With just over two months until the US presidential election, one political scientist says incumbent Donald Trump has a 90 per cent chance of being re-elected in a “landslide”.
Professor Helmut Norpoth, from Stony Brook University's Department of Political Science in New York, is making a bold declaration about the result in November.
“Everybody thinks Trump is going to go down in flames, and here I am predicting with almost total certainty that he’s going to win,” he said. “It seems crazy. But it’s not.”
Prof Norpoth is relying on a peculiar forecasting model which has correctly predicted five of the past six presidential elections, and when applied to previous elections, correctly predicts 25 of the last 27, the university said in a statement earlier this month.
The unique thing about his model is a weighty focus on primary elections in the lead-up to the presidential race.
“It’s all about primary elections, which are real electoral contests and the votes are counted and tabulated,” he said.
“I also use real numbers, such as the results of previous elections, which indicate whether the pendulum is swinging away from or toward the White House party. This is something that also relies on real election results and not any kind of an opinion poll.”
As a result of his focus on the primaries, his model puts an unusual bias towards the incumbent, particularly if their opponent had a slow start to their campaign. And Joe Biden had a diabolically slow start to his third tilt at the White House.
It’s impossible to overstate the stakes of this election.
— Ben Rhodes (@brhodes) August 27, 2020
Unlike many other projections, Prof Norpoth’s equation ignores approval ratings.
“That’s a poll number,” he said, “and I don’t use those. I think the primary performance of a sitting president is usually a proxy for that. But I don’t use any polling data or data related to opinions.”
His model predicts (with an apparent 90 per cent confidence) that Mr Trump will win 362 electoral votes to Mr Biden’s 176. Each state is worth a certain amount and a candidate needs 270 to win.
In the murky world of election predictions it’s just one data point, so to speak, but he’s not alone.
US pollster Robert Cahaly, who was one of the few to predict a Donald Trump win in 2016, is saying the same will happen again in 2020. Mr Cahaly sought to quantify the so-called “shy Trump voter” effect by asking people who their neighbour was voting for rather than who they planned to vote for.
The unusual methods of both men have put them outside the predictions of most other pollsters.
Stats guru Nate Silver at Five Thirty Eight, whose model purports to run the election scenario some 40,000 times, currently gives Mr Biden a 70 per cent chance of winning. But plenty can change in two months.
In an average of national polls, Mr Biden still holds a roughly 8 percentage point lead on Mr Trump and is ahead in a handful of key swing states in the electoral college system.
With a bitterly divided nation and political media entrenching themselves deeper and deeper into their partisanship, the election has taken on an unusually high cultural significance with both sides claiming it as a battle for the soul of the nation.
Republicans emphasise law and order at convention
Republicans opened the third night of their convention with a strong law-and-order message, casting Mr Trump as a supporter of law enforcement amid protests over the police shooting of a black man in Wisconsin.
Speakers reinforced the grim warnings of the previous two convention nights of a return to lawlessness if Mr Trump is denied a second term in November.
South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem said protests and street violence across the country showed what happens under Democratic leadership.
"From Seattle and Portland to Washington in New York, Democrat-run cities across this country are being overrun by violent mobs. The violence is rampant. There's looting, chaos, destruction and murder," she said.
Hours earlier Mr Trump said he would send federal law enforcement to Kenosha, Wisconsin, by agreement with the state's governor.
Three people were shot, two fatally, on Tuesday (local time) during a third night of unrest. A teenager was arrested on homicide charges with authorities saying he was acting as a vigilante. Pictures showing him in the front row of a Trump rally have since circulated widely online.
The violence in Kenosha was sparked when police shot Jacob Blake, 29, multiple times in the back at close range on Sunday, reigniting protests against racism and police brutality.
Democrats have characterised Mr Trump's law-and-order focus as a diversion from what they say is the president's mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 178,000 Americans and cost the jobs of tens of millions of people.
Mr Biden said he spoke with Mr Blake's family and, like the family, called for an end to the violence. But, unlike the president who has yet to comment on the police shooting, Mr Biden called for justice and defended the right to protest.
"Protesting brutality is a right and absolutely necessary, but burning down communities is not protest. It's needless violence," he said in a video posted by his campaign.
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