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Hoover Institution's Chen on Presidential Election

Nov.03 -- Lanhee Chen, director of domestic policy studies at the Hoover Institution, discusses the U.S. presidential election. He speaks with Shery Ahn and Haidi Stroud-Watts on "Bloomberg Daybreak: Asia."

Video Transcript

HAIDI LUN STROUD-WATTS: Will Biden be able to live up to the polling that so far has been pretty consistent in putting him ahead in key battleground states?

LANHEE CHEN: It has been consistent. The Vice President has enjoyed a robust lead nationally. He's enjoyed a lead in several key swing states. I think the big question we're watching for this evening is whether, in fact, the President's strategy all along has been to turn out a lot of people on election day.

And the question really is, were the number of people he was able to turn on election day-- will the margin from election day-- be sufficient to offset what we believe are margins that went against him in the early vote in many of these states?

The Trump campaign's thesis all along has been that there are plenty of voters in these states like Pennsylvania, Arizona, Florida, to name three, there are plenty of election day voters out there, and the margin for the president will be such that they can overcome whatever lead Biden may have had. I think that is the crucial question that we're really not going to know until polls close and these ballots begin to be counted here in a few hours.

HAIDI LUN STROUD-WATTS: Already, though, more than 100 million ballots have been cast. What is early voting telling us right now about the demographics and potential support for either of the candidates?

LANHEE CHEN: Well, what we know for the most part from the early vote is that in states like Florida, like Pennsylvania, like Arizona, like Nevada-- which is another state that's been considered a relatively close state-- Democrats are outnumbering Republicans in terms of early votes cast. That is to be expected in this election cycle given, for example, the fact that many Democratic voters self-report a greater concern about voting in person because of COVID. That is a factor that we knew was going to be something coming into this.

So the fact that Democrats have an early vote lead should not be surprising. I think what we will discover when these ballots begin to be counted is just how large of a lead, first of all. And second of all, you know, there are a lot of voters in the US that don't affiliate with either party-- neither Democrat nor Republican. We don't have a great sense at all, actually-- no sense at all-- of where those independent voters are.

And so those dynamics are going to become clear once the counting begins, particularly in a state like Florida, where we know that Republicans, if you take into account both early vote as well as what we've seen so far today on election day, have a slight advantage. Will that slight advantage get washed out by whatever support, or lack thereof, Trump has amongst independent or non-partisan voters in Florida?

HAIDI LUN STROUD-WATTS: Lanhee, what kind of magnitude or shift would you want to see, or would you need to see, to give you some conviction of the result when the numbers start coming through from these key battlegrounds?

LANHEE CHEN: Well, Haidi, I think we really need to be looking at a pretty micro level within states. We need to be comparing margins, for example, in certain parts of certain states this time around versus in 2016. So I'll give you one concrete example. In the state of Florida, we're going to be watching a county called Sumter County very carefully. Sumter County is in the central part of Florida, and it's where one of the country's largest retirement communities is-- it's called The Villages.

And that is an area, traditionally, that has had very, very large Republican turnout and very significant support in 2016 for Donald Trump. We're going to be watching to see if the margins in that county exceed or lag behind what we saw in 2016. That will give us an indication of how President Trump is doing in Florida. It's not just about whether he's winning or losing. It's really about the margins in these counties.

Is Joe Biden doing better than expected, for example, in South Florida? Where we expect him to do quite well in Broward County, which is the area around Fort Lauderdale, Florida. These are the kinds of questions we're going to be asking as the evening begins to help us read which one of these candidates has an advantage.

HAIDI LUN STROUD-WATTS: And, Lanhee, of course we're also watching the Senate race which, just a couple of months ago, it was difficult to see the Democratic pathway to victory. Is it looking more likely now that we could see a Democratic victory in the White House, but also, more critically for policymaking, in the Senate?

LANHEE CHEN: It is. And you're right-- the Senate is crucial to policymaking. Whether Trump or Biden wins, the Senate is going to play a significant role. I do think we are seeing a higher likelihood of the Democrats taking the Senate at this point, but it's going to be very close. There are a number of races where Republicans have closed strong to put some pressure on Democrats where they thought maybe, potentially, they had things in the bag.

You look at the state of Iowa, for example. The Republican incumbent Senator there, Joni Ernst, has closed very well. You look at a state like Arizona-- another incumbent Republican, Martha McSally, is closing strong there. So the Senate is going to be worth keeping an eye on. I would suggest what happens in the Senate is going to be tied to what happens to President Trump. If Trump is unable to win in Arizona, for example, it's highly unlikely the Republican gets across the finish line there either. So the fates of the Republican Senate candidates and President Trump are very much tied together.