Political Analysts Predict 2020 Outcomes at Economic Club Election Panel

October 22, 2020 by Kate Michael

WASHINGTON — Likely everyone has a personal opinion on the outcome of the upcoming election, but not many are as in-tune with the ins and outs of the current — and historic — political climate as the analysts brought together by David Rubenstein to discuss the election at the Economic Club’s quadrennial Election Panel.  

“Four years ago, everyone predicted that the next president of the United States would be Hillary Clinton. Hopefully, we’ll get it right today,” said Rubenstein, leading a discussion of recent poll results, debates, expected voter turnout, mail-in ballots, early voting, and COVID-19 to gain insights not only on the upcoming presidential election but also congressional races. 

“The first lesson I learned in politics is that it’s always a surprise,” said Nikole Killion, political correspondent for CBS News.  “I don’t know that you can use conventional wisdom in an unconventional year. Metrics may be pointing us in one direction, but two weeks is a long time in politics.”

CNN Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger agrees. “The Road to 2020… We are down to looking at it state by state. And in terms of the electoral college, it doesn’t look good for [Trump]. Biden is up 8 or 9 points. While Biden is playing offense, Trump is playing defense.”

“Looking at the metrics, how people feel about their pocketbooks and the direction of the economy are usually fantastic predictors,” offered Mike Allen, founder and executive editor of Axios Media. And normally the issue that affects everyone’s life is the economy. But COVID has turned a lot of that on its head. While Trump still polls well on economic numbers, COVID appears to be outweighing everything else right now. 

“COVID is the one enemy that Trump can taunt, but can’t beat because it is an enemy that goes to the core of presidential leadership,” Borger said. “Biden telling the President to shut up [in the first debate] was not a presidential move,” she agrees, “but I think [Democrats] want the difference to be… a candidate who acts like a president versus one who does not.”

“I don’t think this election is about Joe Biden, it’s up or down on President Trump, I don’t think it really matters a heck of a lot what [Biden] says,” offered Charlie Cook, editor and publisher of The Cook Political Report. 

“When you have an incumbent president running for reelection, it is a referendum… and I think Trump was facing an uphill challenge before the election,” Cook added. “Before COVID, he was already on thin ice, but I think he fell through the ice in the debate.” 

Regardless of his debate performance, Trump maintains strength in his die-hard fans.

“If Trump wins, we have to point to the intensity and excitement of his voters,” said Allen, pointing to rallies and polling data. “The people that he has have a consistency and intensity that any politician would envy.” 

In addition to the die-hards, there’s also some suspicion that there may be “shy Trumpers” (Allen) who could skew the polling data by not admitting to their true voting intentions. 

And then there are those who just believe polling numbers are wrong. 

“I’m not really worried about polling quality,” admitted Cook. “There’s a misnomer that polls were wrong in 2016,” he said, but he claims the numbers of the Real Clear Politics poll in the last presidential election were “pretty darn close, I think.”

Still, with early, mail-in, and absentee balloting, and ballot counting deadlines extended in some states, the consensus of the Economic Club panel was that calling the election on election night was going to be a challenge.

“I can’t speak for all of the networks… but what I know is that everyone is going to be careful and be preparing our viewers [that results may take days],” said Borger. “I don’t think any journalist worth her salt is going to be calling things early.”

But Cook says there will be clues. “It won’t be a call, with a degree of confidence, who the next president of the country will be… but I think there will be signs that we can look for on election night that will give us some clues which way this thing’s headed.

“At least for Texas, Ohio, Florida, North Carolina, Georgia… if the president loses any single one of those, you can put your pajamas on [because] this is over.” 

Because polling and other data offer hints to the outcome of the presidential election, Cook says he is paying more attention to the year’s other races.  

“I think the [House of Representatives] may be losing more than 10 Republicans,” predicted Cook. He went on to speculate that Cal Cunningham would take the Senate seat in North Carolina and Sara Gideon would upset Susan Collins in Maine. He likes Theresa Greenfield’s odds in Iowa, John Hickenlooper in Colorado, and Mark Kelly in Arizona, and thinks Steve Daines will keep his seat in Montana “by a hair.” 

“The one I worry about is Alaska,” Cook admitted. “Nobody in the lower 48 understands Alaska.” 

To close the panel, Rubenstein asked each to forecast their electoral college outcomes for the presidential candidates. Borger and Killion recused themselves as they will be covering election night, but Cook claims Biden’s tally will be “closer to 400 than 300,” and Allen said he would “never disagree with Charlie Cook on electoral votes.” 

Nevertheless, CBS’s Battleground Tracker currently has Biden up 279 electoral college votes to Trump’s 163. 

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