Thursday, March 14, 2019

A Way-Too-Early Handicapping of the 2020 Presidential Race


A cigarette, martini, a staircase and Bette Davis — the 2020 election in a nutshell

by Thomas Neuburger

There are two groups of candidates in the Democratic candidate field. The first group contains people like Bernie Sanders. The second group contains all other candidates whom corporate Democratic power brokers will find acceptable.

That makes handicapping this field pretty easy, at least so far. Note that it's very early days still, so this is a way-too-early set of predictions.

Characterizing the Pool of Voters

Before we begin, however, the pool of voters must also be grouped, since they have a role in the coming drama. The three main groups of voters are:
  1. Rebels against the pre-Trump status quo (2020 "change" voters).
  2. Those comfortable with the pre-Trump status quo ("Obama was just fine").
  3. Trump-and-Trump-only voters
There's a certain overlap between groups one and three, but group three rules out all who might vote for any non-Trump candidate. That is, group three isn't all Trump supporters, just his most rabid ones. There could be plenty of Trump voters in the first two groups.

According to the latest Reuters/Ipsos poll, Trump's overall approval is at 39%. The percentage of Republicans, from the same poll, who think the country is on the wrong track is 29%, with 10% not sure. That is, only 60% of Republicans think the country is on the right track, though almost all of them would consider voting for Trump in 2020.

So let's take a guess at the percentage of "Trump and Trump only" voters in the electorate. The latest Gallup poll divides the electorate this way:

That is:
  • Independents: 42%
  • Democrats: 30%
  • Republicans: 26%
This means that perhaps 15% of the electorate (60% of 26%) is in group three, with the rest, or 85% of the electorate, in the other two groups. That's a lot of people who might vote for someone other than Trump.

Whom Will the Democratic Nominate in the General Election?

Let's go back to our grouping of Democratic candidates. A recent Morning Consult poll lists the leaders this way:

I would put Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren (unless she spins herself out of this group by a terrible misstep) in the "like-Sanders" group — real threats to the status quo, at least on economic policy. Let's call these "actual change candidates," people who don't just preach change, but whom voters can count on to deliver it.

I would put each of the others:
  • Joe Biden
  • Kamala Harris
  • Beto O'Rourke
  • Cory Booker
  • Amy Klobuchar (who has no chance at all)
  • Somebody Else
in the second category. Let's call them "status quo ante" or "next Obama" candidates — people who want to return to the pre-Trump years when they thought everything was just fine — or at least fine enough — in America. This group may preach "change," but it will clearly be change at the margins of a reasonably OK system. And they will signal that either advertently or inadvertently.

To take the case of Amy Klobuchar, for example, she signaled that inadvertently just recently with her student loan proposals.

For the following, let's assume that (a) Trump is the Republican nominee and (b) all Democratic candidates get all Democratic voters (according to the Gallup division) to vote for them.

Case 1: If one of the Democratic "actual change" candidates — someone who espouses broad Sanders-like Democratic Socialist policies and is believed to be credible by the majority of Sanders most eager supporters — is nominated by the Democrats, that person could easily capture not just all of the Democratic voter pool, but a very large percentage of the independent voter pool and a good chunk of those 29% of Republicans who think the country is on the wrong path.

If that person got the 30% who identify as Democratic, most of the "wrong track" independents, and just some of the 29% of dissatisfied Republicans (remember that much of Trump support came from change voters in a change year), that person could command perhaps 56% of the electorate, if not more:
  • 30% among self-identified Democrats
  • 22% or more among independents
  • 4% among "change" Republicans who think Trump is on the wrong track
That puts a Democratic Socialist in the White House. Remember, the total percentage of "wrong track" independents is 62%, or a full 26% of the electorate — assuming they all vote.

Case 2: If one of the "status quo" candidates is nominated, however, things look different. A true status quo candidate will have to sell him- or herself to independent voters using a small set of appeals. These are:

1. "The Obama status quo is plenty good enough. Don't be scared by all this change-making."

2. "I'm really a change candidate, though my past belies that. I'm just not as change-y as those I like to call ' radicals'."

3. "I have so much charm, you don't care what I think."

About the latter appeal, Joe Biden himself espoused something like that in the 1970s (quoted here): “I don’t think the issues mean a great deal in terms of whether you win or lose,” Biden told Washingtonian back in 1974. “I think the issues are merely a vehicle to portray your intellectual capacity to the voters . . . a vehicle by which the voters will determine your honesty and candor.”

By "honesty and candor" he meant "charm and charisma," since honesty he had none of, even back then.

