03 Oct Predicting the Outcome of the U.S. Presidential Election
Wait for it. You won’t have to read very far.
The Cassandra Syndrome is a label applied to a person whose valid warnings are disbelieved by others. It’s a metaphor that has been used in a variety of contexts, one that was first applied during modern times when, in describing the 1812 battle of Ciudad Rodrigo in History of the Peninsula Wars, the author noted that Napoleon made the decision to withdraw troops and “treat the Cassandra-like prophecies which [his local commander, Baron] Thiebault kept sending … ‘as wild and whirling words.’” They were not. You may recall that Cassandra was the young Trojan priestess who the Greek God Apollo granted the power to accurately prophesize the future …, and then cursed so that her prophesies would not be believed. TLR last spoke with Cassandra on September 20th to obtain her views on whether or not the stock market would continue its seemingly inexorable rise. (Although her predictions were not believable, the give-and-take was interesting: https://blog.thelonelyrealist.com/an-interview-with-cassandra/). TLR today has invited Cassandra to predict the outcome of the 2020 Presidential Election.
TL Realist: Good morning, Cassandra. Thank you for once again taking the time to speak with me. Readers of TLR were much taken with our stock market discussion last month and have requested that TLR obtain your prophesy for the forthcoming Presidential election. With so much at stake, and with so much uncertainty in the world, it will be comforting for readers to hear from someone having the God-given gift of foresight.
Cassandra: Thank you, Mr. Realist. It is my pleasure to once again offer your readers my insights.
TL Realist: If you’ll allow me to move directly to the question on everyone’s mind, could you tell us who will be inaugurated as President on January 20th?
Cassandra: It will be President Donald J. Trump. He will be re-elected.
TL Realist: I find your answer surprising, Cassandra. You’re prophesying the President’s re-election even though he’s just been diagnosed with Covid-19 … and after he so cavalierly downplayed its risks? As you’re aware, analysts have questioned whether the diagnosis doesn’t ruinously damage the President’s credibility. In addition, the President must now quarantine, which will curtail his campaigning and may result in the cancelation of his debate with Vice President Biden on October 15th. Is it your view that the President’s illness nevertheless will be a net vote-gainer and therefore will push him to victory?
Cassandra: No, no, no. President Trump’s Covid-19 infection will lose him votes with some and gain him votes from others. It will not, however, seriously damage President Trump’s health or otherwise affect the outcome of the election process.
TL Realist: It’s wonderful to hear that the President’s health will not be seriously damaged, Cassandra. Is it then your conclusion – excuse me, your prophecy – that the President will prevail based on his performance at this past Tuesday’s Presidential Debate?
Cassandra: No, not at all. That Debate is not an accurate predictor of January’s electoral outcome.
TL Realist: Based on what I heard and saw in the Debate, that’s quite understandable. Even media adversaries Fox and CNN found it difficult to pick a clear winner. The best quote from media analysts came from CNN’s Jake Tapper who labeled the Debate “a hot mess inside a dumpster fire inside a train wreck”, and added “That was the worst debate I have ever seen. In fact it wasn’t even a debate. It was a disgrace.”
Cassandra: What Mr. Tapper said is more meaningful than you might imagine. The Debate shows that something dangerous is happening to America. The tenor was unprecedented, the bombast comparable to pre-Civil War Congressional conflicts …, a time when every Congressman and Senator carried a pistol or a Bowie knife and therefore was a bit more careful in what he said. America today, for the first time in its history, has two Presidential candidates who were unable to civilly explain their differences – and, importantly as well, their similarities – to the voting public in the precise forum intended for that purpose. This breakdown in civil communication poses grave danger … and it is this danger that defines the outcome.
