How will the elections in the United States play out? What are the prospects for Donald Trump’s reelection? Will Joe Biden gain enough electors to unseat Trump? Will the Senate flip? Less than a week before Election Day, David King assesses the Democrats’ and Republicans’ prospects during this Wiener Conference Call.

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Wiener Conference Calls recognize Malcolm Wiener’s role in proposing and supporting this series as well as the Wiener Center for Social Policy at Harvard Kennedy School.

Mari Megias:

Good day everyone I am Mari Megias is in the office of alumni relations and resource development at Harvard Kennedy School and I'm very pleased to welcome you to this Wiener conference call. I'm excited that we are now using Zoom for these calls and I hope that this platform will enhance your connection with our expert faculty. So today we are joined by David King, who is a senior lecturer in Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School and faculty Chair of Harvard's bipartisan program for newly elected members of the US Congress. He teaches courses on Congress, interest groups and public policy and chairs Harvard Kennedy School's executive education course for senior State and local government officials. In the wake of the 2000 presidential election, Professor King directed the taskforce on election administration for the National Commission on election reform, chaired by former presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter. We are so fortunate that he has chosen to share his expertise today with the Kennedy School's alumni and friends. Professor King.

David King:

Thank you so much for that undeserved introduction and partly because I am not sure that I have the insights that you guys are all hoping for. In that everyone's listening to the talking heads if you're watching TV and if you're the junkie that's going to spend the lunch actually listening to someone like me you already have some of these. So a lot of what I'm going to say, is going to get us to the point of cat questions and answers. And I'd love to hear from you all as well. I also want to thank Dr. Wiener for putting this together for funding this and for supporting this school for so long. It's absolutely crucial, and we really appreciate it.

So I'm going to say some things that are probably pretty obvious and then we're going to get more or less to questions and answers. This of course is an electoral college map, you all understand that the electoral college is this anachronism. You need 270, a majority of it, the total number of votes is the number of seats that you have in Congress, the house senate combined and then the District of Columbia gets those three seats. So whoever can get 270 the fastest actually is going to win the White House. And we've had a couple of instances recently where in 2000 again in 2016, the presidential candidate who won the electoral college did not win the plurality of the votes cast by the citizens.

So the goal is to get to 270 and just like when you're trying to get through a maze, the strategy to get through the maze fastest is actually to begin at the end. This is how you can win in a maze race. If you start at the beginning, your options are not as limited or easily seen. But if you start at the end and build your maze backwards, you can get through it much more quickly. And that's how campaigns are always run. That you create a win number, how many votes do I need to win this election, whether it's a city council primary race or a presidential primary race or the ultimate gain here at 270.

You have to put together enough states where you just get 270 and then you're going to win. Again, regardless of the full popular vote. So when you're putting together a campaign strategy, begin with that number and then work backwards in time. What states will we visit? Where are we going to put our resources? How are we going to advertise? To the extent that that they were going to have a coordinated campaign with house races or maybe with a gubernatorial race. How much money should the National Party invest in that? That tends to be driven by the strategy of getting to 270.

Then the sad reality out of that is many of the states are locked in. So this is as of today 270 to win. I'm assuming most of you have gone to the website 270toWin to play with your own maps. This is the consensus view based on polling from 270toWin. There's something like this of course at FiveThirtyEight and at This is a nice one where you can toggle on and off. And this is the consensus view right now that Joe Biden, even if he doesn't win any of the toss-up states that Joe Biden would be elected president would get 290 electoral college votes. The path forward is going to be quite difficult. But when one thinks about the campaign moving forward, you have to emphasize your focus on those few states that are likely to be toss-ups that have big electoral college payoffs for them.

So this is covering the eight weeks after the end of the Republican convention when the Republicans have their formal nomination the formal announcement. How many visits did Trump and Biden make? Is not VP visits, these are actual visits by the candidates themselves to these states over the eight week period. I think this ends on October 22nd. And so you can seal a lopsided result not visiting South Carolina but certainly spending time in North Carolina. You saw recently, Joe Biden was just in Georgia, of course plenty of time in Nevada, mainly by the President and a lot of time out in Arizona. What happens if you're not in one of those states?

If you're not in one of those states you're not on the path to try and get to 270. You're not going to be seeing as many campaign ads. The goal of course is to get to 270. In terms of campaign ads and amount of money spent in the eight weeks after the end of the nominating process, these are on state specific television ads does not include national buys. So local media and there are several media markets there in Florida. If you live in Florida on a per capita basis, it's insane how often you're encountering this is just for Trump and Biden. Plus all of the other campaigns that you're watching.

