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US Election 2020: How likely is Donald Trump to win?

Ellen Manning
·3-min read
US President Donald Trump speaking to the press
How likely is Donald Trump to win the US Presidential Election? (Reuters)

The clock is counting down to the US Presidential election on November 3 and despite much speculation, the one thing everyone can agree on is that it’s hard to predict what the result will be.

A combination of criticism around Donald Trump’s tax returns, the disastrous first Presidential debate and the President’s coronavirus diagnosis have all seen his opponent Joe Biden extend his lead in the polls.

Who is leading in the US election polls?

On October 4, national presidential polls put Trump at 42.5%, trailing to Biden’s 50.6%.

That’s slightly conservative compared to results from Saturday, October 3 from poll aggregators FiveThirtyEight who gave Biden a 51% chance of winning the election, with Trump trailing ten points at 41% - the greatest distance between the two in recent months.

In fact, Trump’s Democrat rival has been ahead of him in most national polls so far this year, sitting at around 50% recently.

Presidential election odds
Biden has maintained a lead over Trump in the polls for more of this year.

However, it’s not all bad news for Trump. His approval ratings are looking more positive.

In June 2020, the president’s disapproval ratings hit a high of 56.2% while his approval ratings sunk to 41.2%.

However, in October 2020 those ratings had pretty much reversed - with his approval ratings standing at 44.4% and his disapproval ratings at 53.5% on October 7.

Whose betting odds are best - Trump or Biden?

Another litmus test for who is likely to win the presidential election is usually the betting odds.

Following the presidential debate with Biden, things weren’t looking too good for Trump as his opponent became a bigger betting favourite, according to bookmakers including William Hill and the Betfair Exchange.

However, the announcement from the White House that Trump and the First Lady had both tested positive for COVID-19 saw UK bookmakers suspended odds on the 2020 US presidential election pending clarity on the US President’s health.

Do polls or odds help us work out who will win the presidential election?

If only it were that simple. As we’ve seen in countless elections in the US, the UK and elsewhere, polls don’t always tell the whole story.

In the US, who wins the election often comes down to certain states and the Electoral College system.

All 50 US states and Washington DC have a set number of “electors” in the Electoral College and that number is roughly proportionate to the size of each state. There are 538 electors – to win a majority and become president either candidate needs to get 270 electors, which is half the total plus one.

The number of electors per state is based on a state’s population so those with more people get more votes. For example, California – the largest state – gets 55 electors, while those with fewer populations like Wyoming get just three.

Are election polls accurate?

That means that even if someone is leading a national poll, they won’t necessarily win the election.

For example, in 2016 Hillary Clinton was leading the polls and won nearly 3 million more votes than Donald Trump but still lost.

Hillary Clinton during her 2016 election campaign
The polls put Hillary Clinton ahead of Donald Trump in 2016 but it didn't mean she won the election. (Reuters)

Most states tend to vote the same way, which means it often comes down to just a few to decide which candidate wins - the battleground states. That in turn means it’s important to look at the polls for those to get an idea of who is likely to win rather than only the national polls.

Polls in the battleground states haven’t been looking that great for Trump recently, with Biden leading in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin - three states his rival won by tiny margins in the 2016 victory to beat Hillary Clinton.

That said, anything could change over the next few weeks, so polls or otherwise - it’s impossible to say who will be the next US President.