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Who will win the next election?
Who would win the next election?

Are there any differences between those sentences? They both describe the future, so from what I learned, the difference would be the intensity of the sentences. But I'm not sure there is meaningful politeness gap about them as they are both questions.

Other things bug me also, such as the hypothetical usage of would. Doesn't that word 'Who' replace the role of would? I can't fit in the idea of hypothetical would into question sentences at all. Shouldn't they be both hypothetical regardless of the choice of will/would? Because nobody knows the future. I'm confused.

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    "Who" is a question word. Questions are not always hypothetical questions. Consider "Who is the president of the United States?" vs. "Who would be the president of the United States if the election was held tomorrow?" The first is a question of fact, the second is a question of what-if.
    – Andrew
    Jan 30, 2018 at 19:42

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Who will win the next election?

This question is asking the audience to make a prediction about the election under normal parameters -- the current candidates, playing field, poll numbers, etc.

Who would win the next election?

This question asks the audience to use their imagination a little. You could imagine this question continuing as Who would win the next election if one of the candidates couldn't run anymore?

The first question is asking about the world as it currently exists, just in the future, whereas the second question is about a hypothetical world in the future.

Compare What will happen? vs. What would happen if...

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