Pollsters famously got the 2016 presidential election wrong. HuffPost, for example, listed Hillary Clinton’s chances of winning at 99 percent right up until the race was called for Donald Trump.
Data experts have tried to learn from that epic fail — and one has proven especially successful, so far. Rachel Bitecofer, the assistant director of the Wason Center for Public Policy at Virginia’s Christopher Newport University, created a unique prediction model that almost perfectly foretold the results of the 2018 midterm election. (The model concluded the Democrats would pick up 42 House seats; the Dems gained 40 seats.)
Now Bitecofer says that same model, which she says “departs significantly” from well-known data site FiveThirtyEight’s approach, makes clear that Donald Trump will not win reelection next year.
What makes Bitecofer’s model different? “The central theoretical tenet serving as the basis for my predictions,” she says, “is that ‘this ain’t your granddaddy’s electorate’ anymore. That is to say, contemporary elections are largely driven by negative partisanship.” She approaches the data with that in mind.
And a full sixteen months before the 2020 election, she has chosen the winner — she just doesn’t know who it’s going to be.
Bitecofer’s model has concluded that it matters not who the Democratic presidential nominee is — “unless it ends up being a disruptor like Bernie Sanders.” Whoever wins the Democratic nomination — other than possibly Bernie, that is — will defeat Trump in the general election.
The only unexpected factors that might make Bitecofer revisit her Trump-loses prediction: the launch of a well-funded independent campaign by someone like Howard Schultz, the sudden onset of an economic recession, a war with Iran or a large-scale terrorist attack. “Otherwise,” she says, “the country’s hyper-partisan and polarized environment has largely set the conditions of the 2020 election in stone.”
The political scientist and data analyst has concluded that the Midwest, where Trump did unexpectedly well in 2016 with razor-thin victories in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, is the “only viable path for Trump to win the White House” four years later — and that it’s just not going to happen again.
“The complacent electorate of 2016, who were convinced Trump would never be president,” she writes, “has been replaced with the terrified electorate of 2020, who are convinced he’s the Terminator and can’t be stopped. Under my model, that distinction is not only important, it is everything.”
— Douglas Perry
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