Election Predictions: Final Thoughts

Richard Paul Pasquier
6 min readOct 25, 2020

A Center-Left coalition is poised to win; But victory is not assured.

Photo by Dan Dennis on Unsplash

Last year I launched an experiment in prediction. Instead of trying to predict who the successful Democratic nominee would be or which candidate would win, I framed my predictions in terms of three scenarios for successful electoral coalition. The Center-Left (CLC) a relatively broad coalition among international-minded business elites, upper-middle class professionals and activist elements associated with the “Left”; The Radical-Middle Breakout (RMB) a more narrow coalition of the business elites and upper-middle class professionals but with a much smaller “Left” element; and the Right-Nationalist (RN) essentially Trump’s coalition among a smaller slice of business elite, motivated nationalists and “culturally conservative” voters.

My first longish Medium.com article explained in some detail the steps I took to arrive at these categories. It makes for interesting reading today.

I began with a set of “priors,” a prediction of prior probabilities based on the information I had in August 2019. I thought the CLC had a slightly better than 50/50 chance to emerge victorious in 2020, the RN a less than 50/50 chance of winning and the RMB a de-minimum chance. Submitting myself to the discipline of “Bayesian Statistics” I announced ahead of time the type of evidence I would use to update my priors. They are set out in italics at the end of this article.

Here are my updated predictions, with changes since February 2020 in parentheses.

  • Center-Left Coalition (54%) (plus 10)
  • Radical Middle Breakout (3%) (minus 5)
  • Right-Nationalist Coalition (43%) (minus 5)

My March predictions anticipated the need for an “open convention” to resolve the differences between Biden and Sanders forces. Covid-19 intervened, Sanders quickly suspended his campaign and the process moved into a series of informal efforts at narrowing differences and reaching necessary compromises. I predict a CL victory, but the probabilities are considerable less overwhelming than the predictions from such statistically-driven models based on polling as those of fivethirtyeight.com. There is still a significant chance that the RN forces will pull an inside straight, winning the Electoral College and certainly being able to use control of the Senate and the Supreme Court as means of robbing from the CL coalition the fruits of victory.

Overall, the evidence as it has accumulated is consistent with my original August 2019 predictions. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders performed well in the early primaries (CL.i). Well enough that the remaining moderates thought it was prudent to withdraw and throw their support to the most popular of their number, former Vice President Joe Biden. Elite editorialists wearied of their flirtation with the ideas of the “Left” and began to beat the drum for uniting around a “moderate” candidate (CL.ii). The elite had attempted to usher Trump off the stage with an “impeachment gambit” framed in traditional Cold-War foreign policy terms and which didn’t require the engagement of the “Left.” That effort failed, as the Trump coalition held, at least where it mattered among Christian conservatives and in the Senate (CL.iv). When Sanders left the race, he and Biden made an elaborate show of mutual regard and took concrete steps towards institutionalizing the Center-Left coalition through a series of joint committees charged with drafting a common policy platform. Most commentators agree that Biden’s platform is the most “progressive since the New Deal.” Nevertheless, Biden has continued to attract elite foreign policy and economic conservatives who are spooked by Donald Trump’s aggressive “America first” instincts. The liberal platform has not scared away such oracles of liberal internationalism as the Economist magazine (CL.ii). Meanwhile, the “Trump recovery” has not survived the bungled response to Covid-19 as unemployment, poverty and economic anxiety have spread despite the survival of the historic bull market (CL.iii).

The RMB never emerged, for reasons I anticipated. No champion of “moderate” policies emerged in the early primaries (RMB.iii) other than Biden and he needed an understanding with the Bernie and Liz forces to shore up his coalition (RMB.ii). The RMB could unleash itself after the election, if the détente between the moderates and the progressives breaks down. There are enough economic progressives in the Joe column (like Jared Bernstein) that make the full break with the Left unlikely (RMB.iv). Finally, there is little evidence of large-scale defections by progressives from the Biden-Harris ticket (RMB.vi). There seems to be little evidence that third-party candidates or abstentions will be worse in 2020 than they were in 2016.

Although Trump survived impeachment and has kept key elements of his coalition together, at least as it is reflected in the Republican Party, the last 8 months has not been kind to his chances. Covid-19 delivered a blow to Trump’s economic record as unemployment and popular suffering has risen (RN.i). Despite some successes in Middle East diplomacy and the lack of a major international crisis, overall Trump’s reputation as a leader among global elites has not risen (RN.ii). Although conflict broke out between moderate and progressive forces in January and February, the withdraw of Sanders and the cooperation between Biden and the Left has removed this as a positive for the RN forces (RN.iii). Biden appears to be free to carve out a strong moderate position without paying much of a price within his coalition. Finally, the galvanizing national emergency did emerge, but it found Trump far out of his depth, making it a negative, not a positive (RN.iv).

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The type of evidence that increases the likelihood of a successful Center-Left Coalition (CL) would be: (i) good performance by Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders in early primaries, especially among voters in areas that supported Trump in 2016 and especially in purple states that could influence the electoral vote; (ii) continued indulgence by elite editorialists of the policy “excesses” of leading candidates as not undermining their ultimate “reliability” (in the minds of the business and the meritocratic classes) as they are clearly obligated to try to steal Sanders’ thunder in the primaries; (iii) re-emergence of unemployment and other serious domestic economic worries; (iv) continued stability in the Trump coalition making creation of the broadest anti-Trump coalition necessary.

The type of evidence that increases the likelihood of a Radical Middle Breakout (RMB) and its ultimate victory would be: (i) poor early primary performance of Sanders, Warren and (after her attempted take-down of Biden) Harris; (ii) continued strength in the Biden candidacy; (iii) surprise emergence in the primaries of a reliable “moderate” Democrat (Klobuchar, Buttigieg, Booker, Bennet or O’Roarke) who can attract voters initially in Biden’s camp without promising “shiny objects” to the Left; (iv) intensifying the campaign in the elite media and among the pundit-class generally about the dangers of too much “socialism” and the risks of a Center-Left electoral strategy specifically; (v) erosion of generalized elite support for Trump due to scandals and/or international crises or embarrassments; (vi) evidence emerging over the primaries that a significant segment of voters is sufficiently radicalized or disillusioned to make it unlikely that they would vote in the general election for the moderate Democrat who appears able to win the nomination. All these would make a bet on a more narrow Democratic coalition seem smart or at least smart-ish.

The type of evidence that increases the likelihood of a Right-Nationalist (RN) coalition victory would be: (i) no economic surprises and no surge of unemployment; (ii) no scandals or international crisis or embarrassments that make Trump look like a poor bet; (iii) outbreak of open conflict between Center and Left elite and activists as reflected among Democratic candidates and wars of words around issues of economic populism and privilege; (iv) a galvanizing national emergency that allows Trump to look like a successful leader.

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Richard Paul Pasquier

Partner at Practus, LLP, a law firm. Rick advises clients on issues at the intersection of business strategy, law and political economy.