Now if you think again about this previous line, the goal is to get to 270. But if this is where we're spending our resources and you already saw where you're spending the candidates time, we're neglecting a tremendous number of states, an awful lot of voters who are not seeing the kinds of ads that those of you in Ohio, and Michigan and Florida are actually seeing. And that has a huge impact on the probability of actually voting. The first time you have the ability to vote when you turn 18. If you are living in a state that is a swing state, so there's heavy spending and heavy efforts to try and mobilize the vote. You're far more likely to vote, obviously, that year, the first time you have a chance because they've been asking for your vote.

But the stunning data is that you are also more likely to vote wherever you live for the rest of your life, if you lived in a swing state, when you turned 18. If you didn't live in a swing state when you turned 18 and weren't subjected to this mobilization, you're actually less likely than a peer in a swing state, to vote again or vote consistently for the rest of your life. No matter where you live. There's a huge socializing effect of being part of a campaign when you're in your middle school years, high school years and then that first chance actually to vote. It really sets the pattern. But in the race to 270, candidates and campaigns and political parties are not in the democracy business. They are in the getting to 270 business.

In the path to 270, doesn't take us through an awful lot of the states. There's a lot of energy and enthusiasm, just watch television. But are people going to really turn out to vote in some of the other states? It looks so far that there will be very high turnout. But again, tremendous variability across the country in the level of engagement. So this is again, the current consensus model in which Joe Biden wins at 290 electoral college votes. But let's try and play with some of these a little bit more closely and think about when we might even know what the actual outcome is.

There is no real national election. That doesn't really exist. What you have is election district jurisdictions. It's a term of art in the election field. So election district jurisdictions, there are about 7000 of them in the United States. Most of them are municipalities. Massachusetts is made up of election district jurisdictions that are municipalities. There was Minnesota. In most states the election district jurisdiction is the county. And then they're subject to state specific rules on how to count a ballot, what counts, what does voter intention need to be shown in order to indicate that you who you meant to vote for.

These are not governed by or ruled by the federal government. Although the courts, federal courts can get involved. So there's tremendous variability on things like when should we be counting mail-in ballots? Can we preprocess mail-in ballots? Can we at least stack up in order alphabetically or by precinct mail-in ballots so that we can process them more carefully and more quickly? And in some states the answer is absolutely not. In other states, the mail-in ballot are counted as they come through. Most states though will prepare them and then run them through the Scantron counters on the day of the election.

The second thing that you've probably been paying attention to is the postmark problem. When you pay your taxes, what matters is actually did you get them in the mail? Was it postmarked by April 15th? And in many states, all that matters is postmarking that ballot on or by November 3rd. But that's been challenged and changed in some states and in Wisconsin, which has always accepted ballots that came in after election day but were postmarked by election day. Those will this time not be counted. So how long is it actually going to take to count? And this is a website here up at The Upshot New York Times that will show you state by state.

And it's interesting when you go through some of the swing states, Arizona does not think they're going to have a clear result on Wednesday. It may take some time. But if you start seeing early reports coming in for Biden that would be very good for Joe Biden. In Florida, they should be able to make a prediction fairly quickly. The days of waiting and waiting and waiting for Florida will probably not be happening this time. They are preprocessing ballots and they are almost uniformly counted through Scantron systems. They've learned a lot about how to do this. It's probably going to be very close. But we won't be waiting forever.

A state like North Carolina, you might have to wait for a while. A state like Iowa, you will have to wait for a while. It'll take a long time to actually count the ballot. So, overall, I do expect that we're going to have a winner announced by Wednesday afternoon. Most of the states should be in good enough position to make firm predictions. And most of the states that matter should be through the process of getting through their mail-in ballots. Wisconsin will be late, California as always will be late. Takes forever to count ballots in California but we know what the outcome is going to be in California. So watch Florida, obviously and that'll be the first big indication.

I don't think we're going to be waiting around for days and days and days. That doesn't mean we're going to have the official count for a while. But we certainly will have the margin of difference in most of these states and I think we'll have an outcome. So I expect that there's going to be a winner. This is the 270 to win. Look at where things are right now. But if we go state by state, you can take a look at all kinds of sites. Right? I think the best site is actually The Economist magazine online, which has a very interesting dynamic model that updates now twice a day.

