Along with covering the ever-growing and extensive Democratic primary in 2020, there is also the prospect of Donald Trump’s re-election campaign to examine. We know what his Democratic opponents will run on, such as new proposals on environmental issues, social justice matters, and restoring the dignity they say is lost under the current President, but what about Donald Trump’s main issues? What does his slogan of “Keep America Great Again” really entail in 2020 compared to his call in 2016 to “Make America Great Again?”
We covered this topic back in March, but now it appears that other publications and writers are beginning to take notice and size up the President’s chances in relation to the economy and the power of his incumbency.
With a story out on Monday, called “Trump’s Formiddable 2020 Tailwind,” which contains a reference link back to our March story, Steven Rattner, former Treasury Secretary under President Obama, argues that the economy and incumbency are the two things that drive presidential election outcomes:
The economy invariably ranks among the top issues on the minds of voters in presidential elections. At the moment, it appears to offer President Trump a meaningful tailwind.
But how big is that tailwind? Fortunately, economists have worked hard to develop models for predicting election outcomes, and according to one of the best of these, it should be quite large.
One of the first — and perhaps still the best — of these models was created by Ray Fair, a professor at Yale. He found that the growth rates of gross domestic product and inflation have been the two most important economic predictors — but he also found that incumbency was also an important determinant of presidential election outcomes.
How well has Professor Fair’s model worked?
In short, while not perfect, the Fair model has done remarkably well. In 2008, it predicted that Barack Obama would receive 53.1 percent of the popular vote; his share actually totaled 53.7 percent. In 2012, when Mr. Obama was running for re-election, its final estimate was a vote share of 51.8 percent, just two-tenths of one percent less than what the incumbent president received. (For Mr. Obama in 2012, the power of incumbency helped offset a still-recovering economy.)
When the 2016 election rolled round, a surprising result emerged. According to the model, Donald Trump should have received 54.1 percent of the vote; in actuality he received 48.8 percent. I’m quite confident that the gap was a function of the generally unfavorable rankings on Mr. Trump’s personal qualities. In other words, a more “normal” Republican would likely have won the popular vote by a substantial margin (instead of losing it by three million votes).
Rattner goes on to explore the other models which have been developed by statisticians and mathematicians to try and calculate a President’s chances of re-election, where he links to our story:
It’s worth noting that the Fair model is hardly alone in its forecast. Mark Zandi, the chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, has looked at 12 models, and Mr. Trump wins in all of them. Donald Luskin of Trend Macrolytics has reached the same conclusion in his examination of the Electoral College.
If you look at the data provided by Rattner, which references these various models, the upcoming election cycle looks pretty good for Donald Trump, at least on paper. The economy is heading in the right direction, unemployment is at all-time lows, and the stock market continues to grow despite some wild swings in the process.
Some analysts say Trump is in trouble
Some analysts, on the other hand, see Donald Trump facing a very formidable headwind rather than the tailwind that Rattner describes.
Writing an opinion piece for CNN, Chris Cillizza argues that Trump faces tremendous obstacles in his re-election effort and outlines 3 key reasons why the President should worry about his chances in 2020. Cillizza was specifically responding to an article written by Hugh Hewitt, a conservative writer who opined in the Washington Post that Trump’s re-election effort should be a piece of cake.
Cillizza specifically wrote to disagree with Hewitt’s reasons, but these same points could also serve as counter-arguments to Rattner’s piece:
1. We don’t really do blowout presidential elections these days
The country is deeply divided along partisan lines. And almost no external events impact how people think about their political affiliation. It’s why Trump’s Electoral College victory in 2016 — in which he won 56.9% of the 538 electoral votes — was the 12th lowest percentage in history, according to The New York Times.
. . .
2. Trump’s approval ratings remain dismal
The economy, as Hewitt notes, has been clicking along well for much of Trump’s presidency. Which, if past was prologue, would mean the President would be quite popular. He isn’t. Not even close. In the latest Gallup weekly tracking poll, 45% approved of the job Trump was doing while 51% disapproved. Trump is the first president since Gallup began asking people about their views on the commander-in-chief who has never — not once! — had a job approval rating at 50% or above.
. . .
3. Trump’s standing in key states is weak
Trump won the White House due to, essentially, three states: Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan. Turning those large population, Democratic-leaning states in the Midwest red gave him the margin that few — including Trump himself — saw in the electoral map. While Trump could win the White House in 2020 without those states — or at least two of them — it’s a much harder map for him.
All those items are true as Cillizza notes, but Rattner’s analysis is also true and based on proven formulaic data.
What this all may mean, ultimately for the 2020 election, is that we’re in for another nail-biter of an election night. Donald Trump may have good economic numbers, which may help him carry some key states, but his personality and other measurable negative qualities could also cost him some key states.
As Rattner also notes, if the 2020 incumbent was anyone other than Trump, he might have a 10-point lead on his opponents right now based on some of these statistical models alone. In reality, however, Trump’s running behind most of them, especially Joe Biden:
In its present state, the economy will also be helpful to the president. All told, Mr. Trump’s vote share would ordinarily be as high as 56.1 percent. But that’s before factoring in his personality. As recent polls show, if the election were today, he would lose to most of the Democratic hopefuls by a substantial margin; in the case of Joe Biden, by nearly eight percentage points.
Trump is Trump and voters either love him or hate him, and there is very little room in between. His approval floor sits somewhere around 40% but can jump into the mid-forties under the right circumstances.
Perhaps we were ahead of the trend in March when looking at some of these statistical models and predictive numbers. Either way, here’s an open Thank You to Steven Rattner for drawing some attention to our original story.