TL Realist: I’d like to explore what you mean by danger defining the outcome, but let’s first return to the basis for your prophecy. TLR in July predicted that the outcome of the Election would depend on the success of each political party in mobilizing its partisan base (https://blog.thelonelyrealist.com/its-all-about-that-base/) and wrote, in part, that Vice-President Biden has carved out a middle-of-the-road platform designed to broadly appeal to the traditional Democratic Party constituency of minorities, union workers, women, young voters, and liberals. President Trump, on the other hand, has been laser-focused on the Trump Base – his constituents who oppose immigration, globalization and Obamacare, and who favor lower taxes, smaller government, gun rights, extending executive power and reversing Roe v. Wade (https://blog.thelonelyrealist.com/constitutionally-speaking/). Pollsters estimate that ~42% of American voters today are stalwart members of the Trump Base. With approximately 65 million votes being necessary for a candidate to obtain a popular vote majority, if President Trump can motivate the 42% Trump Base to cast their ballots, that would give him >80 million votes. Is the successful mobilization of President Trump’s Base the reason for your prediction?
Cassandra: No again. The popular vote has no meaning. As you well know, Mr. Realist, the Constitution delegates the election of an American President to the Electoral College … although that will not be the case this year.
TL Realist: Excuse me, Cassandra. I don’t understand. You are of course correct that the Constitution provides that the popular vote doesn’t determine the Presidency. To become President, a candidate must receive a majority of the 538 votes cast in the Electoral College, which on November 3rd is expected to turn on the outcomes in 8 battleground States: Florida, North Carolina, Arizona, Georgia, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Minnesota. Are you saying that your prediction will NOT be based on the voting outcomes in those swing States?
Cassandra: Not exactly. My prophesy involves those 8 swing States, but the election will not be determined by their voting outcomes. If I may, Mr. Realist, you recall that I foresaw the destruction by the Greeks of my home in Troy when my countrymen, ignoring my prophesy, brought the Trojan Horse into the city. Your assumptions about the electoral process are America’s Trojan Horse … and will result in America’s version of Greek Tragedy.
TL Realist (smiling): That sounds terribly foreboding, Cassandra. Could you explain what you mean?
Cassandra: Certainly. Covid-19 has resulted in material changes in how voters will be casting their ballots on November 3rd. Election officials estimate that ~35% of ballots will be cast by mail. That’s an enormous number of votes. President Trump has been saying for months that “MAIL-IN VOTING WILL LEAD TO MASSIVE FRAUD AND ABUSE.… WE CAN NEVER LET THIS TRAGEDY BEFALL OUR GREAT NATION”, and “the Nov 3rd election result may NEVER BE ACCURATELY DETERMINED.” The President has been doing more than merely prophesying, Mr. Realist. He’s been repeating these statements over-and-over again, almost on a daily basis, often adding “Very dangerous for our country”, “A catastrophe”, “The greatest rigged election in history.” In Tuesday’s Debate, President Trump took pains to enhance that message: “As far as the ballots are concerned, it’s a disaster…. Take a look at West Virginia — mailmen selling the ballots. They’re being sold. They’re being dumped in rivers. This is a horrible thing for our country…. They’re losing 30 and 40 percent. It’s a fraud. It’s a fraud and it’s a shame.”
TL Realist: The President most certainly has warned America’s electorate that he expects mail-in voting to be contentious, although no evidence of abuse currently exists. But why does that make America’s faith in the electoral process a Trojan Horse, Cassandra? And how does that translate into President Trump’s re-election?
Cassandra: Importantly, the President has added that, if vote-counting shows him to be the loser, he will not accept the result …, not based on the popular vote-count and not based on the votes of electors in the Electoral College. President Trump means what he has been saying.
TL Realist (laughing): How can the President not be bound by the Electoral College vote, Cassandra? America is a Constitutional democracy with a robust election mechanism and a similarly robust electoral system.
Cassandra: As you of all people should know, Mr. Realist, that simply is not accurate. Let me use the example of the vote-by-mail process. Polling firms have reported that, of those who intend to vote-by-mail, ~20% will be Republicans and ~80% Democrats. Pollsters have predicted that President Trump will be the leader in counted votes at ~midnight on November 3rd before there has been any substantial counting of mail-in ballots – that is my prophesy as well – and have further predicted that there will be an increasing disparity between those initial vote-counts and subsequent adjustments arising from the counting of mail-in ballots – a so-called “blue shift” that will favor Vice-President Biden. Foreseeing this, President Trump intends to capitalize on that timing gap.
TL Realist: I still don’t understand, Cassandra. What can the President do?
