US elections: Better not a landslide victory

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Disappointed Trump fans could sympathize with Joe Biden – and give the Democrats a clear election victory. That would endanger the transfer of power.


Donald Trump and his followers in June in Tulsa, Oklahoma © NICHOLAS KAMM / AFP / Getty Images

Publicly supporting Donald Trump was socially frowned upon in 2016. Conversely, today risks losing friends and acquaintances who turns his back openly. Such hidden preferences of former Trump fans can lead to a significant victory for Joe Biden in November – and make Trump even more aggressive, says our guest author Lars Brozus from the Science and Politics Foundation in Berlin.

With the approaching US presidential election, concerns are growing that Donald Trump might refuse to accept defeat. Many observers fear political and legal chaos or even violent clashes if the results are scarce. Only a landslide victory for Joe Biden would ensure that Trump would actually vacate the White House. However, a clear election success of the Democrats could also be questioned.

What is important for acceptance is how far the result deviates from the election surveys. If there is a surprisingly high discrepancy between results and polls, the Trump camp will be tempted to accuse the Democrats of manipulating the elections.

The fact that polls differ significantly from the election result is not a new phenomenon. It is often explained with hidden preferences. This means differences between the publicly expressed opinion, for example with a view to the preferred presidential candidate, and private conviction (see also “spiral of silence”). Hidden preferences are usually attributed to two motives: shame and fear. In an authoritarian state, fear relates to repression and oppression, but under democratic conditions to public exclusion. Shame, on the other hand, refers to feelings of guilt in response to previous beliefs and actions that are now regretted.

Trump voters have to justify their change of opinion

Four years ago, Trump benefited from covert preferences. The then presidential candidate massively violated political and social conventions, from his campaign against political beliefs of his own party to contemptuous and racist statements. Supporting Trump openly was frowned upon socially. Until election day, he was well behind Hillary Clinton in practically all demos: of 61 national polls in October 2016, only six saw Trump in front. When it became clear on November 9 that Trump had won the majority of the electoral votes, the cause research began. It quickly led to the so-called Hidden Trump Voters – voters who had not previously expressed their preference.

This time it could be the other way around. Because the evidence is growing that support for Trump has declined massively. There has long been speculation about a sudden change in preferences among Republican mandate holders. He also loses to voters who voted for Trump four years ago: older, evangelicals and younger whites with a low level of formal education. However, it is questionable whether this is fully reflected in the election polls.

Trump is significantly behind, his share stagnates at around 40 percent, while Biden is seen at around 50 percent. But a number of campaign observers assume that the actual support for the president will be much lower. Some speak of landslide-like losses and predict a “blue wave”. It could result in Democrats not only conquering the White House, but also expanding their majority in the House of Representatives and possibly even winning back the Senate.

However, Trump voters will find it difficult to justify their change of opinion in front of themselves and towards others. The shame of making the wrong choice in 2016 and fear of social isolation could prevent many respondents from expressing their change of opinion publicly: in the parish, in the golf club or on the construction site. Because in the highly polarized USA cultural identity is increasingly expressed in party political identification.

If you turn your back on your party openly, you risk losing friends and acquaintances. That would explain why the public commitment to Trump outside of the big cities hardly seems to have waned. But maybe this gives a wrong picture, which will be massively corrected when the ballot is cast in November. Hidden preferences could mean that the result deviates much more clearly from the predictions than four years ago – only this time at Trump’s expense.

If Trump’s election defeat is unexpectedly clear, there will be serious political consequences. The more the result deviates from the predictions, the greater the temptation for the Trump camp to denounce election fraud and dirty methods. Indeed, elections in the United States have many shortcomings even under normal conditions. It starts with the admission and registration of those eligible to vote, which is often much more difficult, especially for the socially weak and members of minorities – who often tend to the Democrats. Manipulations in the election of constituencies, which have even produced their own technical term, are notorious: Gerrymandering.

However, having to choose under corona conditions significantly increases the likelihood of errors and irregularities. Voter registration has so far failed to meet expectations. Already in the primaries, there were many problems, from compliance with distance rules from polling stations to a significantly increased demand for postal voting, which is often exercised by supporters of the Democrats – and was promptly criticized by Trump as susceptible to manipulation.

The fact that Trump could represent a defeat as a result of election manipulation is almost taken for granted in the American debate. Because, like four years ago, the narrative is widespread among Republicans: it is a choice of fate, the outcome of which is crucial for the survival of the Republic. The enthusiasm of the Republicans is again appealed to. And the president himself hopes that, as in 2016, it will be the hidden preferences of his supporters that will ensure another election victory in November: “[M]ost people agree with me. And many won’t say it, and they might not even say it in a poll, but I think they’ll say it in an election“.

All of these are not good prospects, neither for a reasonably orderly election process nor for the acceptance of the election result. Many scenarios are conceivable that could stand in the way of an orderly transfer of power. Perhaps only peaceful mass demonstrations would help that clearly clarify the political preferences of the majority of US citizens. It would be better if there was no big discrepancy between polls and election results. This is what Republican (!) Dissidents are working towards, who want to prevent Trump’s second term at all costs. They explain to voters who voted for Trump in 2016: “It’s OK to change your mind“- it is okay to change your mind. It should be added that this should also be announced publicly before the election.

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