With millions of mail ballots left to count and officials in key battleground states indicating they won’t be completing counting until tomorrow, or even late this week, the outcome of the 2020 presidential race remains to be seen, with the fates of Donald Trump and Joe Biden still up in the air.
Biden has declared he believes he’s on track to win, but stopped short of declaring victory.
Once again, US pollsters appeared to have failed — in Florida spectacularly so, with Trump winning relatively easily after all but one of the recent polls showed Biden ahead by up to six points.
Whether the polls are as badly wrong elsewhere remains unclear with so many ballots left to count, but Biden’s big polling lead counted for nothing once the actual counting began.
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The non-result so far has prompted an outpouring of rage from progressives on social media that the race was even close. How could Donald Trump — the man who presided over 240,000 deaths from COVID-19, the remorseless and constant liar, the man on whose watch the US plunged into the deepest recession since the 1930s, the accused rapist, the self-confessed sexual harasser, the bankrupt who has paid more tax to China than to the US federal government — be competitive?
But competitive he is, and always would have been, no matter what wishful thinking progressives engaged in. That reflects several things. One is that the Electoral College is, at least in this election, biased in favour of Trump. That’s not through rorting or Republican machinations — it’s just the way it has turned out this time around.
As FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver explained months ago, in this election the battleground states that will likely decide the race mostly lean Republican.
Of the 14 states that recurred constantly in election outcome simulations, only three lean Democrat. Another, Michigan (which Biden was expected to win easily, but has proved far tighter, and which won’t report tonight) is more or less neutral; the remainder tilt Republican by varying degrees. So if it’s anything other than a landslide, the battle was always going to be on turf favourable to Trump.
As it’s turned out, some of those red battleground states haven’t worked for Trump — Biden won New Hampshire, and even Fox News has called Arizona for the Democrat. But Trump doesn’t need all of them, especially after picking up Florida.
Another factor — at least for Australians — is an ignorance of just how systemic Republican voter suppression is in the US.
While most attention has been focused on Trump’s campaign against mail ballots — which he himself uses — GOP efforts to prevent minority voting run from constant litigation to laws restricting voting, the purging of electoral rolls and robocalls and advertising designed to deter or dissuade minorities from voting.
As a result, by one calculation, Democrats have to beat Republicans by three to four points in the primary vote to secure the Electoral College.
The other factor reflects the deep, and deeply scary, fragmentation of the United States. The truest thing Trump ever said is “I couldn’t stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters”.
Tonight is a perfect demonstration of that: he is responsible for, at the very least, tens of thousands of deaths beyond what would have occurred in a pandemic under any other president in the last 50 years. Trump supporters in effect don’t care what he does or what he says.
Even if they’re not enough to get him over the line for a second term, they illustrate just how tribalised the United States has become. A man so blatantly incompetent and offensive even to many in his own party, even to many of those who worked closely with him, even to some of his previously loyal allies, can still turn out a solid core of the electorate to support him.
And if Trump loses, those supporters aren’t going anywhere. It’s their America too, even if it’s run by a Democrat.