US Election 2020: Why 1948 Truman-Style Win is Unlikely for Donald Trump

Political observers have been cautious about Joe Biden's win citing Thomas E Dewey's surprise defeat to Harry Truman in 1948. But, can Trump pull off a Truman-style win in 2020?

Polling stations opened up on early Tuesday across the U.S. as Americans lined up to vote for their preferred candidate in one of the crucial elections in the largely polarized country. After the polls, it will be a few days till Americans know for sure who their next president will be — owning to the surge in mail-in ballots due to Covid-19 pandemic.

While Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden told President Donald Trump to "pack up" his bags and "go home," the Republican predicted a "great win" as he sought a second term at the White House. Nationals polls showed Biden in the lead, but, they don't accurately reflect the finals results — cue Hillary Clinton in 2016.

However, political observers have been cautious about the Democrat's win citing Thomas E Dewey's surprise defeat to Harry Truman in 1948. Can Trump pull off a Truman-style win in 2020? The answer is unlikely and here's why.

Poll Prediction Has Changed Greatly Since 1948

Methodology to predict poll outcome changed radically since 1948, when there were only three national pollsters. They used the basic methodology of quota sampling that had several flaws that affected the outcome of the poll prediction.

While one may argue that pollsters were proved wrong in 2016, one has to note that the polls correctly predicted that Clinton would lead in popular votes, which she did. She infamously lost in electoral votes to Trump, who has nearly 3 million fewer votes than his Democratic rival at the time.

US Election 2020
Representational picture Flickr/Jernej Furman

Factions Within Democratic Party Helped Truman's Win

The 1948 election was marred by division among Democrats —the Progressive Party under former vice-president Henry Wallace and the States' Rights Democrats under South Carolina Governor Strom Thurmond.

While the Truman campaign concentrated on chewing-off Wallace's support through appeals to labor and civil-rights constituencies, it did not pay heed to Thurmond hoping that his regional appeal would ease the damage to Truman. Those initially supporting Wallace and Thurmond went to Truman, thus playing a role in his surprise victory.

In Trump's case, he has strong support among Republicans. Ex-Republicans have been vocal critics of the president and some of them founded a political action committee The Lincoln Project that aims to prevent Trump from being re-elected.

Thomas Dewey's Overconfidence

The U.S. presidential election in 1948 was held when the country reeled from World War II. It was expected at the time that Americans would want "normalcy" just like they did after World War I, which resulted in Republicans' win. These factors led Dewey to overestimate that he would naturally win the 1948 election, whereas Truman out-campaigned his Republican rival.

Democrats in 2016 rallied on the popularity of Barack Obama for then-presidential nominee Clinton. However, Clinton's election bid was haunted by the ghost of the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal and complete demonisation by Trump during his campaign leading to her defeat. Since then, Democrats have not been overconfident and Biden has been able to carve himself out as a welcoming figure.

Thomas E Dewey
Thomas E. Dewey (right) is pictured with Thomas J. Curran, Manhattan GOP leader in this undated photo from 1948. Wikimedia Commons

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