This is actually my current prediction of where the states will go. And I have no idea who's going to win Texas. I have no idea what's going to happen in Georgia. I think Iowa is now a toss-up. And I think a surprise is that Nevada is closer than people anticipated. It's not, it's actually tightening in Nevada right now. And even with this, let's say that all of these toss-up states and the congressional district up in Maine that is separately decided, goes for Donald Trump. Joe Biden's going to win. Even if he loses Florida but still holds this map, Joe Biden will win. I don't think this is going to be close, I think it's going to be an electoral college blow out and this is from the Economist magazine in their 20,000 simulations that they also run every day, terms of the path to 270.

And this is based on probably on simulations of different outcomes in each of the states. There is a 4% chance right now, based on their simulations that Donald Trump finds a path to 270 and a 96% probability that Joe Biden finds a path to 270. Putting that in context, remember that, even though we all were stunned and shocked by the outcome in 2016, the consensus probability estimate then was that Donald Trump had a 26% chance of winning the electoral college vote. And so if we think in probabilistic terms, that wasn't, shouldn't have been as big of a shock as it actually felt. This time, the probability estimate is 4% that Donald Trump has a shot at winning the electoral college. He does not have a shot of any sort of actually winning the popular vote again.

Then what happens in the House and the Senate? These are the current look at where things are, the Democrats hold the majority in the House, the Republicans hold the majority 5347. In the Senate of course the Vice President always breaks the tie. This is the consensus estimate from 270toWin for the Senate races that are up right now. Remembering that only a third of the Senate is up for re-election or the third of the states are up for election every two years. So a seat of course they're there for six years. So you have one third that's up every two years and in some odd cases where there's been someone appointed into a seat, you might have two races in the state at the same time, which is what's happening now in Georgia, as they're off cycle because of a replacement. So this is where it lands right now.

And with this consensus estimate, it's sort of in that gray zone at least at 270 to win. But if we look at the specific races, Doug Jones has, I just don't see a path in Alabama for Doug Jones to hold on to that seat. He's going up against a popular and very capable Republican in a state that is diehard Republican and remember that Doug Jones barely won in the special against an incredibly flawed Republican candidate. I don't think that he survives. Martha McSally was an appointed replacement. After having lost her last Senate race, she then decided to tack to the right and is going up against a very capable astronaut hero. I think she loses in Arizona.

Cory Gardner is all but done. He's run a poor campaign. And even though Governor Hickenlooper has not run a good campaign, Cory Gardner also decided to tack to the right and embrace Donald Trump and that is not serving him well. He should lose in Colorado, high probability. Thom Tillis is an interesting case because it's a tough state to state that in North Carolina, the President still can win. I actually think he probably really could win North Carolina. But he's a flawed candidate who has a challenge on his right. And with the challenge on his right, the Democrats will probably be able to pick up that seat.

Susan Collins in Maine, although she did vote against Amy Coney Barrett, she wasn't a necessary vote. It wasn't a great vote of courage. She also has had incredibly boisterous opposition on her right. And the left has mobilized very effectively against her. She's probably going to lose. Joni Ernst in Iowa has hung on and been actually much more capable as a senator and she has embraced Donald Trump. She hasn't been willing to run away in any sense at all. But she has a good office, a good constituency operation. And she's been much stronger than I think a lot of people anticipated her to be.

When you look at presidential visits and where is Joe Biden going? You'd see that he was just in Georgia. Well, he wasn't just in Georgia because he wants to win in Georgia, he's in Georgia because there are two Senate races that were up in Georgia. And where's he next? He's going into Iowa. Why? because he thinks he can win Iowa. Well, we already know that Iowa as a slow count state is not going to be the tipping state. He's there partly largely to help take out Joni Ernst. Steve Daines in Montana. Still hanging on. Again, quite capable. I would put the probability of him holding on to his seat at about 0.65. So these are my best guesses in terms of the probabilities of losses and it adds up to a change in the Senate. It adds up to the Democrats taking the Senate.

I wasn't there a month ago, I had the probability of the Democrats taking the senate at 55% probability last time. And now I think it's virtual certainty that the Democrats will take the Senate. It is interesting that the elevation of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court has actually made it easier now for Democrats to win in the Senate. To win the Senate races. Because it's taking some of the wind out of the sails of Joni Ernst, for example. People who have been holding firm that we've got to return her to the Senate because we have to protect and create a conservative Supreme Court now have much less of an incentive actually to show up and vote or if they vote, vote for her again. So a big mission for the Republicans in the Senate has been accomplished. And that matters a lot in terms of policy but it actually weakens their position in terms of the election.

