Below are some observations in point form. I will have a bigger write up once everything is said and done, but below are preliminary thoughts. I will give more on policy implications later and also Trump’s refusal to concede and make transition smooth.
- Polls were off – Biden won as polls predicted, but Trump clearly outperformed polls. It appears in urban and suburban areas, Biden matched polls but in rural areas did much worse. Likewise in areas with higher number of college degree holders like Colorado, Virginia, and Minnesota polls were fairly accurate but in states with low rates of those with college degrees were way off, often outside margin of error such as Wisconsin. My guess is there was not a shy Trump vote, just those demographics were less likely to respond to pollsters at all thus missed.
- Higher turnout doesn’t always favor Democrats – It is generally said higher turnout should help Democrats as it means more millennials and more minorities are showing up, but this showed that isn’t necessarily true. It is true, those groups did show up in bigger numbers thus why Biden won, but also many rural whites without college degrees who normally don’t vote were energized by Trump and showed up. Lets remember Biden got highest number of raw votes of any presidential candidate, but Trump 2020 was the second highest. So we so both sides bring out people who don’t normally vote.
- Biden got swings he needed amongst whites, but fell short amongst minorities. While Trump won white vote as expected, Biden according to exit polls, and raw data seems to back this, got similar levels of support amongst whites as Obama in 2008. Asian-Americans swung towards Biden while African-Americans Trump did slightly better but with much higher turnout, that was largely a plus for Biden. However, amongst Hispanics, Biden did worse than Clinton. Yes asides Cuban-American community, he won them, but his poorer than expected showing amongst them probably cost him Florida and made Texas less close than many of us thought it would be.
- This was a victory for centre and clear rebuke of left. Many Sanders supporters go on false claim that you need to run an unabashed progressive to excite non-voters to win. This throws cold water on this as Biden outperformed Democrats down ballot suggesting many moderate Republicans wanted Trump gone, but didn’t want your AOC’s, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren’s driving the agenda so split ticket.
- Shrinking centre still matters. Yes most Americans are firmly planted on either the right or left and yes types like Lincoln Project are only around 2% of the American population. But that 2% made a crucial difference and had Biden not won over some traditional Republicans repulsed by Trump, he wouldn’t be president elect today. Reality is right and left are both large, but neither is a majority and the small percentage firmly in the middle are the group who decides who forms government and who doesn’t.
- Suburbs delivered big time for Biden. Biden won suburbs by 10 points and that is where most Americans live. In past suburbs have been bellwethers, but it appears this time Biden outperformed in them. Suburbs are still moderate, but Trump’s behavior and attitude was too much and thus they swing away and even some traditional Republican ones voted for Biden including in red states
- Turnout not gained votes helped in urban areas. With Democrats already winning big in urban areas, focus was more on increasing turnout, not increasing vote share and that is what happened.
- Rural areas saved Trump and made election a lot closer than most of us thought. Biden may be president, but he only won 17% of counties (Obama 2012 was 22%, 28% in 2008). Even Mondale in 1984 and Dukakis in 1988 won more rural counties than Biden did. Only areas in Rural America still voting Democrat are counties where tourism is dominant industry, minority-majority counties, New England, have a community college, or most of population commutes into city for work. All the rest not only went for Trump, many were absolute blowouts. In Indiana and Missouri which were super close in 2008, Biden outperformed Obama in the largest metro areas, but did almost 20% worse in rural areas thus why neither state competitive. Most Americans may not live in rural areas, but it is a number’s game and if you run up the margins there, you can make it still very competitive.
- Biden won by gaining third party votes, not Trump 2016 voters. In fact in most states, Trump got a higher share of popular vote than he did in 2016, but third party vote fell quite a bit and most of it broke for Biden. Which kind of makes sense as I think a lot of Never Trump Republicans voted for Johnson in 2016 as weren’t ready to vote Democrat then, but by 2020 crossed over.
- Electoral college is what saves GOP. Democrats won by at least 4 points and maybe as high as 6 points when all ballots counted, but if Trump won all the states Biden won by less than 1% he would be president. In fact Michigan was the only Trump state from 2016 where Biden won by more than 1% although he might in Pennsylvania depending on how final ballots break. On popular vote front, Democrats have now won 7 of the 8 elections in past 30 years so electoral college is one thing keeping GOP competitive. Without it they would have to change to win.
Now looking into states that were seen as competitive here are some thoughts:
- Colorado and Virginia are now solid blue. Quite amazing the transition as were solid red under Bush, swing under Obama, but now solid blue. It may be why some Democrats got their hopes a bit too high in Sun Belt as assumed other states would swing as quickly but have not
- GOP seems stuck at 45% in Minnesota as they have gotten around that in last four elections. As such it seems GOP needs strong third party to win in near future. More importantly, while rural Minnesota has swung hard towards GOP, Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area has swung heavily towards Democrats and the two more or less cancelling out each other.
