Predicting 2020

As the punditry–memorably described by Molly Ivins as “the chattering class”–continues to forecast the 2020 election, I want to engage in a bit of confirmation bias. A recent Salon article reports on the predictions of a scholar who “nailed” the 2018 results, but–more importantly, from my perspective–offers observations that confirm my own.

The author, Paul Rosenberg, introduces the scholar thusly:

In July 2018 the most widely-respected analysts were decidedly uncertain whether the Democrats could retake the House—they were favored, but not by much. On July 6, Cook Political Report, for example, listed 180 seats as “solid,” and 21 “likely/leaning” Democratic, plus 24 “toss-ups” — meaning Democrats would have to win toss-ups by more than 2-1 (17 to 7) to take the House. In mid-August, 538’s first forecasthad “only 215 seats rated as favoring Democrats — ‘lean Democrat’ or stronger — which is fewer than the 218 they need to take the House.” And on August 30, 2018, Sabato’s Crystal Ball published a model prediction, based on 3000 simulations, with an average Democratic margin of 7 seats. Editors noted this was close to their own assessment: “Democrats as modest favorites but with Republicans capable of holding on to the majority.”

But on July 1, 2018 — preceding all this cautious uncertainty — newcomer Rachel Bitecofer, assistant director of the Judy Ford Wason Center for Public Policyat Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Virginia, released her prediction of a 42-seat “blue wave,” while also citing the Arizona and Texas U.S. Senate races as “toss-ups.” Her startling prediction was numerically close to perfect; Democrats will end up with a gain of 40 or 41 seats, depending how the re-run in North Carolina’s 9th district turns out. (Democrat Kyrsten Sinema won the Arizona Senate race, in a major historical shift, and Beto O’Rourke came close in Texas.) Furthermore, she even strutted a little, writing on Nov. 2 that she hadn’t adjusted her seat count, but that “the last few months have been about filling in the blanks on which specific seats will flip.” Her resulting list of those was also close to perfect.

 Bitecofer’s predictions for 2020 require dismissing widespread–but erroneous–beliefs, especially the belief that a number of Democrats won in 2018 because they made inroads with previously Republican voters. Not only does the data rebut that interpretation, but Bitecofer warns that the mistaken belief that Democrats won in 2018 by winning back “Trump voters” fuels what she calls an “illusory search for an ill-defined middle ground” that could actually demobilize the Democratic voters who did drive the 2018 blue wave.

Today’s polarized hyper-partisan environment is the product of long-term historical processes that can’t simply be wished away, Bitecofer argues. Her case is similar to the one described in detail by Alan Abramowitz in his 2018 book, “The Great Alignment: Race, Party Transformation, and the Rise of Donald Trump,” as both scholars confirm….

The good news is that so long as Trump is in office, negative partisanship gives Democrats an edge, as electoral realignment continues. Rather than fearing Trump’s ability to repeat his 2016 upset, on July 1 of this year Bitecofer released her 2020 projection, which shows Democrats winning 278 electoral votes versus 197 for Trump, with several swing states too close to call. Bitecofer also isn’t worried about the Democrats losing their House majority. On Aug. 6, Bitecofer released a preliminary list of 18 House seats the Democrats could flip in 2020, nine of them in Texas. The most significant threats that concern Democrats are actually golden opportunities, according to her model.

The 2018 election generated a giant turnout of voters who favored Democrats. It wasn’t a pool of voters who changed their minds and voted Democrat after voting Republican.  Thanks to negative partisanship, Republican turnout also surged, which probably saved a couple of Senate seats, but Democratic turnout overwhelmed it.

The entire article, explaining Bitecofer’s analysis is fascinating and worth reading in its entirety. But the take-away is simple: turnout is the name of the game.

We aren’t going to convert “reasonable” Trump supporters–there aren’t any. We have to outnumber them.


  1. Thanks for posting this Sheila! I saw the interviews with Rachel Bitecofer and Lawrence OʻDonnell last week. She does seem to know how to accurately read our electorate. I agree that the “reasonable republicans” have already left the party and everyone else still following the naked orange wannabe-emperor are willfully deaf, blind and dum (not a typo – itʻs when a person is so ignorant they canʻt even spell “dumb”)

    HUGE turn out is key!

  2. The same people who poo-pooed my cautioning them in 2016 of Trump’s possibility of becoming president are continuing to poo-poo my caution regarding 2020. They are also resistant to my repeatedly saying this 2019 November election is vital and will foretell the 2020 outcome. More Democrats voting in 2019 will bring out more Democrats voting in 2020. We are in a numbers game at this time and the Electoral College and Moscow Mitch are still deciding factors in 2020.

    “We aren’t going to convert “reasonable” Trump supporters–there aren’t any. We have to outnumber them.”

    It was those Indiana Democratic voters turning out en masse which helped elect President Barack Obama!

  3. Thanks for sharing this info Sheila.

    Your statement of “We aren’t going to convert “reasonable” Trump supporters–there aren’t any.” is so true. They truly are unreasonable people.