So Georgia is very interesting and I expect that we're going to see both of these seats. Why? I'm making a prediction that one of them is going to flip but those also are subject to run offs. And then the place that we can watch and have some genuine excitement for and I saw that Marty Linsky has raised his hand. This is somebody that Marty Linsky knows very well out in Kansas. They, Pat Roberts is retiring. And we have Barbara Bollier who was a Republican state senator who switched to the Democratic Party in her last state senate race but is really quite conservative, especially fiscally very conservative. She is a doctor, an anesthesiologist. And this is the race that I think would put as my upset special.

Marshall is still ahead in the polling but Barbara Bollier has closed quickly. And this is the race where having Amy Coney Barrett now in the Supreme Court can, should and I think will change the dynamic of the turnout among women especially Western Kansas Republican women who are going to be more likely now to vote for Barbara Bollier. So that would be my upset special. So the prediction is no huge surprise. I'm expecting a complete reversal of fortunes and that the Senate would now go to the Democrats. On the House side, this is again where I spend most of my time because it's awfully fun to see the amount of variation. This is the consensus estimate. Again 270 to win right now. And the Democrats should hold on to their majority, but the Democrats I think we'll be picking up seats. If you follow them on Twitter, please go see the best analysis that you can find is on Cook Political Report and all of the recent shifts. They have just fabulous staff going race by race.

And all the shifts have been moving towards the Democrats. This is not my house prediction map. There were four districts I couldn't figure out. But if I had to put my thumbs on the scale, it's another big pick up for the Democrats. So, again I'm not telling you things you didn't necessarily know or would have expected. Right? This is where we are. This is an election that is not about embracing Joe Biden. This is an election that is about repudiating Donald Trump. It is a referendum on Trump. And turnout will certainly be high. Probably the highest of our lifetimes in a presidential. But the shift in the Republican Party is towards a repudiation of Donald Trump. Independents are breaking two to one against Donald Trump, including the most recent polling of what are called the NPA, no political affiliation voters in Florida two to one breaking for Joe Biden or breaking against Donald Trump. And so that's where things are going to get interesting.

We should have an outcome on Wednesday of next week. It should be a landslide repudiation of Donald Trump. That's how the data appears to me. I try to be objective about it. And then it gets again, quite interesting. What happens in a lame duck? How is the president walked off the edge? Away from the edge so he doesn't do something really quite dangerous. And then what happens in Congress going forward? It's going to be a time of real excitement. So I'm going to stop sharing. I've talked as long as I was told to and I hope not too much longer. And I've seen names that I just love popping up. And so I leave it up to you all to tell me who's asking a question. Or you can ask the question Mari and we'll go from there.

Mari Megias:

Great. Thank you very much. So we are going to open the session up for questions. To ask a question, please use the virtual hand raising feature of Zoom and Margaret Miller will notify you via Zoom's chat feature when it's your turn to speak. Note that you may experience a short lag time. So be sure to unmute yourself when you hear from Margaret. Finally, please let us know your name and your HKS affiliation before you ask your question. So I'm going to start things off before we get to the raise hands just by asking you a question that had been submitted earlier by both Eleanor Maharali mid-career MPA, 2019 and Lauren Gibbs mid-career MPA, 1995. And that question is, "what happens if Biden wins but Trump does not concede?"

David King:

It's actually happened in the past. We have had two presidential elections where the President where the defeated candidate never conceded and it does not matter. What ultimately will matter is the projections and the electoral college vote when they meet in December and then the transition as it moves towards January 20th. So the formal words coming out of the President's mouth will not make a difference in terms of what technically happens. It would presumably make a difference in terms of how much resistance and possible violence there might be on the ground in some cities or in some rural areas. I know I'm from Wisconsin and I went to college in Michigan. And when I hear some of the things that my friends back home in Wisconsin are expecting and predicting, I worry about violence. So the about that would concern me more. If the president doesn't formally accept it, okay. But it's a bad signal to his supporters that maybe there was something hinky about the election which I don't think there will be.

Mari Megias:

Great, thank you very much. We now have HKS Professor Marty Linsky. Ready to ask a question. Hello, Marty.

Marty Linsky:

Hi. Is that better?

Mari Megias:

Yes. Thank you.

Marty Linsky:

Okay, Great. I've got so many questions I don't know where to begin, but it might require a beer or virtual beer later. Of course, the most important thing about Barbara Bollier in Kansas is that David King trained her.

David King:

Not just

Marty Linsky:

And of course it was her experience in three weeks under David King's tutelage that put her in a position to be a potential United States Senator of course. David, I was curious that you did not include Montana, you did not include Alaska. And I was wondering whether you just see those as out of the Democrats reach or you just ran out of energy to look at Senate races?