- Blue Wall states are super close and Obama’s comfortable wins there were anomalies. Whether it be 2000, 2004, 2016 and now 2020, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin were all decided by very slim margins. In 2000, 2004 and 2020 it broke for Democrats while in 2016 for Republicans, but its clear these are still key battlegrounds. In fact in Wisconsin, in 4 of the 6 elections this century, the margin between two parties was under 1%
- Sun belt strategy partially paid off with likely narrow wins in Arizona and Georgia however with closeness in Rust Belt and Sun Belt, it shows Democrats need both, not one or another as too easy to fall below in one.
- North Carolina swung hard to Democrats in 2008, but is now stuck in neutral unlike neighboring Virginia so seems it is a true toss up and likely to remain that way
- Florida is still winnable, but in every election since 2000 has voted to right of country so Democrats can still win it, but it is not a tipping point state and if Democrats are winning it, they are already over 270.
- Texas is still trending blue and Democrats will likely flip it someday, but it is not there yet. I always thought Texas was still a few cycles away from flipping. However Democrats should like Trend, GOP +16 in 2012, +9 in 2016, and +6 in 2020. With US being so polarized, expecting it to flip this soon was probably a bridge too far.
- Iowa and Ohio are no longer battlegrounds and likely going the way Missouri is. That is once bellwethers, now solid red. Yes Democrats will still have strong second place showings, but winning those may be a bridge too far. Some thought in 2016 it was due to Clinton being a bad candidate for those states, but midterms and 2020 re-enforce swing in 2016 was not a one off, but a long term trend.
6 thoughts on “Thoughts on US election”
I agree with all your assessments. Regarding the House, another factor that resulted in some GOP gains were that, in suburban-rural split districts, the rural component came out a lot more for Trump and that added enough votes for the Republican candidate to win.
I think North Carolina is going to be the ultimate swing state of the 2020s. It is turning bluer in the big cities, the deep-red rural areas are basically maxed out, BUT the majority-black areas in the eastern part actually trended towards Trump likely saving him in the state (the same almost happened in Georgia, but Atlanta overpowered them). There’s probably more votes to be turned in those areas, which could cancel out growth in the Triangle, Triad and Charlotte. Expect 2024 to be extremely close there too.
Agreed that Ohio and Iowa are red states now, at least medium-red that would only go blue in a landslide. Portman and Grassley have Senate races in 2022 in those states – and DeWine and Reynolds have Governor races in 2022 as well – and they all should start as solid favourites. DeSantis is very polarizing in Florida, but he should start at least as Leaning R, while Rubio should be in good shape there.
The big Senate races in 2022 are open seats in North Carolina and Pennsylvania (both GOP held now) as well as Ron Johnson in Wisconsin. All should be tossups right now. On the Democratic side, all of them should start as favourites, although the most likely to be vulnerable are Mark Kelly going for a full term in Arizona as well as Catherine Cortez-Masto in Nevada and Maggie Hassan in New Hampshire. Regardless of who wins the Georgia special runoff, that seat will be a dogfight too.
I think North Carolina already is a swing state, after all Obama won it in 2008 and its been close in every election since. I think bigger problem there is while Research Triangle solid blue, Charlotte suburbs are still red even though Mecklenburg County solid blue. I’ve found suburbs of smaller cities tend to be more favorable to GOP than larger ones and Atlanta is a much larger metro area than Charlotte. Virginia has the DC suburbs which are a whole different ball game thus why North Carolina hasn’t swung with it. Never mind amongst whites, percentage with college degree is above national average in Virginia but below in North Carolina while both have similar size African-American community, but white community in Virginia votes Democrat about 10 points more than in North Carolina. Although whites in Georgia went more GOP than North Carolina, but Georgia has a bigger African-American community. In addition you can thank Stacey Abrams for flipping state as under her Democrats built a really strong ground organization.
As for senate in 2022, it will depend on turnout and organization. Hopefully Democrats learned from drubbings in 2010 and 2014 they need to be organized and turnout in all elections not just presidential. If they have a strong turnout in 2022, then maybe they can make gains, but if a weak turnout like 2014, I think GOP sweeps all swing states. By same token Trump even if no longer president will play a big role as base is loyal to him so no doubt every candidate will want his endorsement. As get his endorsement, help bring out the base, anger him then base won’t show up and risk losing. Party is almost a cult so reason no GOP are criticizing him is they know he has base locked up and he can deliver them, but if not supported by him, won’t deliver.
