Predicting the outcome of the election is a fool’s errand — because of contingency
Originally posted: July 6, 2020
We are living through the contingent moment to end all contingent moments.
In early March, after a stunning turn of fortune, the presidential race seemed to crystallize. Either President Trump, whose approval ratings have always been low, would triumph due to the advantage of incumbency, a strong economy and an energized and devoted base of followers, or former vice president Joe Biden, who dominated Super Tuesday, would win as a kind of safe option for weary voters. Three months later, the election seems likely to be about the coronavirus pandemic and anti-racist uprisings — two huge events that were not on the political radar at the beginning of the year.
But this isn’t as unusual as it seems. We have long experienced how unforeseen circumstances and unexpected occurrences — contingency — can alter the course of history just as much as larger structural forces and human decision-making. Although after the fact we often revise our understandings to assign cause and effect, Americans have regularly lived through contingent events. Consider, for example, the 2016 election, when Trump benefited from lucky timing. READ MORE