Brian Perry
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Brian has been actively involved in the financial markets for more than 20 years and has worked as a portfolio manager, strategist, and trader. At Pure Financial Advisors, Brian uses his extensive investment background and focus on behavioral finance to help clients navigate turbulent markets and stay on course towards their financial goals. Prior to [...]

Published On
September 24, 2020

Welcome to Decision 2020: Your Vote and Your Money. This special series will examine the outlook for November’s elections, the potential impacts on markets and taxes, and steps you can take now to election-proof your finances. Make sure to check back often so that you don’t miss any of this special series, in which we’ll cover topics including:

  • Who Will Win the Race for the White House?
  • Will the Next Congress be Red or Blue?
  • Do Elections Even Matter for Markets?
  • Would Joe Biden Raise Your Taxes?
  • Should You Defuse Your Tax Time Bomb?
  • Can You Build an Election-Proof Portfolio?

Part One:

Who Will Win the Race for the White House?

Well, in case you haven’t heard yet, there’s an election coming up. Democratic challenger Joe Biden will be running against incumbent President Donald Trump, and the two opponents have fiercely differing ideologies as well as opposing viewpoints on a variety of topics.

Concurrently, a large portion of Congress will be turning over, with all 435 House Districts up for grabs, as well as 35 Senate seats. The outcome of those Congressional elections, as well as the Presidential race, could have important economic and political ramifications, both in 2020 and beyond.

With that in mind, this article will examine the outlook for the 2020 Presidential race. Future installments will then discuss the race to control Congress, some of the potential impacts the election might have on the economy, markets, taxes, and potential strategies you can put in place now to insulate yourself from any adverse election outcomes.

But before we get to all that, we’ll start with the question everyone is asking: Who Will Win the Race for the White House?

The most important election of our lifetimes….again?

It seems like every four years a host of people tell me that “this is the most important election of our lifetime.” I’ll leave that ranking to political analysts and historians, and for our purposes, I will simply note that for whoever wins the White House, and whatever party holds power in Congress, the rather daunting “to do” list includes:

  • Identifying an effective COVID-19 vaccine and then efficiently distributing that vaccine as quickly as possible to as many people as possible to establish herd immunity against the disease.
  • Dealing with the fallout from the sharpest economic decline in many generations, guiding the economy through the pandemic, and facilitating an economic recovery.
  • Assisting individuals and families most affected by COVID, including those that have lost their businesses or their jobs and who might be sliding towards long-term unemployment at a time when the official count of the unemployed is more than 13 million1
  • Dealing with a $27 trillion national debt2. That’s trillion with a capital “T.” That number has exploded recently on the basis of the government’s efforts to moderate the economic fallout from COVID, but the debt has been increasing for years. Eventually, it will need to be brought under control.
  • Addressing economic and racial inequality in ways that help those disadvantaged without alienating others or disincentivizing high earners from working.
  • Establishing and maintaining a working relationship with China on economic, trade, and foreign policy matters. The historical track record shows that when a dominant country (the USA) and a rising power (China) compete for global hegemony, the result is usually war, but this can’t be the outcome in an era of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs.)
  • Finding ways to coexist and cooperate with other nations, whether allies (India, Europe, Japan) or adversaries (Iran, North Korea). Again, the need for international cooperation has never been greater than in the era of WMDs. Additionally, many of the challenges we face are global in nature and cannot be solved by a single nation (climate change for one example, or COVID-19 for more immediate concern.)

I could go on with this list, but the point is clear: America and the world faces a host of formidable challenges. If politicians and leaders can solve those challenges and take advantage of the opportunities inherent within every challenge, the country, and the world, will be a better place. So, let’s turn our attention now to exactly who might be tasked with meeting those challenges as the Leader of the Free World.

The next President of the United States…

In August, the Republican and Democratic Conventions met and nominated their candidates for President. While there are a host of other hopefuls running for smaller parties or on an independent ticket, in the U.S. the two-party system more or less guarantees that the eventual winner will be from one of the two main parties, at least for now. Let’s look at the two candidates, as well as their odds of winning in November.

