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What are the odds of Trump’s winning in 2020?

Kevin Lewis asks:

What are the odds of Trump’s winning in 2020, given that the last three presidents were comfortably re-elected despite one being a serial adulterer, one losing the popular vote, and one bringing race to the forefront?

My reply:

Serial adulterer, poor vote in previous election, ethnicity . . . I don’t think these are so important. It does seem that parties do better when running for a second term (i.e., reelection) than when running for third term (i.e., a new candidate), but given our sparse data it’s hard to distinguish these three stories:
1. Incumbency advantage: some percentage of voters support the president.
2. Latent variable: given that a candidate wins once, that’s evidence that he’s a strong candidate, hence it’s likely he’ll win again.
3. Pendulum or exhaustion: after awhile, voters want a change.

My guess is that the chances in 2020 of the Republican candidate (be it Trump or someone else) will depend a lot on how the economy is growing at the time. This is all with the approximately 50/50 national division associated with political polarization. If the Republican party abandons Trump, that could hurt him a lot. But the party stuck with Trump in 2016 so they very well might in 2020 as well.

I guess I should blog this. Not because I’m telling you anything interesting but because it can provide readers a clue as to how little I really know.

Also, by the time the post appears in March, who knows what will be happening.


  1. Jonathan says:

    What I find interesting is that the GOP is currently unsure how to run. Trump has unsettled his own party tremendously. They’ll need to figure that out, but I’m also interested in the way what appears to be a ‘suburban’ effect running toward the Democrats plays out, by which I mean that if the Democrats take seats like that then the party will need to mitigate or alter many of its stances to keep those seats in the future (or conceive of some manner to persuade these voters that they are actually urban voters, which I think unlikely). That could have some interesting effects, including perhaps a decrease the polarity that results from urban cores voting one party and the suburban rings voting the other. And as an aside, I don’t think Trump cares all that much about the midterms. My working theory about him has done quite well: he’s following the same general approach he detailed in his book and which has always been visible, which is that he believes in his instincts, believes that good follows from those instincts, and that by following his instincts he unleashes forces similar to Rudyard Kipling’s ‘If’ which he can shape because he keeps his head while appearing to lose it. He believes that good things happen when he unleashes what people have inside them. That goes all the way back to his earliest comments about deal-making: that the impediments to deals are the things people won’t and often can’t articulate, which they hold back, so you need to draw those out. He would say bluntly that he takes absurd positions, makes absurd demands, says absurd things because that makes people say what they actually mean. It’s been having an effect, and I’m curious to see how it plays out after the midterms.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I place the odds at 50 percentage points over whatever the median of the polls comes out to be.

  3. Ram says:

    The betting markets estimate P(Trump wins) = 0.34, but this is depressed by the possibility that he doesn’t finish his current term. If we condition on him finishing his term, we have P(Trump wins|Trump finishes term) = 0.34 / 0.68 = 0.50. In other words, a coin flip. (This assumes that he only wins if he finishes his current term—I suppose it’s possible he is impeached or resigns, but then runs again and wins, but I wouldn’t bet on it).

  4. I am and will always be Not Trampis says:

    Perhaps for the first time Yanks may wish to get back to normalcy in a president. Down under it seems the last year has been 4.

  5. Nadia Hassan says:

    Was Bush really “comfortably” re-elected? He won 286 electoral votes with modest margins in a few states.

    Another key factor in Trump’s re-election will be his approval rating. Simple models of approval were quite predictive in 1996, 2004, and 2012. Trump’s net approval rating is -13. And that is when there is no war or international crisis, and the economy is kind of humming along. Nate Silver surmises that Trump might face strong risks from those sorts of events. It also deserves noting that the administration is almost certainly rife with corruption. If Democrats win back Congress, they might investigate and find a lot of wrongdoing.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Trump wins in a 300-238 Landslide again!

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