A Divided Nation
If we were to go back in time to the 1970s and poll the American people on their political views, the results would create a perfect bell curve. Back then, the vast majority of political views fell into the center. In the 1970s, 1/3 of the House (~120 seats) came from swing political districts; these were the drivers of political compromise. 10-15% of voters were classified as swing voters. Consequently, there was a high degree of political consensus and most legislation was bi-partisan. As a result, this is where you would want to fall as a politician e.g., Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford and other centrist candidates.
Fast forward to 2020. Now, the American people are partisanly divided. Political views no longer fit into a bell curve, but a bi-modal bell curve in which the curve rises on one side, slopes down in the center, and curves back up on the other side. There are less swing voters, as people have now reached a position in their political views. Parties have become more ideological and less coalitional. As the percentage of moderates has gone down, it doesn’t make as much sense to nominate moderate candidates.
The 2020 Election
We entered the 2020 election divided and exited also divided. The election was about one thing and one thing only: Donald Trump. This election came down to the mobilization of college-educated suburban women, plus those under 30 years of age and persons of color (the core base for Democrats) intersecting with the turnout for white non-college-educated males (the core base for Republicans). Trump didn’t like early voting, so less Republicans utilized mail-in/early voting. Mail-in ballots and early voting swung the election, and the coronavirus led to a surge in mail-in voting.
In December 2019, Professor Schultz predicted that the presidential race would be over in 43 votes. He predicted that Biden would start with 222 electoral votes and Trump with 205 votes, and that seven states with a total 111 electoral votes would determine the election: Arizona, Florida, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. This prediction was largely the case for the 2020 election.
The Polling and Prediction Machines
The issue with 2020: In this election, there was much guessing/assumption without hard evidence. The election polls used to be very accurate, within 3 points margin of error. This year, the polls stabilized at the national level approximately 6 months ago, when Biden opened with a 5-7 point lead over Trump.
Much like in 2016, it wasn’t necessarily the polls, but the analyzers being caught by cognitive dissonance, implicit bias, and the like, that created inaccuracies in polling. It is important to note that polls are not supposed to be predictors, but snapshots in time rather than predictors of the future. Always be sure to read a poll’s methodologies before reading its results.
A Q&A followed Professor Schultz’ presentation. Read the notes here for these questions and when you can find them in the recording.