Don’t Discount Donny: Remembering the 1948 Election

Gabriel Coffey

In 1948, on the morning of the presidential election, the Chicago Daily Tribune purported in bold lettering, “Dewey Defeats Truman.” Harry S. Truman had turned in early on election night, NBC having reported that Dewey would win, and slept until four when he was woken by a secret service agent. He had won. Having gone to bed in shambles, he woke up the winner of the 1948 presidential election. 2020 could prove to be a reiteration of that infamous night. 

Currently, former vice president Joe Biden leads in the polls. The Economist currently predicts that Biden has a 92% chance of victory. Yet, this leaves 8% of cases where President Donald Trump wins. And one must remember, Trump was in a similar spot two weeks before the 2016 election. That outcome speaks for itself. 

If Trump is to win he will have to carry his home state of Florida, and states he won in 2016, including Arizona, Georgia, Iowa, North Carolina, and Texas. He will then have to win Pennsylvania and either Michigan or Wisconsin. The only way this will happen is if undecided voters, much like in 2016, decide to side with Trump.

This is unlikely, given that in 2016 “undecided” voters made up 14% of voters, compared with 6% today. Thus, what will matter is whether or not Trump’s base turns out, and whether or not Republican’s mass registration effort pans out for them. And if Trump’s base does turn out as their record registration suggests, they will do so in person.

Thus, on election night, watch with a critical eye. When Florida’s results inevitably come out before those of Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, remember that said result represents both mail in and in-person voting, as Florida has early vote counting. In that sense, Florida will be one of the few results that actually “matter” on election night. With Trump adopting Florida as his home, look for a tight race that will rely on Democrats mobilizing the Cuban vote in and around Miami. Yet, it is unlikely that Biden will win their support, as Trump has consistently garnered Cuban support, painting Biden as a Castro type socialist. If this assumption proves correct, then the entirety of the election will rely on mail in ballots in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. That proves worrisome.

Trump has not explicitly said he will accept the results of the election. Thus, if he appears to be winning in the critical states mentioned above, then he might prematurely declare himself the victor. This could lead to a Supreme Court battle, which appears independent from Trump’s guise, but in the event that it happens, could threaten the institution of the electoral college for years to come.  

With Trump urging supporters to vote in person on the grounds that mail-in voting is fraudulent, expect to see an early lead in the states he needs desperately to win (Wisconsin and Pennsylvania). The reason being that in these states ballots can’t be counted until election day. Yet, the Supreme Court ruled that ballots in Pennsylvania can be counted if received up to three days after the election. Nonetheless, they can’t be counted before the election. This makes it likely that Trump will lead on election day, and flounder in the tizzy that will be the following days in the key states of Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Much like Truman, Biden could go to bed vanquished and wake up the victor.