    I just hope that both our state (Indiana) and national Democrat Party leaders get their heads out of their #&$%@ and stop pandering to Wall Street and the corporate executives that donate just enough money to maintain Party leadership loyalty to the wealthy rather than the citizens.

  4. “Not only does the data rebut that interpretation, but Bitecofer warns that the mistaken belief that Democrats won in 2018 by winning back “Trump voters” fuels what she calls an “illusory search for an ill-defined middle ground” that could actually demobilize the Democratic voters who did drive the 2018 blue wave.”

    My other fear is that Democrats could shoot ourselves in the foot if the primary process goes sideways. It seems the field may be thinning itself, but if someone gets full of her/himself and breaks off to run as the Green Party or some other nonsense …

  5. Turnout has always been the key to every election, but it has been hard to motivate the American voter. Let’s hope we can sustain the energy through 2020. If your favorite Democrat doesn’t win the primaries and you decide to go off in a huff and either not vote or vote for a third party candidate then remember we all have to live with your decision.

  6. There’s much to happen between now and Nov 2020. Some of it, like in 2016, will be underground and a lot above. There’s the economy that seems to be teetering on the brink of big changes. There’s Britain teetering on the brink of Brexit with chaos seemingly with the upper hand. There’s the sleeping giant, China, struggling with their economy and with Hong Kong residents who are acting like we should be. The evidence of anthropogenic global warming is everywhere and the mounting economic tsunami of cumulative consequences of the Republican’s selling us down river by acting ignorant is undeniable.

    Predicting anything, with pent up problems emerging every single day, is dependent now on the lucky guess rather than informed analysis.

    None of that matters. We have to act like it’s all going to go against us and saving the country will require everyone to do everything possible to get everyone even slightly leaning away from right wing extremism out to vote.

    Maybe we’ll over achieve. Maybe another Putin punch will make it a photo finish. Maybe the party of greed will be squashed like a bug. Maybe, maybe, maybe.

    Act like the country needs every single one of us to do everything possible to end the rein of ignorance that has us in its grip at the present.

  7. This time, it seems that the Democrats will put forth a candidate that is likable by the general public. The Republicans will squirm and lie about “socialism” and other inaccurate tropes, but in 2020 Hillary Clinton will not bring her suitcases to the fore. The Republican hate machine discredited and defiled Mrs. Clinton in oh so many ways that it drove 92+ million voters away from doing their civic duty.

    This time, I’m predicting that they will turn out in the mass effort required to defeat Republicans everywhere. The real voice of the people will finally be heard.

    BTW, in 1942, only 26 million Americans voted in that mid-term election even though we were in a war. They were unhappy about all the rationing and profiteering by our beloved capitalists. How fickle the voter is.

  8. Predictions are hard, especially about the future. I am cautiously optimistic about the potential for winning the Executive, and for keeping the House, but without taking the Senate too, McConnell will ensure that nothing will happen.

    trump is getting more brazen every day about violating the Constitution he swore to uphold, and Democrats are, in my opinion, being excessively legalistic in combating him. They have been terrible at messaging and driving, as opposed to reacting to, the message cycle. If they continue their tepid and deliberate (i.e. slow and so far ineffective) responses, there are people who got out and voted for Democrats to “do something about trump” in 2018 who will stay home in 2020.

    Thomas Edsall wrote in the NYT about a study that identifies a small but growing and influential part of the electorate that is truly nihilistic. There is nothing “conservative” about this group, and they are gaining power IMO.

    Indeed, another observer has written: “If you wanted to encapsulate the antithesis of conservatism, you would probably say things like, “I think society should be burned to the ground” or “I just feel like destroying beautiful things.” This is nihilism and anarchism, conserving nothing, and it is maddening to see lazy, ill-informed, or mendacious observers conflate these attitudes with tenets of modern conservatism.”

  9. I would agree, you are not going to turn the bible thumping evangelicals, the build the bigger wall crowd and NRA types. President Agent Orange was right he is their “Chosen One”. No amount of logic or reasoning will cause the followers of President Agent Orange or Pastor Pence to be shaken from their beliefs.

    So the task for the Democrats is to Get the Vote Out. Corporate Joe Biden is so weak. Now Biden’s gaffes are being excused as – Not as bad as President Agent Orange’s lies. This is an incredibly low bar.

    Just before Joe Biden took the stage at CNN’s 2020 presidential forum on the climate crisis in New York Wednesday night, The Intercept reported the former vice president on Thursday is planning to attend a big-money fundraiser co-hosted by a fossil fuel executive—news that sparked immediate fury and calls for him to cancel the event.

    “Holding this fundraiser clearly violates the spirit of the No Fossil Fuel Money pledge that Biden signed,” Varshini Prakash, co-founder of the youth-led Sunrise Movement, said in a statement. “If Biden is serious about taking on the power of the fossil fuel lobby, why is he going to a fundraiser hosted by the co-founder of a natural gas company?”

    Side Bar -by the way Corporate Joe went to the fund raiser. The price of admission was $2,800 per ticket, a ticket price the vast majority of us could not afford to spend.

    A Pew Research Center poll out this past week shows that while Biden is doing well with voters age 50 and up, he is struggling to win over adults under the age of 30.

