What Are ‘Blue Shift’, ‘Red Mirage’ & Why They Give Biden the Edge

Both the phenomena played out in crucial races in Wisconsin, Michigan and now in Pennsylvania and Georgia. 

4 min read
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The 2020 US presidential race is heading towards a near photo finish. In what has emerged as an IPL style humdinger, two peculiar electoral phenomenon have been visible.

US political pundits have referred to the ‘red mirage’ and the ‘blue shift’ in explaining the manner in which the election has unfolded.

Both phenomenon, characterised by the red colour of the Republican party and the blue of the Democrats, have been triggered by the fact that this election has witnessed a drastic increase in the number of mail-in ballots because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Here’s a look at what these two American phenomenon mean, how they have been manifest in this election and why it could provide an edge to Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.


Mail-In Ballots vs Election Day Voting

Both the phenomenon are based on an important assumption. Early votes, in the form of mail-in ballots and in person voting is heavily in favour of Biden and election day voting will be in favour of Donald Trump.

According a report by NBC, nearly 100 million voters have cast ballots in advance of Election Day, almost double the 57.2 million the US Election Assistance Commission estimates were cast early in 2016.

“And it's possible that between 150 million and 160 million voters will ultimately cast ballots this year, up from 137.1 million four years ago,” the report states.

While Democrats have rallied Americans to vote early and mail their ballots, Trump has actively discouraged his supporters from sending in ballots. In what has emerged as one of the biggest controversies of the elections, Trump has repeatedly claimed without evidence that there is large-scale fraud in the mail-in ballots.

Several media houses, Democrats and political commentators have pointed out that Trump’s insistence on mail vote rigging is an attempt to deligitimise their credibility as they will mostly be in favour of his opponent.


What is the ‘Red Mirage’?

The red mirage refers to a phenomenon, predominantly in the northern states, where the initial rounds of vote count reflect a sizeable lead for Trump and the Republican party. The word ‘mirage’ is an obvious indication that this is a deceptive occurrence that isn’t what it appears to be.

“In northern battlegrounds such as Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, officials are not permitted to begin processing mail ballots until the day of the election (or, in Michigan's case, the day before),” the NBC report explains.

Since elections day votes were counted first in these three states, Trump took an expected lead. In those states, a “red mirage” of Trump-heavy Election Day votes could linger until larger urban counties report huge tranches of early ballots later in the evening.

The red mirage, apart from being an electoral phenomenon, also serves a political role in this election. The former Obama administration housing secretary Julían Castro has described it as “insidious”, and recorded a public service announcement to voters this week:

“On election night, there’s a real possibility that the data will show Republicans leading early, before all the votes are counted. Then they can pretend something sinister is going on when the counts change in Democrats’ favor.”


What is the ‘Blue Shift’

The blue shift indicates the opposite of the red mirage. In states where the mail-in ballots are counted only after the election day, votes have been tallied, the numbers start heavily favouring Biden, thereby shifting from Republican red to democratic blue.

This is known as the blue shift, a phenomenon already predicted by many and one that has indeed come true.

What makes things complicated and messy is the fact that Trump was expected to stop this blue shift by either claiming victory early when the Red mirage would appear or he would declare the blue shift to be fraudulent.

On 24 October, Senator Bernie Sanders, who dropped out of the Democratic primaries, made this eerily accurate prediction. “But it could well be that, at 10 o'clock on election night, Trump is winning in Michigan, he’s winning in Pennsylvania, he’s winning in Wisconsin, and he gets on the television and he says, ‘Thank you Americans for re-electing me. It’s all over, have a good day.’”

“But then the next day, and the day following, all of those mail-in ballots start getting counted, and it turns out that Biden has won those states. And Trump says, ‘See? I told you the whole thing was fraudulent. I told you those mail-in ballots were crooked. And we’re not going to leave the office.’ So that is a worry that I and a lot of people have,” Sanders said.


How Have the Red Mirage & Blue Shift Played Out?

This is exactly what we saw unfold in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. Biden has managed to secure key triumphs in both Michigan and Wisconsin, taking his electoral college vote count to 253, while Trump hangs on at 214.

In both states, Trump initially led but Biden made spectacular comebacks to snatch the states. Wisconsin has 10 electoral college votes while Michigan gave him 16. Georgia has displayed an identical phenomena where mail ballots counting has brought Trump’s lead down to just 18,000 votes from over 30,000 votes on Thursday morning.

Pennsylvania has emerged as one the tighter races which is yet to be called. On Wednesday, as the results poured in, Trump had raced to a lead of over 7 lakh votes.

However, 24 hours later, that lead is down to 1.35 lakh with 13 percent of the votes, mostly mail in ballots from urban centres of the state, yet to be counted.

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Topics:  Arizona   Joe Biden   donald trump 

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