The next US presidential election will be held on November 3, 2020. Incumbent president Donald Trump will almost certainly be the Republican nominee, but there is a contest for the Democratic presidential nomination. The Republican and Democratic nominees will be the only candidates with a realistic chance of winning the presidency.
Both major parties will hold presidential primaries and caucuses in the various states between early February and early June 2020. These contests select delegates to the party conventions in mid-July (Democrats) and late August (Republicans), at which the party’s candidate is formally nominated. Primaries are administered by the state election authority, while caucuses are managed by the party.
Democratic delegates are allocated proportionally to candidates who clear a high 15% threshold, both within each Congressional District (CD) and state. The more Democratic-leaning a CD is, the more delegates it will receive. The total number of delegates for a state depends on that state’s population and how Democratic-leaning it is.
There will be a grand total of 3,768 pledged delegates, so 1,885 is needed to win on the first ballot at the Democratic convention. Superdelegates (Democratic members of Congress, governors and party leaders) cannot vote in the first round, but if no candidate has a first round majority, it becomes a “contested convention”, and superdelegates can vote.
Four Democratic contests are permitted in February 2020: the Iowa caucus (Feb 3), New Hampshire primary (Feb 11), Nevada caucus (Feb 22) and South Carolina primary (Feb 29). Relatively few delegates will be chosen at these contests, but they are still very important for establishing front runners and winnowing the field.
On “Super Tuesday” March 3, 14 states will vote including delegate-heavy California and Texas. 1,358 pledged Democratic delegates, or 36% of the total, will be determined as a result of these contests, so this could be the decisive moment of the Democratic presidential nomination.
Current Democratic primary polling
In the RealClearPolitics poll aggregate, Joe Biden has 28.4% support from national Democrat-aligned voters, followed by Bernie Sanders at 15.0%, Elizabeth Warren at 14.6% and Kamala Harris at 12.6%. Everyone else is at 5% or less.
The first Democratic presidential debate was held over two nights, June 26-27, to cope with the 20 candidates who qualified. As a result of this debate, Biden dropped from the low 30’s to the mid 20’s, but has recovered a little. Harris surged from 7% to 15%, but has fallen back since.
The next Democratic debate will also be held over two nights, July 30-31. For the following debate on September 12, the qualification threshold has been raised, so fewer candidates will qualify.
In early-state polls taken since the first debate, Biden had 24% in Iowa, Harris 16%, Warren 13% and Sanders 9%. In New Hampshire, Biden averaged 22.5%, Warren 18%, Sanders 14.5% and Harris 13.5%.
On current polling, Biden would win the Democratic nomination as he would be the only candidate certain to pass the 15% threshold in the vast majority of CDs and states. Unless one of Sanders, Warren or Harris can build their support beyond 20%, this is a viable scenario.
Biden appeals to older and more conservative Democrats, but an important reason for his lead is his perceived electability. After Hillary Clinton’s shocking loss in 2016, Democrats are desperate to ensure Trump is a one-term president. In a Quinnipiac poll of California, 45% of Democrats thought Biden had the best chance of any candidate to beat Trump, with no other candidate getting more than 12%.
By the time of the 2020 general election, Biden will be almost 78, Sanders will be 79, and Trump will be a mere 74. Warren will be 71. Harris is easily the youngest top-tier candidate; she will be 56 by the election. According to CNN analyst Harry Enten, only 33% of Democrats would feel comfortable with a nominee aged over 75.
Another reason for scepticism about Biden’s electability is that, like Clinton, he is an established politician who was first elected to the Senate in 1972. There are likely to be some things in Biden’s long political career that Trump will be able to exploit in the general election.
For the record, Trump has over 80% support for the Republican presidential nomination.
What about the general election?
In the FiveThirtyEight poll aggregate, Trump’s ratings are currently 42.4% approve, 52.8% disapprove with all adults. With polls of registered or likely voters, his ratings are 43.3% approve, 52.4% disapprove.
With the official US unemployment rate at just 3.7%, Trump’s ratings are weaker than they should be given economic data. There has been little change in his ratings since a slump during the January 2019 government shutdown, followed by a recovery once the shutdown ended.
Trump’s current ratings show that, if the next election is a referendum on his performance, he should be defeated. Trump’s best chance of re-election is if the Democrats nominate somebody who is also unpopular, as Clinton was in 2016.
On current economic figures, Trump will probably be defeated in 2020, but this is by no means certain. However, there is a major political risk to the economy: a “no-deal” Brexit. Right-wingers have strongly advocated a hard Brexit, and they may get what they want with Boris Johnson certain to be the next British PM – as I wrote for The Poll Bludger on July 10. The result of the Conservative members’ ballot for leader will be declared on July 23.
If a no-deal Brexit occurs on October 31, there is likely to be a large negative impact on the UK economy, with knock-on effects for the world economy. A no-deal Brexit and Trump’s tariffs are likely to have some impact on the US economy. A US recession in 2020 would be very bad for Trump’s re-election chances.
As I said in the article I wrote immediately after the May Australian election, I believe the left’s only hope to consistently win elections is if there is a major economic disaster that is blamed on the right.
Right wins Greek election, left wins Turkish Istanbul mayoral re-election
I wrote on my personal website on July 8 that the conservative New Democracy won the July 7 Greek election with 158 of the 300 parliamentary seats, ousting the far-left SYRIZA. In Turkey, the left won the June 23 Istanbul mayoral re-election by a much bigger margin than originally.
Adrian Beaumont does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Authors: Adrian Beaumont, Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Melbourne