    The survey showed that 7 percent of young voters support him. In that same demographic, 24 percent of voters backed Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and 18 percent supported Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).

    Biden’s weak spot is in stark contrast to former President Obama’s popularity with young voters, many of whom gravitated toward his “hope and change” mantra.

    Biden, Sanders and Warren maybe the older generation. Sanders and Warren represent a Progressive Future, Corporate Joe is the past.

  10. ML,

    While I respect your views on most things, it takes money to get elected in our dystopian nation. Biden simply had to go where the money is.

  11. trumps cult will be energized by the 2016 election, and democrats, always looking for ways to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, will have the problem of people refusing to come out and support the eventual nominee if its not their selection. I sure hope we can keep the house and return the Oval Office and Senate to the adults but it’ll be a challenge

  12. Vernon, concerning Corporate Joe’s going for the money: French author Anthelme Brillat-Savarin wrote: “Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what your are.”

    Whose Bread I eat His Song, I Sing.
    That’s fine if Corporate Joe needs to hit on the 1% in NYC, the Hampton’s, etc., OK. It is the facade of “Lunch Bucket Joe” that grates on me.

  13. Sheila’s Sighers might be interested in what CommonGoodGoverning learned in our first election, 2018 as we worked to elect “post-partisan” folks to the US House:

    – Our focus was “right on” – sometimes voters, rare voters, new voters – most of these are minorities and young people. Our efforts and others showed promise, the number of these turning out was much improved over recent history.

    – The candidates who were “moderate” did much better than the ideologically left in snatching districts from the GOP. The ones from the latter who won did so in fiercely DEM districts (example: AOC’s district is rated D+33) and were mostly “left coast” very safe DEM areas.

    – The trend included a “blue undertow” in addition to a “blue wave”. Of the 9 DEM candidates we helped who lost, each and every one of them got a larger % of the vote than the DEM candidate in that district in BOTH 2016 and 2014.

  14. Lester,
    I wonder if the draw for a presidential candidate is different than that for a congressional candidate. Is being a moderate the path to Congress? Or is a strong left or right stand the path to the White House?

  15. Theresa – thanks for the question…couldn’t say; our only experience is with the US House. We are planning to dip into 1-3 US Senate races in 2020 hypothesizing that the same will be true.

    When has someone who represents strong ideological ideas been successful lately? Beyond Trump? Personally, I am not convinced that Trump voters had much of an idea of how ideological his governing might be – they just wanted change/disruption in general.

  16. “We aren’t going to convert “reasonable” Trump supporters–there aren’t any. ”

    How do we account for these consistent poll showings: Trump loses votes to Biden by a statistically significant margin, compared to other Democrat candidates? Somebody is being “converted”, at least in opinion polls. So the candidate will make a difference.

    Biden is not my preference, but I’ll support a yellow dog if he/she can beat Trump.

  17. Good point John Neal! Me thinks that the “reasonable Trump supporters” fell into some groups: hated Hillary, just desperate for change, weirdly interpreted “hope” per Obama onto a new “outsider”, women now sickened by family separation, etc.

    BUT – not much need to expend a lot of effort to get them to not vote for Trump again. The effort will be for them to vote at all…they may now despair of national politics of any kind…The Duck Effect.

  18. Sheila’s article and most of these comments are insightful, but thy won’t be relevant if we can’t take back the Senate. McConnell’s skills at achieving total inertia have been honed to a fine point – reference Jan. 2009 to Jan. 2017. Even Jan. 2017 until now has mostly involved marching in place. Putin’s bitch will savor the opportunity to use his never-do-nothing skills again if given the opportunity.

    Republicans think they can control everything if they put enough right-wing judges on the bench. That entails codifying the craziness of whatever Cro-Magnon is chosen to succeed the current leader of the pack. It’s as necessary to stop Moscow Mitch in his tracks as it is to dump Trump. Getting rid of both might not lead to Nirvana, but it could seem like it.

  19. YES @ Terry Munson – get rid of Moscow Mitch and take back the senate! We need all three houses to pass serious long-term change, as well as to undo the wanton destruction of protections for our environment, health care, immigration, financial well-being and education. Orange Turd and his corrupt, complicit Silent GOPoopsters must all hit the road and never come back.

  20. @ Vernon Turner:
    “This time, I’m predicting that they will turn out in the mass effort required to defeat Republicans everywhere. The real voice of the people will finally be heard.”

    Iʻm with you Vernon. I think most dems and the repubs that have already jumped ship (conservatives such as Bill Kristol, George Will, et al) will continue to combine forces with minorities, women and youth voters. In 2020 we purge ourselves of the Ridiculous Orange Turd, the N(MassMurderers)RA and Moscow Mitch and save this democracy.

  21. Winning the presidency helps – especially in reversing Trump’s executives orders that leave environmental, health and safety, and labor regulations like a disaster zone – BUT America desperately needs to win the Senate too and send Moscow Mitch back to Kentucky.

    Obama shocked the nation when he won Indiana in 2008 by focusing on registration and turnout of DEMOCRATS and Democrat-leaning Independents. It WORKS.

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