David King:

I don't think so. And I could have included Louisiana. Right? We could I'm sorry we could include part of-

Marty Linsky:

And Georgia. And the two Georgia races.

David King:

The two Georgia races. I split those I think one of them's going to flip. Yeah, I don't see those as terribly likely. I think I just don't. Daines has a shot of losing, I just don't see it terribly likely. Boy it would be interesting. And Alaska is particularly interesting because they vote well after things have closed on the East Coast. And so there is a bandwagoning effect that can happen out there. And also a demobilization effect if the results come in from Florida early enough to be heard and echoed out in Alaska that could actually make a difference in that senate race based on the press turnout for Republicans.

And Marty, that takes me back to that election in 1980 when it looked like it was a closing race but still hard to predict between Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan in 1980. And then on the eve of the election, when the early results came in, Jimmy Carter conceded the outcome before a single polling location west of the Mississippi had actually closed. And the outcome then was demobilization of Democrats didn't turn out. And you lost a generation of Democrats in the Senate, in the House.

So you might have a whispery moment like that in Alaska but it would, I don't think as a standalone race, that there's a change in Alaska. But you might see a momentum move if there are early results on the East Coast changing the probability of turnout. Marty is so good to see you.

Marty Linsky:

It's good to see you too David. Can I ask one little quick question? Future of the Republican Party, do you think this is going to be a Trump party going forward or do you think that there's going to be a sigh of relief that this period is over and it will move back toward being a mainstream center right party?

David King:

Well, I mean, a political party is just a label that is a catch all of coalitions underneath it. And when you were up in Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Republican Party was a very different animal than it even is today. And the Massachusetts Democratic Party was considerably more conservative than it is today. So the underlying coalitions in these parties shift the underlying coalitions about the Republican Party will also shift. The party of course will continue to exist. It has ballot access which is the golden key going forward to moving on with anything.

And the there are going to be very unhappy sort of Trumpers out there but on the backside of a landslide, I would expect that they're not going to be able to recoup in time for the 2024 race. And I would expect the Republican party to need to cast about and find a way forward with a new coalition. A new coalition that would presumably have to get considerably younger and considerably more Hispanic.

So, Marty, I think the Republicans are in for a good four to eight years of being in real trouble. There is a possibility that there could be a new movement within the Republican party that's elite lead that comes from senators who would form a new faction and vote in that faction and possibly even give themselves temporarily a new name. So not the gang of seven but some other name that would move it forward. And I see that Kahlil Byrd is actually in the room. If anyone knows what's going to happen or can game out what would happen with the Republican Party coalition, it would be Kahlil Byrd but. Take us to whoever is next.

Kahlil Byrd:

It is great. This is Kahlil Byrd. I'm a mid-career 2003 and live in King acolyte. It is great to see you healthy and the joy with which you relay this information for us. Let's look ahead over the next year. In the last crazy election you were at the center of the action and thinking about our election system and how to prevent tragedies going forward. What does that action going to look like this year in terms of people, elites or regular people coming together to try to fix the election system? And some of the holes we see there in terms of under financing at the state level.

In New York, we have long lines, ASC is calling that voter suppression even though every vote will be counted in New York. And then secondly, the Democrats are going to be spending on two issues that they probably haven't in the past. One is, what they're calling voter suppression and voter protection. The other is in on the courts and thinking about that more aggressively. What is this next year look like in terms of organization coming from government or outside and election and the election system? And what are the voter protection efforts look like as we go forward into the next election two years from now?

David King:

Thank you for the question Kahlil and if we go back to 2000, immediately after the outcome in 2000 where we knew that things had been had gone awry in terms of processing of ballots in Florida. And by the way if it weren't for Florida everyone would be talking about New Mexico that year. And if it weren't New Mexico that year, they'd be talking about Washington state that year. A lot of election officials in 2000 were just lucky they dodged a bullet but Florida caught it full on. It really exposed the patchwork quilt of these election district jurisdictions. And the outcome was the creation of the Help America Vote Act and the Election Assistance Commission.

Now the EAC and I was at their very there was at the inaugural meeting of the EAC. We had a lot of hope and a lot of promise there. Certainly more promise than was ever fulfilled. The Help America Vote Act wasn't implemented in way that one hoped it would be or would anticipated that it would be if the Democrats do take the House and the Senate. And if the Democrats get rid of the filibuster which I expect that they will not only on appointments but on actual legislation. Then I think one of the early moves that we'll see is a revitalization of the Election Assistance Commission. A fresh amount of money there.

