As is my habit, I wake in the very early hours on Friday morning to write this column. I routinely start with a blank screen, but rarely a blank mind. The “kernel” of the column is almost always decided and I begin to write. On this crisp morning, however, my screen started out blank and my original topic was promptly discarded. A new one arrived courtesy of Twitter, “Tonight, @FLOTUS and I tested positive for COVID-19.”
Every four years in October, focus inevitably turns to the race for the White House. Having managed money now through five other presidential elections over my career, clients often ask me to opine on the election’s outcome and its possible effects on the financial markets.
While I do my best to answer, admittedly my heart is never really into it. My relative disinterest reminds me of Warren Buffett’s quip that his brain has three boxes, “In”, “Out” and “Too Hard!” For me, elections land in the too hard pile. However, while this election is way too hard – on too many levels – it has my attention.
I’m a numbers guy and I’ve looked at the polling and have played with the electoral map. As things stand today, it is my belief that Trump will lose this election and perhaps in a landslide. This election is, in my view, a clear referendum on Trump. Things have not been looking good for him.
The number of pathways to a Trump victory is small. First, he must win Florida and Ohio. Neither is certain and both are critical. He also needs to avoid an upset in Texas, Georgia, North Carolina or Iowa. While he could theoretically withstand an Iowa defeat, it would likely point to bad outcomes elsewhere on the map. People in Iowa aren’t all that different from other people in the Midwest.
Now, if he gets through that gauntlet of six states, I think he has three possible roads to victory. One goes through Arizona, one through Pennsylvania and one through Michigan.
With Arizona, Trump can win it with either Michigan or Pennsylvania. If he loses Arizona, but happens to eke out a victory in Pennsylvania, he can win by adding either Michigan or Wisconsin. And, if he doesn’t win in either Arizona or Pennsylvania, but is able to pull off another slim victory in Michigan, he needs to also win Wisconsin. To be clear, across all three pathways, his margin of victory is small and his margin for error is tiny.
This is 2020, after all, so I must add that there are a couple of possible scenarios that end in a tie. The verdict is then left up to the newly-elected House; not by majority vote of the representatives, but by simply tallying one vote for each state’s delegation.
Do you know which party currently has a one-state majority in the House, but a clear minority of the House seats? And, what if this election cycle creates a deadlocked House vote? Say hello to President Pelosi. Things can always get crazier!
Jason P. Tank, CFA is both the owner of Front Street Wealth Management, a purely fee-only advisory firm and the founder of the Money Series, a non-profit program committed to providing open-access to financial education, for all. Contact him at (231) 947-3775, by email at Jason@FrontStreet.com and at www.FrontStreet.com