The Challenger: Former Vice President Joe Biden is running for the Democratic Party. Biden is a long-time politician, having served in the United States Senate for the State of Delaware from 1973-2009. He then went on to serve as Vice President under Barrack Obama for two terms. He did not run for office in 2016 when Hillary Clinton secured the Democratic nomination but entered the 2020 race as one of the front runners. Despite some early struggles and an initial surge of strength form populist candidate Bernie Sanders, Biden eventually pulled away, becoming the Party’s presumptive nominee in the Spring of 2020. He was officially nominated as the Democratic candidate for President on August 18, 2020.

 

Here, from the Joe Biden website, are what he describes as his “Vision for America:”


We’ve got to rebuild the backbone of the country: The Middle Class.

The middle class isn’t a number — it’s a set of values. Owning your home. Sending your kids to college. Being able to save and get ahead. Across the country, too many families are being left behind. The next president needs to understand what the current one doesn’t: In America, no matter where you start in life, there should be no limit to what you can achieve.

We need to rebuild the middle class, and this time make sure everybody comes along — regardless of race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or disability.

We’ve got to demonstrate respected leadership on the world stage.

The world is facing inescapable challenges: a rapidly changing climate, the risk of nuclear conflict, trade wars, a rising China and an aggressive Russia, millions of refugees seeking shelter and security, and attacks on universal human rights and fundamental freedoms. The next president must repair our relationships with our allies and stand up to strongmen and thugs on the global stage to rally the world to meet these challenges. We can reclaim our longstanding position as the moral and economic leader of the world.

We’ve got to make sure our democracy includes everyone.

Our politics is broken and excludes too many Americans. Until we fix campaign finance, voting rights, and gerrymandering, it will continue to get more polarized, more ugly, and meaner.


 

The Incumbent: President Donald Trump spent decades as one of the world’s most well-known businessmen before running for office. With his penchant for self-promotion, Trump was close to a household name thanks to his eponymous buildings and hotels, not to mention his best-selling books. He then became a reality tv star with The Apprentice, and his trademark line “You’re Fired.” The 2016 campaign was his first, and despite widespread doubts about his viability as a candidate, as well as his alienation from much of the Republican Party’s establishment, Trump eventually secured the nomination. He faced further doubts in the general election, and the consensus was that Hillary Clinton would be elected President. But in November 2016, Trump pulled a shocker when he was elected as the 45th President of the United States of America. From the official White House website:


Donald J. Trump is the 45th President of the United States. He believes the United States has incredible potential and will go on to exceed even its remarkable achievements of the past. His campaign slogan for President was, “Make America Great Again,” and that is exactly what he is doing.


 

The Race as It Stands Now

In addition to hailing from different parties and having many opposing views, President Trump and Candidate Biden differ in one other, important way. As a long-tenured U.S. Senator and former Vice President, Biden is very much part of the Democratic Party establishment. President Trump, on the other hand, came to Republican politics as an outsider. And while the party has moved more in his direction the past four years, Trump remains something of a wildcard. His populist streak, as well as his off-the-cuff communication style, means that in some ways he is more of an unknown than Biden, even though Mr. Trump is the incumbent.

In 2016, Trump’s victory, while unexpected, was convincing. Again, from the White House website:

“On November 8, 2016, Mr. Trump was elected President in the largest Electoral College landslide for a Republican in 28 years. Mr. Trump won more than 2,600 counties nationwide, the most since President Ronald Reagan in 1984. And he received the votes of more than 62 million Americans, the most ever for a Republican candidate. These voters, in delivering a truly national victory and historic moment, rallied behind Mr. Trump’s commitment to rebuilding our country and disrupting the political status quo that had failed to deliver results.”

Given the political divisiveness gripping the country, as well as the uncertainty around COVID-19 and its accompanying economic slowdown, the outcome in 2020 is far from certain.

Here is an electoral vote map produced by CNN3. As a reminder, it takes 270 votes to win the election. As you can see, based on CNN’s current projections, Biden has more electoral votes in the “Solid Democrat” and “Leans Democrat” column than Trump does in the “Solid Republican” or “Leans Republican” columns. There are also approximately 100 electoral votes in “battleground” states.