If he runs, Joe Biden will sell himself as keeper of the Obama status quo, plus folksy charm. Harris, Booker and Klobuchar (before she drops out) will each use the second appeal: "Despite my past, I'm change-y enough." O'Rourke's primary sell is eager charisma; none of his past looks remotely like change, despite the inexplicable addition to his campaign organization of some of the 2016 Sanders alums.

Where Does That Put Them in the General Election?

Again, each will get the 30% of the electorate that identifies as Democratic. Very few staunch Party supporters will withhold their votes from any Democratic nominee in 2020.

Because none of them is a credible change candidate in Republican eyes, very few Republican voters will switch sides if any of these candidates is the Democratic nominee. That puts 26% of the voters against them.

How will independent voters split? According to Reuters/Ipsos, 21% of independents think the country is on the right track, with another 17% unsure. If Trump picks up all of the "right track" independents and a little more than half of the not-sures, his vote totals so far look like this:
  • 26% among self-identified Republicans
  • 9% among "right track" independents
  • 5% among "not sure" independents
With 40% of the electorate already in his pocket, Trump has to win just 17% of the "wrong track" independents to cross 50% of the electorate as a whole. 

Again, 62% of the independent voters in America think the country is on the wrong track. Will they vote for Trump, a status quo Democrat, or stay home? They didn't vote for Clinton in enough numbers to guarantee her a sure win. Will they stay home in sufficient numbers twice?

2020 Presidential Outcomes

It comes down to this. If the Democrats nominate a genuine change candidate, she or he will likely win comfortably. I could easily see a 55-45% popular vote split, with an even greater margin in the Electoral College.

If the Democrats nominate a "status quo" or "change-y enough" candidate, on the other hand, the race could be tight, as it was in 2016.

The key is the "wrong track" independents. Will they vote for Trump, vote just to vote against Trump, or stay home? Remember, shrinking the voting pool means shrinking the number of "wrong track" independents who actually vote; many of those lost votes will be lost by the Democrat.

To show you what I mean, if all independents stayed home, the split between Democratic and Republican voters is just 4%. But 9-14% of independents are likely Trump voters. If only they vote, Trump has a 10% cushion among independents that the Democrats must make up. Can a status quo, change-y enough, or charisma-only candidate do inspire them to  vote?

45% of all U.S. voters stayed home in 2016, a 20-year low. While all of them weren't independents, that's ironically the percentage of independent voters in 2018.

What Will Democrats Do?

What follows is even more speculative than the rest of this piece, but there's some history to back it up.

1. Unless Sanders or a Sanders-like candidate has such a large lead that the race can't be stolen, the "status quo" (pro-corporate) leaders of the Democratic Party, with media help, will try to steal it.

2. If the theft is so obvious that even NPR news watchers notice, it will drive down Democratic support among independents, who are largely a pro-change group if they see someone they like, and non-voters if they don't.

3. That won't matter to Party leaders. Assuming there hasn't been a palace coup that replaces them, they will run an even more strident version of the 2016 campaign: "Trump?! You want to leave Trump in office?!"

(This is where "Someone Else" comes in, by the way. If each of the other not-Sanders candidates stumbles, Someone Else will be put forward. There are some interesting names in this list.)

4. If a non-Sanders-like candidate is nominated, the 2020 election will be a squeaker, as was 2016, with the incumbent (because this time there is one) likely winning.

5. If the incumbent is Pence, the same applies.

Of the standard-issue Democrats, the most likely nominees at this point, and also the most vulnerable to attack in the eyes of independents and millennials, are Joe Biden (see here for a very long list of his sins) and Kamala Harris, the aggressive, anti-pot pot-smoking prosecutor.

Of course, something surprising could happen between here and there — this is a way-too-early handicapping of the race. And frankly, I hope something surprising does happen; for example, I would love to see the palace coup I mentioned above, though I'm not holding my breath.

The wild card seems to be the amount of support the Sanders-like candidate gets. If that person's support is wildly off the charts, if she or he is ahead by miles, the refs can't steal the primary. Otherwise, it's going to be bumpy ride all the way into November.

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At 9:31 AM, Blogger Gadfly said...

Mine has been up, and updated, for two months:

At 9:31 AM, Blogger Gadfly said...

So has my Green Party 2020 candidates:

At 10:03 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Read both of your posts.

Your Dem list doesn't present much positivity toward the Dem candidates. Admittedly, the field is larger than it is exciting. If the election was next month, I'd call for a Trump victory and I hate that bastard.

