In the first debate of the partnership FLAD /SICExpresso, two major American experts in the field of electoral behavior and forecasts, Alan Abramowitz and Mary Stegmaier, explained what makes these US presidential elections unique and how the rules we used to assess a candidate’s chances may not apply.

Two candidates, a world away. The US elections are on the doorstep and are generating a lot of interest. This year, even more so because of the profile of the candidates themselves – Donald Trump and Joe Biden –, but also because we are experiencing a pandemic and, as a consequence, an economic crisis of historical dimensions.

With so many new features, and after a tremendous failure in 2016, how can we believe what polls tell us every day or how we should look at them. And what impact do issues such as the pandemic, the economic crisis, and even episodes during the campaign, which is nearing its end, have?

With the help of Pedro Magalhães, also a Political Scientist, and Journalist David Dinis (who moderated this conversation), the two scientists gave important clues to understand how this year has become so special. And that may still influence the vote.

Mary Stegmaier, President of the American Political Scientists Association and a Professor at the Truman School of Public Affairs,said the pandemic is already leading to a substantial increase in the number of people who are voting in advance. This will help to achieve greater reliability when producing polls, because many Americans will have already made their choice.

However, if there is a second wave affecting the election day itself, the result could disproportionately affect one of the parties.

“It seems more likely that Democrats will vote earlier than Republicans. If we enter a second wave of the pandemic, this could affect people’s willingness to vote on the day, to stand in long lines waiting, to interact with the community. It may also mean that those who decided to vote on their assigned day may themselves have COVID-19 or be quarantined because they were exposed.” Mary Stegmaier.

Alan Abramowitz, Political Scientist and Professor at Emory University, in Atlanta – whose model correctly predicted that Democrats would regain control of the House of Representatives in the 2018 midterm elections, and that Republicans would retain control of the Senate – said that this year he wouldn’t include economic criteria in the models, since the economic recession was deliberately caused to protect the population.

Alan Abramowitz also stressed that Donald Trump’s advantage would be that he is the president-in-office, or disadvantage, cannot be measured in the same way as in previous elections because of his very particular campaign strategy.

“I think, in many dimensions, Donald Trump’s approach in regards to the Presidency is fundamentally different from that of previous US Presidents. (…) Trump, unlike other Presidents, has clearly been determined to maintain his support base within his party, motivating his base and making little, if any, effort to expand his support beyond [grupo] that.” Alan Abramowitz.

You can watch this debate on FLAD’s website,or on the SIC Onlineand Expresso pages. Next week we will hold another joint debate, which we will soon announce.