These states include:

  • Pennsylvania
  • Ohio
  • North Carolina
  • Georgia
  • Florida

Source: CNN; https://www.cnn.com/election/2020/electoral-college-interactive-maps

A quick look at the electoral math indicates that Trump needs to win all the battleground states to be reelected. Alternatively, he would need to win over one of the “Leans Democrat” states. In other words, the path to victory is clearer for the Democratic candidate. It’s important to note though that this electoral math has been relatively consistent in recent years, which has not prevented Republican victories.

Here is another look at the electoral map, this time from The Economist4. This map shows each state, its electoral vote count, and the probability of each candidate winning that state.

Source: https://projects.economist.com/us-2020-forecast/president

According to The Economist, Biden is very likely to be elected as the next President of the United States. In fact, as of late September, they gave him greater than an 85% chance of victory.

Source: https://projects.economist.com/us-2020-forecast/president

 

In fact, Biden’s outlook has been steadily improving since spring, whereas Trumps fortunes have fallen.

This is true when the outcome is measured in projected electoral votes:

Source: https://projects.economist.com/us-2020-forecast/president

 

As well as when the forecast centers upon the probability of victory:

 

Source: https://projects.economist.com/us-2020-forecast/president

So, the bottom line is that as of early September, Biden is in the lead, and currently projected to win the election. But as 2016 demonstrated, anything is possible, and either candidate may be capable of pulling an election night surprise.

Here, according to Reuters5, are where the two candidates stand on some high-profile issues. Please note that I have restricted the focus here to issues most directly impacting the economy, financial markets, and financial planning. As such, a host of important topics have been excluded.

Blue = Biden

Red = Trump

Source: Reuters; https://graphics.reuters.com/USA-ELECTION/POLICY/ygdpzwarjvw/

As you can see, the candidates have widely divergent views on a host of important issues. But of course, it is important to keep in mind that there is a long track record of politicians taking a position during a campaign only to soften their stance once elected. Furthermore, control of Congress will also go a long way towards determining how much of their agenda President Trump or a President Biden is able to enact. So as is often the case, even once we know the outcome of the election, the only certainty will still be more uncertainty!

Conclusion

Although this article has explored the current outlook for November’s election, things can certainly change. In fact, this year’s election might be more uncertain than most, given that the COVID-19 pandemic and accompanying economic recovery are the two most important factors in determining the outcome – and both of those situations are evolving by the day!

In future installments of this special Decision 2020 Series, we’ll look at:

  • Will the Next Congress be Red or Blue?
  • Do Elections Even Matter for Markets?
  • Would Joe Biden Raise Your Taxes?
  • Should You Defuse Your Tax Time Bomb?
  • Can You Build an Election-Proof Portfolio?

Following those topics, we’ll lead into the election with a final question and answer segment. Then, once the outcome has been decided, this Series will conclude with a recap and summary of steps to take post-election.

That’s all for now, and remember to check back soon for Part Two of this special Decision 2020 Series, where we’ll attempt to answer the question:

Will the Next Congress be Red or Blue?

 

Notes:

1: (https://www.usdebtclock.org/)

2: (https://www.usdebtclock.org/)

3: https://www.cnn.com/election/2020/electoral-college-interactive-maps

4: https://projects.economist.com/us-2020-forecast/president

5: (https://graphics.reuters.com/USA-ELECTION/POLICY/ygdpzwarjvw/

*All projections and figures in this article are as of September 22, 2020, and are subject to change at any time

 

While content is derived from sources believed to be accurate, Pure Financial assumes no responsibility for statements made in this publication including, but not limited to, typographical errors or omissions, or statements regarding legal, tax, securities, and financial matters. This material may contain links to content that is available on third-party websites. Please note that Pure does not endorse these sites or the products and services you might find there. Opinions, estimates, forecasts, and statements of financial market trends that are based on current market conditions constitute our judgment and are subject to change without notice.