By Chris Adams
Charlie Cook has spent an illustrious career understanding the U.S. political system.
The election of 2016 showed him everybody has the capacity to learn even more.
“You spend your entire adult life studying something – and then everything works the opposite of the way it’s supposed to,” Cook (bio, Twitter) said. It was, he offered, like the first time you travel south of the equator and the toilets flush in the opposite direction.
In a session with National Press Foundation Paul Miller fellows, Cook – one of the most-respected political pundits in the field – gave his assessment of what’s coming up in 2020, and how things are different than they were in 2016.
He first dispensed with “this urban legend” that polls were all wrong in 2016. They weren’t. The national polls got it pretty close ,but presidential elections are decided state-by-state. Some of the state polls were weaker, and that’s where the problems came in.
So the mood of the electorate is knowable. And what it shows is that in 2020, the race between President Donald Trump and a Democrat to be named later will be tight.
“Look, this is going to be a close election. It is,” he said. “The Electoral College will be really, really close.”
Among the differences in 2020: a hyper focus on “electability” among Democrats, an incumbent who has been underwater in nearly every poll his entire presidency, and a very engaged electorate.
“If we don’t hit a record for voter participation, we’ll come close,” Cook said.
The economy is strong, with unemployment at a 50-year low. But the electorate isn’t as moved by that as it normally is.
Put all those factors in the blender and what does Cook think, in December 2019?
“I think the president does have a path to 270 votes, and it is wider than it was in 2016,” he said. “But does it give him a 50-50 shot?” Probably not: Trump’s path is wider than 30%, Cook said, but not as wide as 50%.