Election day has finally arrived and once again an overwhelming majority of polls indicate Trump is the underdog and unlikely to win the election. Following his surprise victory in 2016, Americans are curiously and anxiously pondering whether polling has improved four years later.
The 2016 Election came down to Trump securing an electoral college victory by capturing Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania by a combined margin of 77,744 votes. Prior to 2016 all three states were captured by the Democratic candidate for President since 1992.
In the 2008 Election, Obama increased the margin of Democrat victory among all three states in comparison to previous elections. However, during his re-election bid in 2012 his margin of victory in these states declined before eventually swinging red in 2016.
A further analysis into these three states reveal a key population demographic that has been shifting their support from Democrat to Republican. The white working class/working poor who have experienced increased economic precarity due to the decline of manufacturing and increasing globalization were attracted to Trump’s populist rhetoric preaching anti-establishment and an alternative to the status quo.
Approximately a third of the 700 counties that voted for Obama twice, flipped to supporting Trump in 2016. Predominantly the counties that flipped were concentrated within the Rust Belt. To further display this transition, we can analyze Trump’s performance in 2016 with Romney in 2012.
Nationally, Trump actually under-performed relative to Romney in 2012. Although, within the industrial midwest Trump actually outperformed Romney. Specifically, Trump overperformed the most in counties experiencing the highest drug, alcohol, and suicide mortality rates. A correlation has been documented where these mortality rates are higher in counties that feature a larger working class and higher levels of economic distress due to significant employment losses in manufacturing over the past several decades.
For a specific county example, we can look at Macomb County in Michigan. Since 1980 median household income decreased by $20,000 and manufacturing jobs have declined by 26% in Macomb County. Obama won Macomb County by a margin of 9 points in 2008 and 4 points in 2012. Then in 2016 Trump flipped Macomb County, winning by 11.6 points, which translates into a victory margin of 48,348 votes. Keep in mind Trump won Michigan by 10,704 votes.
Fast forward to 2020 and one major question stands out. Will the voters throughout the industrial midwest experiencing the highest levels of economic, social, and health distress continue to support Trump or will they pivot to Biden? Despite Trump failing to follow through on promises of prioritizing concerns of the working class over the economic elite, is Biden offering these voters any alternative than the current economic arrangement where the corporate class supersedes the interests of the working class?
If Trump retains his white working class support throughout the industrial midwest, Biden’s path to victory in these states resides within voter turnout. For Biden to win, turnout needs to increase among the cities located in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. Operating under the assumption polling has improved since 2016, it would appear Biden is likely to win Michigan and Wisconsin. Pennsylvania appears to be a much closer race and we may not even know the final results on election night. Ironically enough this election will come down to whether or not the Democrats can build a wall, a blue one in this case.