Lessons from 2016 to remember before risking a prognosis

The question remains as it does every four years: can we have an idea of the outcome of the US presidential election on November 3? Before answering it, you have to think back to what happened in 2016 and try to learn some lessons.

One could, of course, avoid the question. "Let’s wait until Wednesday morning and we’ll have the verdict of the US presidential election ..." - provided the gap is clear enough between Joe Biden and Donald Trump. An attitude that is as wise as it is radical, which leads us to stop reading this article here.

We can nevertheless decide to continue. Not out of a taste for clairvoyance, inclination to boastfulness in order to be able to plastron, Wednesday November 4, "I had told you well", no more than by partisan spirit - following foreign policy with a moral compass being rarely the guarantee of understand things.

No, if like many, one may like to immerse themselves in the intricacies of the American poll, it is because it tells a lot about this country and is a fantastic way to understand it.

A complex ballot

At the heart of this election, there are not the voters, but the states. Or rather the voters of each of the 51 American states. It is these states and their "electorate" who will tip the scales. To be elected, 270 electors must be added. California, if it is won, will bring 55 on its own, Ohio 18, Wyoming 3, Texas 38 ... To tip these States into its purse, a single vote in advance of a great voter is enough to the candidate. On the other hand, having five votes in front of voters in California, or five million votes, will not change the story: they will still bring the candidate 52 major voters. No more no less.

Hence the sometimes colossal gap that there can be between the number of large voters obtained and the number of voters at all. We can lose an election in the USA with a large majority of citizens who voted for you. This was the case with Hillary Clinton against Trump in 2016. The Democratic candidate had 2.8 million votes ahead nationally.

Once the principle is well integrated, we must therefore look at each of these states, many of which are the size of a country in Europe. Each with their own particular concerns: here industry, there the environment, elsewhere immigration issues. Such an argument of a candidate will be clearly addressed to such state. And in the home stretch, the contestants will go and pamper those who are reluctant to switch to one side or the other, known as the "swing states," or wavering states.

The difficulty of a prognosis

When the election is close, it can stand a few hundred voters away in up to 15 states. This is how George W. Bush was elected in 2000 after long recounts thanks to Florida and more precisely with 431 votes in advance in Florida. His unsuccessful opponent, Al Gore, meanwhile had 550,000 votes ahead at the national level.

We understand the difficulty of finding major trends already in normal times. But if we look back four years, we must remember two unforeseeable events that further disrupted analyzes and commentaries. Whoever writes these lines knows a thing or two about it having, during this 2016 campaign, felt that he was acting for Trump "on an impossible mission." But once again, the goal is not to predict but to understand, we can go back to these events. An analysis is based on existing facts, trends and developments. The reality of 2016 is that two unpredictable and disruptive events have occurred:

1 - The abstention rate among Democrats, particularly high. Even in the face of Trump, Obama's disappointment and Hillary Clinton's very "patrician" personality drove much of the Democratic electorate - especially the black electorate - to not go to the polls. Surveys are always based on a reasonable estimate of turnout. This rout was improbable. She distorted the polls' figures, and suddenly the analyzes.

2 - "Cambridge Analytica", named after the English firm which had already operated during Brexit. The implementation of a disinformation strategy targeting undecided voters via data left on Facebook, just to fetch those hundreds of decisive votes, state by state, was again impossible to see coming. The manipulation is not quantifiable.

Finally, and to be perfectly honest, we must also admit that the irrational, provocative and whimsical dimension of Donald Trump could suggest that the reason of the voters will tip the scales (without enthusiasm but still) in favor of Hillary Clinton. This was indeed a misperception, which must be remembered today.

 What lessons for this election?

Once we understand this, what about these elections? No doubt recall the obvious. Americans are not us. We are not Americans. They are not French or Europeans who would live across the Atlantic. Even the East Coast, historically closer to a European culture, is changing. Americans are not New Yorkers either as we see so many in movies or series. The motivations, the vision of the world of the majority of American voters are far from ours. When we ask ourselves this question, "how can they be proud of Trump", we must never forget that these very people are looking at us and asking themselves this one: "how can they be proud of their president or of their European system ". There is always an ocean between us.

The attachment to the state (Texas, Pennsylvania, Nevada, Utah) is very strong. It is constitutive of the political culture of this country which mistrusts like the plague of a central power. It is this attachment that explains the system of voting by the large voters. It may be found unfair, but it nevertheless has historical and political logic.

Furthermore, Trump is a political UFO. In his way of leading, speaking, communicating, reacting. It upsets the rules and the electorates. That’s what made it strong in 2016. Some say that four years later, pollsters incorporated “Trump fixes”. However, the way in which he has recently succeeded in turning his Covid infection into an asset remains astonishing. Its "potential for unpredictability" remains very high and its de facto impact on the electorate may remain difficult to measure. Its electoral base makes the destruction of the classic rules of politics (and therefore of analyzes) a glue. Some have even made it a principle to outwit the institutes by telling pollsters anything.

Finally, the survey gives a balance of power at a given moment. In a week he may have changed. But reading them and watching the Americans react to the events of this campaign always shows how much they are not us.

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