The tricky question, though, has always been how much can the federal government get involved in local elections? In terms of technically how the intention to vote is counted, they have very limited ability there. That has to go through the courts. But what kinds of machinery you should use. What, the consistency across ballot types within a state, that's something that the EAC can be involved in. And the way that they do it is a clever article one section five innovation that happened by Heather Gerken up when she was in the law school at Harvard, sort of realizing that it could happen this way.

Congress gets to seat its own members. And now under the Help America Vote Act, if members are elected to Congress in systems that are inconsistent with the guidelines of the EAC, their delegation will not be seated. Okay. So it's a tricky back channel way to get the federal government involved in what a really run locally and run by states these elections. I expect that to be expanded, I expect more money to be coming from the federal level. In terms of those these court challenges around polling locations being opened and closed, Kahlil this is just going to be a massive effort that I think is largely going to be run at the state level as part of more good government efforts. How are we going to do or deal with gerrymandering reform?

The Democrats are about to take over as many more state legislators than they've had. It'll be not quite but almost the reverse of what happened for the Republicans in 2010. Will the Democrats now play the same game that the Republicans have played? Probably because remember, parties and candidates and campaigns are not in the democracy business. They're in the getting your number and securing your position of power business. So there are a lot of reforms that need to be citizen driven at the state level, redistricting reform, campaign finance reform. And then we need continuous challenges up to the Supreme Court on financing and maybe moving forward with a true challenge to Citizens United. Thanks, Khalil.

Mari Megias:

Great, thank you. Monte you're up. Hi, Monte.


Can you hear me?

David King:


Mari Megias:

Yes, we can.


Monte, Kennedy School alum, at this point in Toronto. Morning spent in the dentist so if my mouth or talking is somewhat compromised, that is the reason. First of all my compliments to your insights. And speaking for myself, I've spent the past 30 years with the UN, dealing with election management and designing elections. But that's a sidebar. And if I were to offer a one suggestion, it should be the congressman that should be pushing forward in terms of a platform that is across the United States in terms of electoral process and procedure. And but I'll stop on that.

Trump I suspect has all the information you have. And speaking from working in more despotic regimes, it cannot help but affect the type of posturing he is being subjected to and more importantly, he is not one that would like to lose for a variety of reasons. Is there any type of fear that machinations in terms of what I would call electoral sharp practice, in terms of trying to impede what is happening in terms of to prolong, postpone what is now considered to be inevitable, but it's only inevitable once it's mandated and adjudged by the court or the, the process the, not the electorate but oh I have a memory lapse the electoral college. So I'm seeking your insights in terms of what would be going through the senior ranks of Trumpian campaign? Thank you.

David King:

Yeah and I think. Well, first Monte, thank you for calling in all the way from Toronto. And I've noticed that the numbers in Toronto for the virus are also starting to climb. And in Montreal they're alarming. So you all have done everything right and it's an indication of where we all may be headed. So stay safe up there. And I think with respect to Trump it's important to distinguish between Trump as someone who wants to hold on to power at all costs and the people around Trump. And we've been waiting, many people have been waiting for a long time for the people around Trump to sort of stand up and be counted.

I am going to trust that there are enough protections in place. There, there is a way of course in which the states could change the outcome and shift different voters from the electoral college forward. But I don't think with the size of the victory that we're expecting that we're going to see that. I am worried about violence in places where one of my daughter and son-in-law live in Portland, Oregon. So Kendall and Seth be careful out there. I am worried about places like that. And I think that the parallels with the kinds of despotic regimes that you've witnessed in doing election administration and watching around the world, some of those parallels are very much in play here. And that concerns me a lot.

It also concerns me that I have family members who still are so enamored of this strong man that they seem to trust that the outcome is going to be in his favor. I didn't say anything that's reassuring Monte. But I don't expect the outcome to be close enough. That it'll get tarnished. And then I see Brad who is at the Thousand Island Inn. And are you up and running yet, Brad?


Unfortunately no, still in court.

David King:

Well you live in a beautiful place, Brad. It's good to see you.


Well thank you. Only yes I love it. My question, sir is, we've heard a lot about how the pollsters missed it last time and that they have tweaked their methodology so they're not missing it this time. But people, some people are still as Trump says, "some people say." Some people say that there's a hidden Trump vote out there that the pollsters are still missing. What do you think about that?

