Some wildcards that could swing the US election result either towards a Biden landslide or open it up to another miracle Trump turnaround.
Biden has a big lead in national polls - but the unusual nature of America’s electoral college system means that what really matter is how the so-called ‘Swing states’ vote. Most US states are locked red or blue and rarely vote the other way. Big Cities, which are most populous typically vote for the more socialist party- which in the US is Biden’s Democratic Party. Biden leads in the Swing states too - in places like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin - but his lead is within the margin of error in polling.
1. Economic recovery
"It's the economy, stupid" - James Carville, President Clinton advisor
The more the economy recovers, and the less people are feeling hardship from lockdown policies used to combat the spread of the coronavirus- the more likely they are to vote for the incumbent. Donald Trump is well aware of this.
Trump’s background is as a real estate developer but his newfound love for a rising stock market is because it’s a proxy for economic enthusiasm. The stats on the stock market and who wins the presidency are striking. If the economic recovery continues into November 3rd and the stock market holds up- history says it helps Trump.
2. A vaccine or cure
If a safe vaccine - or even a very well proven therapeutic such as the antibody treatment from Regeneron becomes widely available - it could tip public opinion in favour of Trump.
I felt good immediately,” Mr Trump said. “They call them therapeutic, but to me it wasn't just therapeutic, it made me better. I call that a cure.” - Donald Trump (October 9th, 2020)
Again, Trump is well aware that there are many Americans who blame him for the pandemic- believing it was mishandled. This a distinct advantage to Biden who can point the finger without a counterfactual. A vaccine or ‘cure’ would change the dynamic completely - Trump would be a hero for helping answer American prayers!
3. Anti-police protests
It’s not clear who this would necessarily benefit. The protests would be happening under ‘Trump’s watch’ and so a drop in optimism could have a similar affect as a softening economy. However, mostly likely protests would happen be in big cities with Democratic Senators and Mayors.
For one it would change the conversation away from the pandemic, which would suit Trump. The Donald has made a point to be the ‘law and order candidate’ but Biden needs to appeal to both moderates and the wing of the party that sympathises with the protests and is calling for defunding the police.
4. A virus 2nd wave
The US is a big country and much of it is still in a first wave but some big cities including New York City did see daily case counts come right down and they are starting to rise again - prompting further lockdown measures. The question is whether local lockdowns in cities like New York affect the voting intension of swing states - the answer is probably no.
Were lockdowns to being again in the Swing states themselves - that could be a difference maker - swinging the polls even further in the direction of Biden in the places where it counts. A bigger issue would be if the coronavirus situation got so bad that it affected people’s ability to vote in person- this would add to the issue we discuss below of mail-in votes.
5. Mail-in vote count issues
The President has already been disputing the authenticity of mail-in votes - suggesting they are being deliberately tampered with- and saying the result would be "rigged". He went further by not guaranteeing the peaceful transfer of power after the result. Vote tampering is a real issue, but most people are of the opinion that it would not affect an election result. On the flip side there is an argument from Democrats that Republicans do all they can to suppress votes - especially from those who find it most difficult to get to the voting booth.
If we cast out mind back to the Bush-Gore election in the year 2000, the election was won on just 537 votes in Florida. If Trump loses and the margin of error is as small as in 2000 - it seems very possible he would dispute the result. Biden would also be under considerable pressure to do the same from 'Never Trumpers'!