Trump Will Probably Win a Second Term in 2020.

Everyone’s unhappy. Everyone’s ashamed.
We all just got caught looking at somebody else’s page.
Nothing every went quite exactly as we planned:
Our ideas held no water, but we used them like a dam Modest Mouse, 'Missed the Boat' (We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank)

In the lead-up to the 2016 election, Nate Silver offered Trump a 29% chance of taking the White House–and was widely disparaged for being far too generous to Trump!

Obviously, the Donald won. So what should we make of all the professional prognosticators who incessantly and near-unanimously assured us that it was impossible (or perhaps just ‘totally implausible’ if they were feeling charitable) that this outcome could come about?

Perhaps we should cut them some slack? After all, sometimes things happen that are legitimately improbable. Indeed, events such as these are often key drivers of history (which, arguably, makes them all the more important to “get right.” But that’s another matter). There’s a case to be made that Trump’s election was just this sort of phenomenon.

I don’t buy it.

Some Black Swans are events for which there was truly very little warning, or involve forces which are so complex and ill-understood that reliable prediction is impossible. Other Black Swans are merely events that are inconceivable given a certain set of assumptions, references or manners of thought. Trump’s election falls into this latter category.

Most analysts and pundits were absolutely convinced all the way until that last moment that Trump would not be able to win the Republican nomination. After he won the nomination, there was a lot of talk about lessons learned. However, almost immediately after Clinton secured her nomination it was depicted as virtually inevitable that she would win the general election—probably in a landslide (here, here, here for example).

Yet there was ample reason to believe things would go the other way. This is not an incident of hindsight bias: I realized early on that that Trump would likely not only win the Republican nomination, but the presidency as well. I predicted that he would beat Hillary Clinton explicitly, unequivocally and “on the record” for the first time in March 2016, and spent much of the remaining year urging Trump’s opposition to take his candidacy seriously and to better understand and respond to the factors driving his success.  In vain.

After Trump won the general election, yet again there were avowals of lessons learned. But already narratives are emerging that 2018 and 2020 will be bloodbaths for the president and his party (if he even lasts that long in office). Rather than succumbing to this sort of wishful thinking, I decided to look for strong indicators as to how the race might go.

Polling this early in Trump’s administration seemed unlikely to be predictive—especially as the polls themselves proved somewhat unreliable in the 2016 cycle overall (particularly at the state level). Statistically speaking, it seemed the best way to start was to look at the base-rate for reelection in U.S. presidential races.

Establishing an Anchor

Franklin Roosevelt was elected to four consecutive terms as president of the United States, serving from the Great Depression to World War II. Out of concern some future leader might hold and consolidate power indefinitely, the 22nd Amendment was passed, limiting subsequent officeholders to a maximum of two terms. Eleven presidents have been elected since then: Truman, Eisenhower, JFK, LBJ, Nixon, Carter, Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, Bush II and Obama.

Eight administrations won a renewed mandate: Truman, Eisenhower, JFK/LBJ, Nixon, Reagan, Clinton, Bush II and Obama. Three presidents in this period stood for reelection and lost: Ford (who served out the rest of Nixon’s 2nd term), Carter, and Bush I. That is, the base-rate for presidential reelections is 8:3. Prima facie, Trump would have a 72.7% chance of being reelected in 2020.

However, looking more closely at those who failed to win re-election, I realized that most were continuations of previous administrations: Ford followed after two terms of Nixon (and lost his bid to win a full term of his own). Bush I followed after two terms of Reagan (and was elected to one full term of his own). In the modern political era there was literally only one instance where there was a change of party in the White House that persisted for less than 8 years: the administration of Jimmy Carter from 1976-80.


Administration(s) Tenure Duration
Democrat FDR/ Truman 1933-53 20 years
Republican Eisenhower 1953-61 8 years
Democrat JFK/LBJ 1961-69 8 years
Republican Nixon/ Ford 1969-77 8 years
Democrat Carter 1977-81 4 years
Republican Reagan/ Bush I 1981-93 12 years
Democrat Clinton 1993-2001 8 years
Republican Bush II 2001-09 8 years
Democrat Obama 2009-17 8 years
Republican Trump 2017-Present TBD

Viewed in this way, the base-rate of reelection looks more like 8:1–meaning the ex ante likelihood of Trump winning reelection in 2020 would be about 88.8%.  

But of course, it is not a simple task to infer the outcome of particular cases from raw-odds like these (i.e. comparing the reelection prospects of an abstract incumbent to those of Trump specifically). Our initial estimate will serve as an anchor for analysis, and we will revise down (or up) from there based on what we can discern about Trump’s likely situation in 2020.

Next Step –>

7 thoughts on “Trump Will Probably Win a Second Term in 2020.

  1. awesome and very well written well thought out and unbiased article on 4 Reasons Trump Will Probably Win a Second Term in 2020

  2. Obamacare was not perfect. Trump care is much worse , especially for seniors. Obviously you have not seen the projected costs for seniors.
    That’s why all 35,000,000 ARP members are all for defending Obama care. Didn’t you know the older people are the ones who vote the most? Here we come!
    See ya! Reps of the Repressive party. Wouldn’t want to be ya!

    1. No bama care is a disaster. Companies are bailing out and premiums are outlandish. Costs are also high because too many democrats promoted hordes of illegal invaders to be here. That costs money.. Tons of it including health care! Trump will simply negotiate more and get it done. He has only been in for 6 months.

    2. Good to know that you polled those 35 million AARP members and they unanimously reported support for the Obama healthcare legislation. Try to be a more credible apologist.

      Also, have you considered that many seniors refuse to join AARP because it is so far left and blindly supports impractical, unaffordable, or liberty-restricting policies?

  3. Good article. No doubt President Trump wins again. He is doing great already tossing out illegal immigrant invaders, the economy is good as he added over 1 million jobs already. The wall is going up and he is cracking down on thug gang bangers. All things the treason democrat party refuses to do. He will not only win but win very easily. Trump is already the best president in a very long time.

  4. Just one disagreement with an otherwise we’ll written argument. I do believe while people may express hatred of Trump and may talk about how they disapprove of him, the fact is, they are talking about him. And they cant seem to stop because the media won’t stop either. Late night television for instance has no other subject to talk about but Trump. If he doesn’t win they’ll be like burnt out drunks. For that reason he’ll get re-elected. And there is no really good alternative which doesn’t make it easy to choose against him.

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