Only in states where Trump is really unpopular like Maine do GOP members distance themselves. New England GOP are sort of like Atlantic Canadian Tories. Still moderate like party used to be and haven’t swung hard right like rest of party (note our Tories are not hard right like GOP is, but Tories west of Atlantic Canada are more conservative than they are there) so much like in Canada, people will vote GOP down ballot there but not at top. Utah is other with Mitt Romney, but Utah is an exception. Very conservative thus won’t go Democrat, but Mormons dislike Trump so works in Romney’s favor.
I have to think that unless Dems get more state legislatures, the decline in American democracy through state driven voter suppression will continue, no matter who is President. All the same, the world is largely rejoicing like us to see Trump on the way out of office, if not out completely out of our psyches and our lives….
Yes that is a problem, but there actually is another solution to this: ballot initiative to have redistricting down by an independent commission. In Michigan, voters in 2018 voted in favor of this so legislature can no longer gerrymander so grassroots needs to try and get those on more ballots. That solution puts an end to it permanently not just a temporary reprieve. It seems that in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Virginia and North Carolina, you at least have a Democrat governor so he will likely veto any gerrymandered map. But in Arizona, Texas, Ohio, Georgia, and Florida still an issue. However in Georgia, Atlanta suburbs and also Dallas suburbs in Texas are growing so rapidly and swinging hard enough that places that were solid GOP a decade ago aren’t anymore. Another one is Nebraska will probably gerrymander their 2nd district as they along with Maine split electoral votes with 2 for winning state and one for each congressional district. Trump took 4 of 5 Nebraska electoral votes while Biden took 3 of 4 for Maine as other each took one district. Nebraska 2nd is Omaha metro area and as you know metro areas even in red states tend to go Democrat. My guess is GOP splits this in half and combines with rural areas to ensure that doesn’t happen in 2024. If they do this, Maine, which Democrats control should reciprocate by abolishing split electoral votes so in that case Democrats even as they will win all four instead of just 3 of 4 there.
“Rural areas saved Trump and made election a lot closer than most of us thought. Biden may be president, but he only won 17% of counties (Obama 2012 was 22%, 28% in 2008).”
I roll my eyes at gerrymandering comments with statistics like this. Draw maps that aren’t gerrymanders when Democrats perform so poorly in not gerrymandered subunits because the lines were drawn more than 100 or 200 years ago. Democrats’ problem is their votes are all concentrated in a few places. In Indiana where I live, Hillary Clinton won 4 counties out of 92 in the state: Indianapolis, Lake County by Chicago (which is trending Republican, their Congressman nominee who is a joke had his strongest performance in the 8th time he’s ran for that congressional district and lost cracking above 40%), and 2 counties with universities in them. The effect of Biden appears to have increased counties won from 4 to 5. They ran their most left-wing candidate ever for governor who had their worst performance ever at 32%, and he actually finished 3rd behind the Libertarian nominee in 33 of the 92 counties. The Democratic Party is not just behind the Republicans here, they are dead. And if you want someone to challenge them for majority party status or just keep them honest, it has to come from a different political party because national Democrats are not changing anytime soon and the nationalization of politics at the local level has absolutely killed them in these areas.
Indiana is interesting as Hamilton County was fairly close and Biden outperformed Obama in 2008 there. But in much of the rural and smaller urban centers in state, you are bang on. Perry County went for Obama with over 60% in 2008, but this time Trump got over 60%. I also agree running a hardcore leftist was dumb. Biden still got 41% in state, a full 9 points higher so that says to me Democrats can stay in the center and yes win, but it will still be a dogfight. But swing hard left and lose. Things like defunding police, abolishing private insurance, abolishing ICE, open borders, radically expanding size of government, your woke SJW stuff and raising taxes on rich to ultra high levels just doesn’t sell in most of America. Fact it may be popular where I live in Canada is irrelevant as US is not Canada. And fact it sells well in large liberal coastal cities also irrelevant. Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Boston, New York city, and Washington are not all of America so just as ideas popular in rural middle America are too right wing for most of US, ideas popular in those cities are too left wing for most of US.
I think Obama’s win in Indiana in 2008 was a fluke and don’t see it happening anytime soon. Even Ohio I think is gone for next few cycles. Ohio may be winnable in a decade or two if Columbus and Cincinnati areas grow a lot more and suburbs swing even more Democrat thus enough to cancel out weaknesses elsewhere, but that is still a few cycles away. Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania are still in play but are swing states, not blue like it seemed under Obama. Neighboring Illinois only votes solidly blue due to fact 2/3 live in Chicago metro area. Biden won Collar counties by pretty solid margins and those as recently as 2004 used to go GOP. But downstate Illinois went massively GOP, even in traditional Democrat counties. If you took Chicago metro area out, Illinois would be just as red as Indiana so it seems for Democrats to win, you need a large metro area in the state. Indianapolis is a decent size one but not big enough to outvote rest of state.