Forecasting the 2020 Presidential Election: Leading Economic Indicators, Polls, and the Vote

Forecasting the 2020 Presidential Election: Leading Economic Indicators, Polls, and the Vote

by Roberts S. Erikson and Christopher Wlezien

On election eve, the presidential vote can be seen fairly clearly from trial-heat polls. Earlier in the election year, polls offer less information about what will happen on Election Day, as they capture preferences to the moment and do not anticipate future changes. We know that the standing of the sitting president will be important and the economy too, but both can change as the election cycle unfolds.

Our solution to the problem of early forecasting has been to turn to The Conference Board’s index of leading economic indicators (LEI). The growth in LEI through the spring of the election year is a strong predictor of the vote, as it provides a summary of the state of the economy leading up to the election year and gives advance indication of changes during the election year. Our model also includes the incumbent party candidate’s share of the two-party vote in trial-heat polls, which can be measured at any time during the election year. These polls increasingly incorporate economic conditions and also other non-economic “fundamentals.”  Since before the conventions, our model has predicted 45% of the two-party vote for Trump and his current probability of winning is 4%.


The editorial team at PS: Political Science & Politics is pleased to release of the 2020 Presidential Election Forecasting symposium. This year, due to the amazing work done by Ruth Dassonneville and Charles Tien, we have 12 forecasts and three critical reviews. We hope teachers, journalists, and the general public will read, reflect, and comment.  For the latest updates, follow PS on Twitter.

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