David King:

Well, it absolutely could be that there's a hidden vote out there that the pollsters are missing. So, the way that a poll traditionally worked, right, you would figure out the geographic area that you're going to poll. Let's say you're going to, you're going to poll the state of New York just to bring it home to you. And then you would do a random digit dialing on the residential telephone numbers. And you would engage in a conversation and try and get people to answer an entire poll.

When I started graduate school, the rule of thumb was that you would never under any circumstance report a poll result in which you had anything below a 60% completed interview rate off of an RDD telephone poll. By the time I got my PhD at Michigan in 1992, the firm ironclad pledge that we gave to each other was we would never report a poll with less than 25% completed responses off of landline telephone RDD. And then because people stopped answering telephone calls.

And then when cell phones came on, the cell phone time was expensive and there was a rule that you couldn't do random digit dialing on cell phone numbers. That's a federal rule. So the cell phones were not longer actually there and the polls became skewed towards old people who were waiting at home for their grandchildren to call. Now you can do random digit dialing off of cell phone lists but only if you have accidentally opted in on one of those service agreements when you were signing up for something on, what do your flowers look like? What bug was that that I just saw.

So when we, so different polling firms have a very proprietary blend of online, sometimes recruited polls, so people who were finding online to ask questions too. Cell phone calls off of these specialized lists if you accidentally opted in and then traditional RDD off landline phones. So these are the three sources. And then you have a proprietary blend of how much each one counts. Beyond that, they wait the results based on what we know about the population. So if we know that the population of New York is 52% female and our respondents were 75% female and that would be a typical result for a state like New York. You have to make each male respondent count one and a half to try and even it out.

So you weight based on demographics of what you believe the actual population would look like. And then you ask people, so are you likely to vote and most of them will say, yes. All of this leads me to have incredible skepticism about the polling that is out there. There are firms that do an incredibly good job. Pew does an incredibly good job. But it's very, very expensive. The Morning Consult Poll, which is an online recruited based poll does a very good job. But from RDD on landline and on cell phones, what is the response rate now? Right now?

It's one eighth of 1% of the total phone calls that are going out. You cannot generalize from that. And so we don't know really who's going to be showing up just based on the polls because the polls are not as reliable as one would expect. Notice though that we've had over half of the population or expected turnout is now voted. Over half the people who, over half of the turnout from 2016 is now voted and so the polls that are out in the field right now are actually reflecting how some people have already voted.

So Brad, I don't really trust polls and it drives me nuts when I, you turn on the TV and whether it's Fox in the morning or Morning Joe, they go on and on about the latest poll that says this, that or the other thing. But as soon as you get into this the proprietary source and how they're weighting it, I just don't believe the results. Look at web traffic, look at where money is being spent. Look at small dollar donations. The small dollar donations for Joe Biden right now are astonishing in terms of the geographic reach and what it means for energy on the ground. So that tells me a lot more than these odd polls. And I apologize to all the pollsters out there. But you can do better. I'm sorry.

Mari Megias:

Thanks. Our next questioner is Healy Hochberg. If you could let us know your first name and your HKS affiliation.

Fred Hochberg:

It's Fred Hochberg. It's a shared Zoom account. How are you, David?

David King:

I am well, Fred. It's so Fred, tell everybody about your book.


Oh, are too kind. I was a fellow at the Institute of Politics. Also graduate of Marty Linsky's in state local in the last century. And as a result, wrote a book called Trade is not a four letter word which I'm pleased to know is going into paperback in a second printing. So I'm very excited by that. So David, my question is, a lot of this democratic way will be overreached by Trump and the Republicans. If the Democrats win both houses and the presidency, will lead will most likely also overreact. 

We will try and pass a lot of legislation and so we may wind, I feel we're also in a bit of a, we've turned our country into a parliamentary system. So you have to stay with one party. There's no room in the middle. And each time someone gets power, they will want to grab as much as they can because otherwise they may be out of power to you. So is there a way out of that trap or we're probably destined Democrats destined to sort of also lose again in two years or four years? Because they will we will try and push too far. And as a result, lose people in the middle.

David King:

Yeah. So Fred, you're absolutely right that that's been the tendency. And you're reminding me now of a panel that David Gergen and I did 10 years ago. And Gergen's great warning then was that the Republicans were going to completely overreach. And that it would be 10 years before the Democrats would really be able to how they ended up we ended up getting, doing okay but I think he's right. And by the way, David Gergen will be doing the next of these lunches I think it's on the 18th of November. So you'll hear his wisdom and hear about overreach at that point. Yes, I think the Democrats are likely to overreach. And I think some of the structural reforms that they'll do early on, will take will really take root.

