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Early Analysis of 2020 US Presidential Election

Preliminary Result

Voter participation vastly increased in the 3 November 2020 American election, not least due to a record-breaking number of early votes. 160 million people voted, equalling 66.9% of eligible voters.

The Presidential race is still undecided, in a very tight race that will come down to a few key states.

Brief Presidential Timeline

  • The next president will be inaugurated 20 January 2021. He will then take the oath of office and deliver the “inaugural address”.

  • The states are counting and certifying the popular vote in accordance with their own regulations and procedures. The state governors will then prepare documents, the Certificates of Ascertainment regarding the vote, with the names of the electors chosen as well as the popular vote result.

  • The Safe Harbor Deadline Day is 8 December. This means that should the election result be contested and tried according to state rules and the result determined by 8 December, then the result will apply when the elector votes are counted.

  • On the 14 December the elector’s college delegations meet state by state. The electors’ votes will be counted and documented. The result is sent to, among others, the President of the US Senate.

  • On 23 December the result of the states’ elector’s colleges’ votes must be delivered.

  • On 6 January 2021, the Senate and House of representatives gather in a joint session to count the electoral votes and to declare the result. Members of the Senate and the House can object to the result reported by individual states, in which case the chambers separately debate the question. Both houses must approve an objection to exclude the reported result.

There are, however, ways an election result could be contested and the procedure delayed. We would then experience a real-time stress-test of the US Constitution and election system.

  • There have been bills introduced in both houses of Congress to adjust the above timeline, should the result of the 2020 election be contested.

  • The result can, as mentioned, be contested at state level.

  • Even prior to 3 November, attempts have been made to legally challenge and throw out votes, such as votes delivered at drive-in voting stations, and accusations of malicious procedures regarding postal votes.

  • Theoretically, if still undecided or the number of electors is evenly divided, it could be left to the House of Representatives to decide who’s going to be the next president. If so, the members of the House of Representatives vote state by state, meaning that the Republicans presently have a majority.

Indications from the National Exit Poll

Looking at the National Exit Poll, reported by ABC News, the country was divided not only regarding parties and candidates, but also regarding issues and values. These are our early impressions of the findings that certainly will be more carefully scrutinized and evaluated in the coming weeks.

According to the exit poll many voters had made their choice of candidate a long time ago. More than 80%, equally many in both parties, answered that they had decided on their preferred candidate before the last month.

Republican and Democrat voters evaluate the state of the US economy in different ways. Out of those voters saying the economy is in a bad state, most are Democrats. Of those voters claiming it is good, most are Republicans. Voters who call the economic situation of their families better than 4 years ago, tend to be Republican voters. Those claiming it is the same or worse than before, tend to be Democrat voters.

The economy was the most important issue for 35% of voters. 80% of those who gave that answer were Republicans. Racial inequality was deemed as most important by 20% of voters. 90% of those voters were Democrats. Democrat voters believe containing the corona virus was the priority, while rebuilding the economy was Republican voters’ priority.

Of those voters naming the economy and crime as most important issues, most were Republican voters. Of those voters naming racial inequality and the Corona virus pandemic as the most important issues, most were Democrat voters. Of those voters claiming that the ability for a candidate to unite the country, and for him to have a good sense of judgement more were Democrat supporters. Of those voters saying that the ability of their candidate to be a strong leader most were Republicans.

More than 50% of voters do not believe the justice system treats black people fairly. Of those who think that, more than 80% are Democrat voters. 40% of voters think it treats all people fairly, and of those who claim that are more than 80% Republicans.

Polarization regarding the candidates was high. More than 90% of those who were favourable towards a candidate were favourable towards their own candidate and equally many were disapproving of the other party’s candidate. The sentiments were equally polarized concerning the Vice-Presidential candidates.

Continuous Divide of American Society

America is deeply divided. Looking at the National Exit Poll, the caucus is split in half not only regarding preferred parties and candidates, but also concerning which issues that are considered most important. There is a divide on issues like the Corona pandemic, the economy, crime and abortion. The divide does, however, go deeper than just issues. It is about differences in values.

There is also a divide between cities and rural areas, between the coasts and the mid-west. Peoples own candidate is strongly approved, the other candidate is equally strongly rejected.

Donald Trump called for the counting of votes to be stopped on election night. "We want all voting to stop", he said and also that "We'll be going to the U.S. Supreme Court". He was critical of mail-in absentee ballots and talked about "a major fraud in our nation".

This will spark further debate regarding his respect for democratic procedures and, if he eventually loses the election, spark conspiracy theories among his supporters. It is nothing new or strange with votes that were cast in time, being counted after election day. The difference this election, is that the number of early votes were historically large. Therefore, and due to a very close election result, it is crucial to get every vote counted and that will take time.

The main story of the election is, and has been, the societal divide it has illustrated and fostered in the American society. There have been fear of violence in the aftermath of the election.

Both candidates, and especially the president elect, will need to do their outmost to bring the American society together.

Impressions After Election Night

Almost 100 million voters had already voted, prior to the 3 November election day. That was a strong indication of a very high total voter turnout. In some states, such as Florida, the number of early votes were almost as many as the total number of votes cast in 2016.

This means that, perhaps more than ever, all votes cast in a state need to be counted before a state is called red or blue. This is particularly the case since a majority of early votes could be assumed to be Democrat votes. The result could therefore swing several times during counting.

The Democratic Party encouraged people to vote early. The Republican Party encouraged supporters to vote on election day. Donald Trump has been very critical of postal votes, perhaps because they tend to lean towards the Democratic Party.

As voter participation was significantly increased, cases of long lines and long waiting times before voters were being admitted to polling places were reported. During election day, it was reported that the US Postal Office was not able to deliver all votes on time. Several states don’t allow late arriving votes to be counted, even if they have been cast in good time.

But, as the Pennsylvania’s Secretary of State reminded everyone, vote counting is never finished on election day, also due to over-seas votes from, for instance, servicemen and -women of the armed forces. Each state controls its counting procedures.

It still is a very close race in many states as well as in the nation. Donald Trump, however, proclaimed an early victory. "We will win this and, as far as I'm concerned, we already have won it", he said.

That should be seen together with his wish to call of counting during election night. In many states the early votes, or mail votes, are counted after election day votes, and that could alter the outcome in some states.

Donald Trump did do better than many opinion polls had indicated. Joe Biden looks to turn some Republican states from the 2016 election.

A factor that looks to have been important was that people put the economy very high on their agenda, in fact it was reported the economy was put at a higher priority than the handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

A key issue thus seems to have been the voters’ interpretation of the economic situation and its relation to the coronavirus pandemic.

It does appear as if many people separated their view of the economy from the coronavirus pandemic, and the economic effects there off. The economy was doing good before the pandemic and Trump does not seem to have been held responsible for the present downturn, at least not by Republican voters. In other words, the cause of the downturn was believed to be the pandemic and the president was not punished for his handling of that. It has been viewed by many Republican leaning voters as an external force majeure, not as a domestic political issue.

This, at the very least, turned the election outcome into a 50/50 situation. Whether it will be enough for Trump to win, or Joe Biden will prevail, will be decided over the coming days.