Pathway to 270

A lot of politicians and electoral candidates miss a very major point in campaigning: most voters are in the middle; very few are in the right or left of center.


Note: This column originally appeared in The Manila Times on November 3, 2020.


November 3 is Election Day in the US of A and the scenarios are getting wilder, what with both camps set to declare victory on election night, even before the mail-in ballots are read and races concluded. Observers should watch Election Day and Election Night closely.

Voting in the US is done in person or through mail-in ballots. The other pertinent data concerns party registration statistics and the Electoral College to get a handle on US elections. Hence, any survey is also cognizant of these three data sets that are crucial in understanding the pulse of American voters.

The data as of November 1 is as follows: total early votes are 93,297,208; in-person votes at 34,045,137; mail-in ballots returned stands at 59,252,071; and the total of mail-in ballots outstanding is 31,958,869. It should be noted that some states do not differentiate between mail-in ballots and in-person votes. Mail-in voters are predominantly Democratic while in-person voting is heavily Republican.

The mail-in ballots outstanding is the hottest debate because of the different state laws on how many days should these outstanding ballots be counted. Each state has to open the mail ballots on November 3 and others are given three days after or on November 6 to count. That is going to be messy with lawyers positioned to question whether ballots received after November 3 should be counted and Pennsylvania is judicial activism at its best, leading all up to litigation before the US Supreme Court. All eyes are also on the US Postal Office because of allegations of allegations of a slowdown in mail delivery; hence, a form of voter suppression.

In terms of party registration statistics, there are only 20 states with party registration data out of the 50 states. There are 45.6 percent registered Democrats for a total of 20,726,364; 30.3 percent registered Republicans or a total of 13,806,528; no party affiliation stands at 10,667,264 or 23.4 percent; and minor parties at 301,202 or 0.7 percent. Why is this data important? Because  independent and swing voters are key in battleground states and swing states. Michigan is an example because it is not a registration-by-party vote.

In the US, winners of federal election contests are not determined by popular votes; they become so if a candidate reaches 270 electoral votes. Currently, the Electoral College is composed of 538 members. Under the Constitution, the state legislature is empowered to determine the manner by which the state’s electors are chosen (Article 2, Section 1, Clause 2). The number of electors in each state is equal to the number of the state’s membership in the Senate and the House of Representatives. There are 100 senators and 435 state representatives plus Washington DC with three electors while US territories are not entitled to any electors.

What is the connection of popular votes to electoral votes would need a careful understanding of the Electoral College. After Election Day, each state counts its popular votes according to its laws to select the electors. In 48 states and Washington DC, the winner of the plurality (candidate who polls more than any other counterpart) of the statewide vote receives all of that state›s electors;  in Maine and Nebraska, two electors are assigned in this manner and the remaining electors are allocated based on the plurality of votes in each congressional district. States generally require electors to pledge to vote for that state›s winner.

The formality is such that the “electors of each state meet in their respective state capital on the first Monday after the second Wednesday of December to cast their votes. The results are counted by Congress, where they are tabulated in the first week of January before a joint session of the Senate and the House of Representatives, presided over by the vice president, as president of the Senate. Should a majority of votes not be cast for a candidate, the House turns itself into a presidential election session, where one vote is assigned to each of the 50 states. Similarly, the Senate is responsible for electing the vice president with each senator having one vote. The elected president and vice president are inaugurated on January 20.”

As of the morning of November 2, the battleground states are Georgia (Trump at 48 percent and Biden at 46 percent), Pennsylvania (Trump at 49 percent and Biden 47 percent), Michigan (Trump at 49 percent and Biden at 47 percent) and North Carolina (Trump at 48 percent and Biden at 44 percent). The swing states are Arizona (Biden +6 percent), Florida (+3 percent), Pennsylvania (+6 percent) and Wisconsin (+11 percent). By the afternoon of the same date, the forecast is that the pathway to 270 will be determined by Pennsylvania and Arizona. The former has 20 electoral votes while the latter has 11.

Cities and suburban (urban sprawl) are leaning towards Democrats while rural America is Trump’s. And where are the blacks and the Latinos? Again, they used to be the core support of Democrats but today the split is palpable. Today, the young black Americans (Blexit) and Latino Americans are voting for Trump.

What are Democrats doing to avoid a Hillary 2016 defeat? Biden is not  forgetting the small states, and the ground movement of Biden strings a 3 to 5 state drops in the end game.

The Trump team on the other hand is pouring resources in states where he is competitive.

Take the case of Pennsylvania, where Trump is moving in the four corners of the state, all rural. The fight is on the margins, securing a share from polled Democrats, who might be persuaded to shift while Democrats want to contain the margins and not be a runaway for Trump in his strongholds.

Even polls are messy what with the pollsters issuing warning shots on methodology and sampling. And because of the phenomenon of voters lying to pollsters or what some would call the Bradley or Wilder effect (significant discrepancy between voter opinion polls and actual election results due to races), social desirability bias has to be looked into.

Anonymity and short questionnaires have now been introduced. While political operatives are now distinguishing predictive polls and snapshots in time polls. In the end, the ground determines the winner. Thus, to those who have run campaigns, we often say, “Leave it all on the field.”

Just to be clear, I am not a Republican. I earned my stripes while in the US, doing door-to-door for Democrat John Kerry in 1992 at Nashua, New Hampshire; then, as a placard-carrying volunteer in Silver Spring, Maryland for candidate Bill Clinton. Every presidential year, I am in the US to be with friends, classmates, colleagues and family on election eve.

The last time was in Colorado, landing with cheers for Hillary and entering my hotel with young Americans, bawling because Hillary lost. Who will win? Too close to call and when it is too close to call, the margins determine it, and the ground points you to that direction.

A lot of politicians and electoral candidates miss a very major point in campaigning: most voters are in the middle; very few are in the right or left of center. Be a centrist in a sea of extremists and offer solutions and not be scurrilous to connect with voters. And yes, grounds win elections. Under the new norm, the challenge is to reinvent the terrain.

About the Author
Malou Tiqiua is the Founder/General Manager of PUBLiCUS Asia Inc. A noted political management expert in the Philippines and Asia, she brings over 20 years of professional experience in public, private and the academe combined. Author of the comprehensive book on electoral campaigns in the Philippines, "Campaign Politics", Malou is a graduate of the University of the Philippines with a Political Science degree and a Master of Public Administration. She completed her second master's degree (MA in Political Management) from the Graduate School of Political Management, George Washington University.
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