Note About the General Election

By Steve Phillips

Democrats have a growing mathematical and structural advantage in presidential general election contests. This may come as a surprise to many people who follow the tenor and tone of some political coverage that proceeds from the assumption that the odds favor Trump being re-elected (presuming he runs again, which is not a given). The math, however, does not bear that out. Simply stated, whoever wins the Democratic nomination in 2020 should also win the presidential election, especially if he or she is running against Trump.

In the 2nd edition of my book, Brown Is the New White, I go into some quantitative detail analyzing what went wrong in 2016, how Trump won the Electoral College by a total of just 77,744 votes spread across Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, and why the Democratic structural advantage persists.

The Democratic structural advantage was affirmed in a detailed report last year co-published by the Brookings Institution and the Center for American Progress. Overlaying 2016 electoral results with current census population data, the report found that if all demographic groups vote in 2020 exactly as they did in 2016, the Democratic nominee would win with 279 electoral votes (you need 270 to win the White House). In other words, in an exact re-run of 2016, the Democratic nominee would win because the electorate is that much more diverse now as compared to 2016.

The above improved picture doesn’t even take into account the significant strides made in 2018 in Florida, Arizona, and Georgia where hundreds of thousands of new and infrequent voters were organized and mobilized in the midterms, making those states very realistic prospects for Democratic victory in 2020. Plus, the three states that tipped the balance in 2016—Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania—now all have Democratic governors, which was not the case four years ago.

Notably, in considering the potential for the U.S. to have a President Booker, the Brookings/CAP report found that if Democrats can re-inspire African American voters to participate at the same levels that they did in 2012—the last time there was a Black nominee—then the Democrats would win in a landslide with 339 electoral votes.

So, the future looks promising for the Democratic Party standard bearer in 2020, particularly if that nominee is Black.