The House, for example, has been working on a special committee to reform house rules and procedures, that'll be offered up for a vote during lame duck. It's unlikely to pass during lame duck session. But it'll be an early agenda item. The Democrats are teeing up legislation around campaign finance. So maybe some of these structural reforms will make a difference. I'll be paying attention to who the leadership is. Because there's a tendency to go towards the extremes with your leaders, because it puts you in a better bargaining position with the other party.

If you have, well, Tim Ryan isn't the best example because but if you have someone like Tim Ryan, in the middle, ascending up the leadership ladder in the house, I think that speaks well for the future, the Democratic Party. The Democrats don't have to worry about the liberal left or a liberal challenge on the left for some time. But the the underlying all of this, Fred is, are the Republicans going to be in a position to react to the overreach? And if the Trump wing of the Republican Party maintains grievances and tries to push forward with their own network, I think we won't, they won't be able to marshal the challenge to have a real backlash. So the battle that we should probably be looking for over the next four years is between the Lincoln project mainstream Republicans and the Trumpians and that gives you not an immediate backlash but maybe a backlash that comes six years from now. But yeah, the pendulum will swing.



Hello there. Hi. David, this is Sheryl. Thank you so much. This has been an excellent talk. I'm a former Hauser fellow and I just joined the advisory board for the Malcolm Wiener Center. So I'm really excited to hear your talking. Really appreciate it very much. So if you'll allow me just to play a little bit of devil's advocate. I know that you were looking at the economist, scenario planning and Trump's 4% chance of winning, you look at some of the other analysis, for instance by FiveThirtyEight, they give Trump's chances at 22%, which is more close to the chances that you cited he had in 2016. So and if he wins Florida, Texas, Pennsylvania and Michigan, which are also narrowing within the margin of the error perhaps.

Is there still a path forward for Biden? And subsequent to that, if Trump does win, does that mean we're going to see a Trump dynasty as his sons also start to try and take on the mantle?

David King:

I don't think that a Trump dynasty is likely even if he wins, because there isn't the same sort of mesmerism that people feel for the rest of the family that certainly they many people, including my little sister do for Donald Trump. No, I think that the fascinating element here is not what are the polls saying but what are the turnout models likely to do? And turnout is absolutely up. And the model for me has been based on turnout changes in 2018. And so this was the first time in my life Well my life starts in 1963. First time in my life in which primary turnout in congressional primaries actually went up. Otherwise, it's been a monotonic decline since 1964 in off year congressional primary, except for 2018. It spiked and it spiked. It went up among Republicans and it went way up among Democrats.

And I think what we're going to see next week is a continuation of that trend in turnout, with turnout among Republicans up and turnout among Democrats way up. And with the not no party affiliation slash independence, breaking, probably, 6040 in favor of getting rid of Donald Trump. I do think it's a referendum on Trump. And that's why I just don't see it likely to happen. The, the election in 2016 was a referendum on Democrats, on traditional Washington, on Hillary Clinton. And she won the popular vote but she was also seen as the incumbent. And now we have an incumbent who has failed on the biggest challenge of the last decade, which is the pandemic. My mother who's 85 and lives in Wisconsin and is surrounded by likely Trump voters.

A lot of those likely Trump voters might just be wishing well for Donald Trump, but they're not going to be voting for Donald Trump. I don't think they're going to turn out. And in the places where we actually have good data, like older voters in Florida and the fact that Donald Trump has flipped that and that they've, that he's lost the older voters. This is a referendum on Donald Trump and I just don't believe or trust the polling nearly as much as Nate Silver does. And it's great that Nate Silver now no longer puts a point prediction at the top of his page. You have to go down and figure out that you're looking at 22%.

But he's still too tied to the polls and doesn't have a good turnout model. And I think the turnout model dramatically favors people enthusiastic to get rid of Trump and many Trump supporters feeling well, okay, we got what we wanted in the Supreme Court. And I'm just not going to go vote for him again but I'm sure as hell not going to vote for Joe Biden. I think, again it's a, a landslide. And it's a landslide that took us right up to one o'clock so I better be quiet.

Mari Megias:

Right. Well, thank you very much. Thank you, to everyone who called in to listen to this Wiener conference call. Apologies to those whose questions we did not get to. Special thanks to David King for sharing his knowledge with us today and our next call will be held on November 18th with David Gergen, who will deconstruct the elections. So thank you very much and have a great rest of the day.

David King:

Thank you.