Cassandra: President Trump has flatly rejected the validity of mail-in voting. That rejection, with its consequent stakes, has the full attention of both Republican and Democratic Party operatives. The Republican Party reportedly has hired 50,000 poll watchers in 15 States and its lawyers already have challenged a broad range of electoral and mail-in ballot procedures. More than 45 separate cases currently are in litigation. There are ~10,500 different voting jurisdictions in the U.S., each with its own voting and vote-counting procedures and practices …, creating a logistical nightmare. The fact is that America’s election process is the most chaotic complex in the world. Moreover, a substantial portion of the vote-counting of mail-in ballots in the ~10,500 different voting jurisdictions will be done by hand. With perhaps 35% of ballots being cast by mail, that means that election officials will be required to count >40 million ballots, all of which are subject to challenge. Each political party has the right for its representatives to be present during every step of vote-counting to verify every ballot, confirm that every mail-in envelope was properly sealed, and that each voter’s identification is checked …, and to dispute every decision. That will consume time.
TL Realist: I’m still not sure how that results in President Trump’s re-election, Cassandra. Once all the votes have been counted, the Electoral College will meet and the candidate who receives at least 270 electoral votes will be declared the winner. Are you saying that the Republican Party somehow has a way to change the vote-count?
Cassandra: Although to a significant extent, it does (and there are those who believe it already is doing so), that’s not how this Election will be decided. President Trump has said that if the result of the Election indicates that he will be the loser, he will not accept the vote count. Some commentators have suggested that he may simply declare victory on November 3rd and prevent the counting of mail-in ballots. They point to the closely-contested 2018 Florida gubernatorial and senatorial races in which early counts gave the Republican candidates large leads that an emerging blue shift had begun to erode. President Trump at the time tweeted that “the Florida Election should be called in favor of Rick Scott and Ron DeSantis in that large numbers of new ballots showed up out of nowhere, and many ballots are missing or forged. An honest vote count is no longer possible – ballots massively infected. Must go with Election Night.” That strategy will not be necessary in the 2020 Presidential Election. What will happen will be more convoluted.
The Constitution requires that electors be certified by December 8th in order for them to cast their Electoral College votes on December 14th. Due to the mail-in vote-counting process, either political party has the ability to delay final counts. Meeting the December 8th deadline would require cooperation – and alignment of electoral interests – and President Trump has been clear that neither that cooperation nor that alignment will exist. I prophesize that the President’s hostility to mail-in balloting coupled with the logistical and adversarial hurdles presented by the counting of mail-in ballots will mean that neither Presidential candidate will receive 270 certified Electoral College votes by December 8th. As a result, as the Constitution requires, the determination of the next president will be made by a vote of the House of Representatives on a one-State, one-vote basis. The Republican Party on January 6, 2021 will control a majority of the State delegates in a majority of States. The House accordingly will elect President Trump.
TL Realist (laughing): What can I say, Cassandra? You’ve presented a truly wild Election scenario that results in an unprecedented and exceedingly convoluted Election outcome …, one that is completely contrary to polls that are showing Vice President Biden with a commanding lead overall and in battleground States. The Economist, for example, gives the Vice President a more-than 80% chance of winning the Election. For this and other reasons, Cassandra, I find it impossible to have confidence in your prophesy. It’s intellectually intriguing, but unrealistic. Needless to say, however, I now understand what you meant when you said that danger defines the outcome – I don’t see how anyone can overlook the perils inherent in this Election. In all events, thank you once again for your time and for the detail and clarity of your analysis. If I may, however, one final question before we part. Could you share with readers your insight into which political party will control of the Senate in 2021? A President without control of the Senate would be faced with a difficult set of challenges.
Cassandra: I’m so sorry, Mr. Realist, but I’m afraid I’ve run out of time. Let’s speak again soon.
Finally (from a good friend)
One day, a first-grade teacher was reading the story of Chicken Little to her class. Coming to the part where Chicken Little becomes frantic, warning the farmer about a perceived danger, she read: “… and Chicken Little went up to the farmer and said, ‘The sky is falling! The sky is falling!’”
The teacher turned to the class and asked, “Now what do you think that the farmer said?”
One little girl immediately raised her hand and the teacher called on her.
She stood and said, “I think he said: ‘Holy Shit! A talking chicken!’”
The teacher was unable to teach for the next 10 minutes.