – should reassure you in the coming years.
So, there was no Blue Wave and a Biden electoral college landslide.
But also, no Red Wave and a comfortable victory in the electoral college as forecast by me.
Clearly, I got it wrong and I own that. But the mainstream pollsters and pundits forecasting a Blue Wave were also wrong as well.
For me, the vote by the American people seems to be “none of the above”. Joe Biden becomes president but without controlling the Congress and unable to get his policies and agenda through Washington D.C.
Although the popular vote will go to Biden, his electoral college vote win will be below 300, not a resounding mandate to end Trumpism or reshape America in a radically different direction in the 2020’s.
A Biden presidency will be an interregnum, a slowing down of those long-term trends that had accelerated under the disruptive and populist Trump era.
On a personal note, whilst I have doubts about Biden’s capacity to do the job, he seems like a decent enough guy and on the international stage will do some good. I suspect that in foreign affairs, for all the change in optics and style, the substance will not be materially different.
America will continue to pursue its new Cold War against China which has emerged as a bipartisan consensus under the Trump administration. The new Biden administration will also push the EU to get tougher on China, spend more on their militaries and take greater responsibility for their own backyard (good luck with that!).
A Joe Biden presidency will engage more with multilateral institutions like the WHO and WTO, something that is a net benefit in my opinion, and do more on dealing with climate change. I also think that Biden, who was the most sceptical of the military wars during the Obama administration, will also quietly continue Trump’s diplomacy in the Middle East and efforts to withdraw troops from the quagmires of Afghanistan and Syria.
I may be wrong, but Biden does not come across as a warmonger to me.
On domestic policy, the fact that the Democrats will only narrowly win the presidency, and likely lose their bid to take back the Senate, will highlight that they can’t lurch to the Left. To get those blue-collar voters of all races back they will need to do what Sir Kier Starmer is trying with Labour in the UK, and reach out to those patriotic, small c conservative voters rather than pandering to their progressive base.
So, whilst you may see some progress in areas like infrastructure, I’m sceptical that you see a big shift in domestic politics in the coming 4 years.
As for the Republican Party, I imagine that Donald Trump will retire to his media empire but remain a key influence within the GOP. If the GOP are smart, they will build on what Trump has succeeded but find a candidate who is more polished, less divisive and better able to reach out white Middle America. They also should continue to focusing on those blue-collar issues (immigration controls, security, law and order etc) that have brought in African-American and Hispanic demographics who used to vote Democratic.