I had to look up why you included $uckerberg. I didn't realize he was that old. But then, owning Facebook gives him an advantage that even Russian bots don't have: facebook isn't about to close his accounts!

You said this: "...if that temps John Kasich to jump full in, then you'll get something." I don't know your age, but I remember Kasich when he was the darling of the Sunday Talking Heads. He was almost as scummy as Gingrich on a roll. His record as OH Governor also doesn't speak well of him. I therefore suggest that we know EXACTLY what we'd get from Kasich if he ran despite his current pose as a "rational Republican" which doesn't fool me in the slightest.

As for your Green Party list, I didn't feel I got enough information to really know any candidate you propose. I thus at this time can't say that I would back anyone on this list just yet. I'm interested in more info on those I see as your top three: Hawkins, Hunter, and Schlackman, although so many radical religious changes make me a tad leery of Hunter.

At 10:47 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

you neglect the two most important and most damning factors against democraps.

1) the smothering effect on both the enthusiastic D voters and everyone in the unaffiliated category of yet another Pelosi tyrannical refusal of any and all of the electoral mandate of 2018 (impeachment atop that list). I get the feeling that yet another 2-year proof of the corruption and fecklessness of the democraps will cause another 2010-like malaise. You remember the 15 million who voted in 2008 who stayed home in 2010... and what that led to.

2) the DNC. The money owns the DNC and the money cannot abide Bernie or Elizabeth (the latter won't be nom'd anyway since she has not gained any traction). And, therefore, just like we saw in 2016, the DNC will not allow Bernie to be the nom... including rigging primaries and keeping the convention rigged as it was in '16.

then, circle back to #1 and add in the further smothering effect of the DNC's second ratfucking of Bernie.

Due to the natural tendency of the PARTY to smother its own turnout, you need to temper all your numbers, including some who will be so goddamn disgusted with the 'craps they'll vote trump just to send the worthless 'craps a message.

Thus, a true or speculative handicapping is of absolutely no benefit to anyone except the money and its party.

What WOULD be of benefit to all would be any discussion on how all but the servile Nazi scum can go about euthanizing the democrap PARTY and form and support a truly left movement. Such a movement, perhaps led by someone like Berine and AOC, could keep the D faithful plus add in 75% of the unaffiliated... maybe more.

But nobody will EVER do that because everyone wants to be on the winning team NOW, even if that team is total shit.

At 12:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with most of your points, 10:47. But I find that history isn't kind to popular movements. Considering the current state of American citizens, I'd say that the odds are greatly against such a movement coming from the zombies with voting rights.

With that caveat, this is the time to begin working toward such a mobilization. It is going to take all of the time remaining until the election to get it up and running effectively.

As for the money, $hillbillery had a billion dollars and didn't manage to win. Bernie had something like a fourth of that and almost won despite the rat sex. Thus, money is important, but enthusiastic action is more so.

Now we'll see if anyone is up to the task, or if corporatism is going to snuff out what remains of democracy in the US of A.

At 1:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well if all these Dem candidates, who seem to mimic all of Bernie's 2016 progressive ideas, actually vote, we may just have a winning progressive majority. We just may somehow & perhaps someway, shift the Ol'Hobson argument from "2 evils" to the "the lessor of 25 Bernies".

At 3:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So people who wanted Trump impeached are now going to vote for him to stay around another 4 years? I don't remember many congressional candidates running on impeachment. In fact, part of the problem is that a good portion of the freshman class is that they are just weak sauce Republicans that will be in jeopardy because they are in red districts. Good riddance to most of them. The seats that the Dems already hold will stay in their hands and those include most of the impeach Trump voters. If potential Dem voters are looking at this Congress for answers on whether they should vote in 2020, they really are the dumbest people in the world.

It would take either a huge number of reliable Dem voters staying home or smaller numbers in just the right places to give Trump another narrow EC win. The only way that will happen is if there is a brokered convention for the Dems, it might get ugly enough to give Trump a chance but in all likelihood it would be the second case not the first. If Harris is the brokered candidate I could see the Rust Belt again giving states to Trump, maybe enough to win. Biden (and definitely Bernie) could shore that part of the country up enough to hold on under ugly circumstances. I don't think anyone else is likely to win the nomination.

At 3:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If Biden gets the nod, Trump wins. 'Nuff sed?

At 7:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

12:20, Ty for your input. You're pretty much correct.

The movement started with Bernie in '16. He found a lot of D support but also a lot of I support. He generated at least as much energy as obamanation did in his 2008 charade.

