8 Tuesdays to Go: Although Biden Solidly Leads National Polls Dems Fear Another 'Inversion Election'
Updated: Sep 9, 2020
Eight Tuesdays before the Nov. 3 election - that's 55 days for those keeping score at home - nearly a dozen new polls show Democratic challenger Joe Biden leading Donald Trump, by margins that range between two and 10 points.
To capture the presidency, the former Vice President needs a popular vote edge much closer to the high end of that scale than the lower, however, because the calculus of the Electoral College means he could prevail by as much as five million votes -- and Trump could still reclaim the presidency.
Political scientists call the circumstance in which one candidate wins the national popular balloting but loses via the Electoral College's state-by-state arithmetic an "inversion election."
The phenomena cost Al Gore and Hillary Clinton, both of whom won popular vote victories, the White House in 2000 and 2016, and inversion elections also made presidential winners of Republican vote losers Rutherford Hayes in 1876 and Benjamin Harrison in 1888.
A recent academic study based on thousands of election simulations determined the GOP candidate would triumph in an astonishing two-thirds of such cases.
"Republicans should be expected to win 65 percent of Presidential contests in which they narrowly lose the popular vote," three economists at the University of Texas who studied the issue wrote in their research findings.
The study found that inversions which award the presidency to the losing popular vote candidate, would likely occur 30 percent of the time in elections decided by two points between the major parties -- and 40 percent of the time in elections decided by one point.
Such numbers came to life when Clinton won the popular vote by 2.1 percent -- and lost the Electoral Vote to Trump, 304-227; Gore beat George W. Bush by one-half percent, and lost 271-266 electorally.
Maybe move to Wisconsin.There are two basic reasons behind the confounding math: 1) the out-of-proportion influence which the electoral system -- every state receives two votes for its U.S. Senators, plus the number of representatives in its House delegation -- provides to small states, and 2) the political distribution of U.S. population, in which Democratic votes are concentrated in large cities and very blue states like California and New York.
Several analysts who have studied the 2020 electoral map have suggested that the Republican advantage in inversion elections could extend to as much as a five-point margin in the popular vote.
"As much as they would like to purge that (2016) outcome from memory, Democrats would be unwise to write it off as a fluke," wrote David Wasserman of the influential Cook Political Report. "In 2020, it's possible Trump could win 5 million fewer votes than his opponent — and still win a second term."
Biden's average lead in the most recent raft of national polling, as calculated by Real Clear Politics, is 7.1 points. To beat Trump, he'll need every one of them.
Fun (?) with numbers. The paradoxical, win-by-losing math of the Electoral College is demonstrated by examining details of Trump's 2016 victory compared to the performance of the two previous, unsuccessful Republican presidential candidates:
Trump lost the popular vote by 2.9 million votes.
Trump's 46.1 percent of the popular vote was less than Mitt Romney's 47 percent in 2012.
Romney lost the Electoral Vote 332-to-206.
Trump's 46.1 percent of the popular vote was slightly more than John McCain's 45.7 percent in 2008.
McCain lost the Electoral Vote, 365-to-173.
Trump won the Electoral Vote, 304-to-227.
Famously, Trump captured the White House by beating Clinton by a total of 77,744 total votes across three Midwest states traditionally won by Democrats.
In 2020, these three states once again are the most crucial battlegrounds in the presidential contests, as Trump seeks to hold them, along with three Sunbelt states -- Arizona, Florida and North Carolina - where Biden hopes that changing demographics might benefit him.
Political writer Ron Brownstein has an excellent, in-depth analysis out today of Biden's "two-front war" in the six swing states.
"Exactly eight weeks before Election Day, Biden has strong opportunities to recapture states that President Donald Trump won in 2016 both in the Rust Belt and the Sun Belt," he writes. "With the political foundation shifting in both regions, the range of possible results is multiplying."
Of course for many Democrats, not to mention independents and Never-Trumpers, the peril of an inversion election on the political paranoia scale ranks below other threats to the integrity of the balloting. Loudly and brazenly, the 46 percent 45th president long ago began a bid to disrupt legal voting processes, discount mail-in ballots and dispute unfavorable results, and would have no compunction about using the U.S. Justice Department to help him steal the election.
A 10-point Biden landslide is one thing that would make it harder for him to pull that off.
Images: ABC News; 2016 Electoral Map (270towin.com; Newsmakers chart sourced on secretaries of state reports.