There was big movement towards Joe Biden in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania overnight - all states in the so-called
There was big movement towards Joe Biden in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania overnight - all states in the so-called "Rust Belt".

Why Trump’s big lead collapsed

If you went to bed at a sane hour last night, chances are Donald Trump still had large leads in three key swing states across America's "Rust Belt" - Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.

By the time you woke up, those leads had mostly evaporated.

At the time I'm writing this, Joe Biden has won both Michigan and Wisconsin.

And Mr Trump's advantage in Pennsylvania is down to fewer than 200,000 votes, with 12 per cent of the vote still to come.

 

 

How is that possible? Last night, the President was way ahead in all three states. Where did such a massive swing towards Mr Biden come from?

Mr Trump claims the rapid collapse in his lead was, and still is, due to foul play.

"Last night I was leading, often solidly, in many key states, in almost all instances Democrat-run and controlled. Then, one by one, they started to magically disappear as surprise ballot dumps were counted," he wrote on Twitter this morning.

"VERY STRANGE, and the 'pollsters' got it completely and historically wrong!"

It was one of several Trump tweets the social media platform slapped with warnings about potential election misinformation.

In truth, there is a far duller explanation here. The flow of results in these three states actually unfolded exactly as election experts predicted ahead of time.

To be clear, I'm not talking about whatever the final margin in each state ends up being. Plenty of pundits thought Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin wouldn't be this close.

I'm specifically talking about the pattern of the results, with the President surging to massive leads in the first few hours of counting and Mr Biden making a comeback in the early hours of the morning.

What you saw before heading to bed was the election night "mirage" we warned you about in September, and then again in the lead-up to polling day last week.

It all comes down to mail-in ballots, and how America's different states go about the task of counting them.

Remember, presidential elections in the United States are not run with one uniform, national set of rules. Each state essentially sets its own rules.

Why is that relevant here? Because some states allow election officials to count mail-in ballots well ahead of time, while others make them wait until election day.

Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin all fall into the latter category.

We knew heading in to the election that the mail vote would overwhelmingly favour Mr Biden, by about two-to-one. Conversely, the in-person vote on election day itself was always going to favour Mr Trump by a similarly wide margin.

 

 

We also knew that mail-in ballots take longer to process and count. Hence the delays you're seeing in the results - the surge in mail voting due to the coronavirus pandemic left officials with more ballots than they could get through in a few short hours.

So what happened? In states like the three we're talking about here, the election day vote got reported first. In other words, the first results you saw were disproportionately those cast on the day, and therefore, disproportionately favourable to Mr Trump.

This made the President's support appear stronger than it actually was. It was a "red mirage".

Then, gradually throughout the night, the mail vote trickled in, and with it, the batch of results disproportionately favourable to Mr Biden.

This was always going to happen. The only questions going in were, firstly, how big an initial lead Mr Trump could build, and secondly, whether Mr Biden would be able to catch up.

The answer was yes in Wisconsin and Michigan. In Pennsylvania, he might still fall short.

Forgive my crude photoshopping. From left to right, the states in question here are Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania.
Forgive my crude photoshopping. From left to right, the states in question here are Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

This phenomenon didn't just affect Mr Trump last night. We actually saw the exact opposite thing happen in states that did allow officials to count mail-in ballots ahead of time, the best examples being Florida and North Carolina.

Both states reported their mail votes first, and Mr Biden jumped out to a healthy early lead in each of them.

That was a "blue mirage". It made Mr Biden's support seem stronger than it really was. Then the election day vote came in, and Mr Trump quickly closed the gap.

You didn't see any Democrats, let alone Joe Biden himself, calling for the election day vote to not be counted just because it wasn't going his way.

So, to be clear once again, what happened last night (and continues to happen in Pennsylvania) is not some example of mass voter fraud. It's election officials slowly going through the process of counting every legally cast ballot.

There is nothing unusual about it. As things stand, the President is alleging foul play without any evidence to back it up.

Originally published as Why Trump's big lead collapsed


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