The problem with popular movements was illustrated in '16. It was mostly a POSITIVE energy around a candidate who was FINALLY saying what needed to be said for decades. This was a top-down energy. That kind of an energy needs a catalyst to keep going. Bernie shrunk from being that catalyst when he turtled and betrayed his movement after the convention. End of energy. End of democraps.

The other kind is one of desperation or anger or both -- think the French or Russian revolutions, or even some of the "arab spring" reactions to economic upheaval. They need only a spark to start a chain-reaction. This is a ground-up movement

The usa is not a chain-reaction looking for a spark. We are going to need a top-down movement. We are a horde of lost souls yearning for a charismatic leader to part the waters and lead. Based on his own past, I'm thinking Bernie ain't that guy. (the Nazis have their trump)

Maybe AOC. She certainly has the charisma part by the trainload. Of course, if she stays a democrap, the DCCC and DNC will destroy her unless she allows herself to be assimilated, like Bernie did. We may know in 2020 whether she will be of any value to us in 2024.

But can we wait that long?

At 11:37 AM, Blogger Gaius Publius said...

> The usa is not a chain-reaction looking for a spark.

I would disagree. The US is a chain reaction looking for a spark. The evidence is everywhere. Sanders 2016, Trump 2016, AOC 2018 and after, and now Sanders 2020. People are desperate for what these people offer — a complete overturning of the old guard.

But it takes someone at the top to lead it, to coalesce it, at least so far. The alternative pattern is, as you suggest, the French Revolution. That alternative is messy, and led to Napoleon. We both don't want that, and don't have time for that cycle to play out.

Climate crisis, tick tick tick...

Just my thoughts.


At 12:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thomas, it it were a chain reaction looking for a spark, 2008 would have been a REAL revolution instead of obamanation/democraps' charade of a faux revolution.
OCCUPY would have turned into the "spring" in Egypt. The women's march after the '16 election would have mushroomed into guillotines and the storming of the bastille.

we're willing to fall in line behind a pied piper... but we're not any where near ready to conflagrate just because we got another good stovepiping by trump or the democraps or wall street or...

The immediate past affirms my position on this. It just does.

At 1:01 PM, Blogger Gaius Publius said...

I think you're making my point, except that I'm adding that people are looking for electoral fixes, at least for now, not fixes in the streets.

2008 was a creation of Obama's charm, his willingness to let people think what they wanted about what he wanted, his lying (see his pre-election fixes for SS), and — perhaps most importantly — Will.I.Am's hipster confirmation.

When people didn't get that, (a) it took a while for the realization to sink in, and (b) people were unwilling to push non-electorally. That's were we are today. (That explains Occupy as well BTW; it wasn't an electoral response, which limited its appeal.)

I've been calling that a "pre-revolutionary" state. Anytime an elected comes along who is credible, they get tons of support. And when she or he is quashed, people go back to hunkering down.

We'll see if things change soon. In either case, though, IMO we need an FDR or a Lincoln in the seat of power in 2021 or it kinda won't matter which of us is right.

Again, just my thoughts.


At 4:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

OK, GP. Perhaps I misunderestimated you at 11:37. I agree with everything you wrote at 1:01...


We need not only an FDR or Lincoln... well LIKE Lincoln, we need a whole new party that is truly left and not the charade of a pretense of being left like obamanation.

Today, even FDR would be neutered by the DNC, DxCCs, Pelosi and scummer.

FDR won 4 times because he and the Democratic congresses relentlessly produced results that everyone understood as being vital to survival.

Today, FDR would last 1 term, maybe, and would have been unable to accomplish anything at all... as a democrap.

unless he repudiated the democraps and ran a populist campaign as a green or something else, and invited the likes of AOC, Tlaib, Omar and the dozen or so others who can legitimately be characterized as progressive. If they all moved, it could be the seed of change that the republican party was in the 1860s.

I would have included Bernie and Elizabeth in the list above, except they've already proven to be NOT legitimate progressives.

At 5:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

" if she or he is ahead by miles, the refs can't steal the primary."

the refs can and have done just that.

TN/GP, are you old enough to remember the '68 democratic convention? I am.

What they're doing now is to rig the rules beforehand to avoid the last-second optics of stealing it. But '16 was pretty smelly anyway, though Bernie dumped a case of old spice on it to kill the stench.

At 5:51 PM, Blogger Gadfly said...

Hey, Gaius, that artwork on mine? Not actually 538. It was a Photoshop I saw on Twitter and I did a screen grab.


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