Why fears of an Electoral College nightmare in 2020 are overblown

The numbers just don't support the idea that Trump will lose the popular vote more decisively while still winning re-election

President Trump.
(Image credit: Illustrated | Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images, Akrain/iStock)

Nate Cohn sent a panic wave crashing through Democratic Party circles Friday. The New York Times elections analyst — who is also responsible for the newspaper's terror-inducing elections forecasting tool "The Needle" — wrote a piece arguing that President Trump could suffer an even more decisive popular vote loss next year than he did in 2016, while still holding the Electoral College. But this panic was premature: While Cohn's scenario is worth psychologically preparing for, it is much less likely than he would have us believe.

Let's first understand Cohn's argument. He uses data from the 2018 midterms to estimate the president's approval rating in each state. Like most observers, Cohn expects Wisconsin to be the pivotal state in the 2020 presidential election and presents numbers from Marquette University polling that suggest Trump has held steady in the critical Milwaukee area, while seeing a decline in the rest of the state. "One reason that such a small swing in Wisconsin could be so important," Cohn writes, "is that the Democrats do not have an obviously promising alternative if Wisconsin drifts to the right." (If you don't understand how this is good for the president, you're not alone. More on that below.)

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David Faris

David Faris is an associate professor of political science at Roosevelt University and the author of It's Time to Fight Dirty: How Democrats Can Build a Lasting Majority in American Politics. He is a frequent contributor to Informed Comment, and his work has appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times, The Christian Science Monitor, and Indy Week.