The US Presidential election is 16 months from now, and trying to predict the outcome is a fool’s task. However, Structured Analytic Techniques (SATs) can help you rise above the cacophony of the pundits and better understand the underlying political dynamics.
SATs can be used to help identify the key drivers most likely to influence, if not determine, how the election campaign will play out. I have incorporated these techniques into a five-step process you can use to help anticipate the likely winner.
- Make a list of key assumptions about the race.
- Identify which assumptions could be unfounded.
- Convert unsupported assumptions into key variables or key drivers.
- Track how these key drivers are playing out.
- Apply that knowledge to predict the eventual winner.
Using the above process, here is how one could best forecast the outcome of the 2020 presidential election:
Key assumptions can best be described as reflecting the current, common wisdom. In today’s political climate, the analysis offered by most pundits seems to be based on the following set of working assumptions about the race:
- The strong US economy is a major factor working in the President’s favor.
- Whomever dominates the airwaves is most likely to win.
- The President has an extremely loyal base representing over 40 percent of the population that has consistently supported him. They are highly unlikely to change their mind.
- As happened in 2016, the coming campaign will focus on “hot button” cultural issues and pay little attention to who is offering the best policy solutions.
All these key assumptions make sense, but it is conceivable some could turn out to be wrong. In fact, some or all these assumptions are better described as key variables. The key assumption could either be validated—and even strengthened—as the campaign plays out, or it could collapse because of changing circumstances or a competitor’s counter strategy. A critical examination of how each key driver could play out reveals:
On the one hand, the economy could remain strong, giving the President a competitive advantage. Consumer confidence could remain high, GDP growth could remain at 3 percent as has been predicted so far by the White House, and the stock market could continue to set new records.
On the other hand, the economy could be at its zenith. Some lead indicators point to a coming recession in 2020, current or newly imposed tariffs could become a major drag on the economy, and instability in the Middle East could prompt a spike in oil and gasoline prices depriving the President of one of his strongest arguments.
On the one hand, the President was—and continues to be—a master at obtaining considerable air time. He continues to show great talent in driving the daily news cycle.
On the other hand, he is no longer “the new kid on the block.” His June 2019 rally kicking off his campaign was not covered live by most networks because it included little new information. The North Carolina rally received coverage because of the “Send Her Back!” chant, but future rallies may be perceived as “same old, same old.” You need to make real news to remain an object of news broadcasts.
On the one hand, polling shows that popular support for the President has consistently varied within a narrow bank of 38 and 45 percent since he was elected. His support within the Republican Party tracks at an almost unprecedentedly high rate of 90 percent.
On the other hand, many of his constituents have suffered as a result of Administration policies, i.e., tariffs that hurt farmers, auto workers, and other manufacturing as well as the policy of separating undocumented children from their parents have created unease among some previous voters. A more serious potential vulnerability is that policy differences within his cabinet and his party (e.g., over new military adventures, racism, or policy toward Iran or Russia) could cause fissures within his coalition and drive some supporters out of his camp or make them less willing to vote.
On the one hand, the President has been a master at focusing campaign rhetoric around “hot button” issues, such as an adversary’s personal, immigration, abortion, and gun control.
On the other hand, by 2020, the population may be more inclined to seek input on how the candidates stand on key policy issues, demanding that more attention be paid to issues that directly impact them, such as health care, climate change/severe weather, income inequality, and gun control.
By tracking these four key drivers, readers can gain an overarching perspective that will help them identify what really matters as upcoming primary and general election campaigns play out. One might also discover that a fifth key driver is missing from the list. Only time will tell. But armed with such a framework, readers will find it easier to separate the true signals of where the campaign is headed from the unrelenting noise.