2020 Election: Cleaning Up Loose Ends

We’ve had more than a week to consider the election results and several things jump out:

1.It was a big win: The Biden-Harris campaign brought out a huge vote.  538’s Nate Silver estimates: “Extrapolating out from current vote totals, I project Biden winning the popular vote by 4.3 percentage points and getting 81.8 million votes to President Trump’s 74.9 million, with a turnout of around 160 million.”  To put this in perspective, no previous candidate has ever garnered more than 70 million votes.  (Biden’s win was the largest popular vote margin since Barack Obama defeated John McCain in 2009.)

Biden flipped the 2016 results and garnered 306 electoral votes.  This included the key Democratic objective of carrying the mid-West “blue Wall” states (Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin) along with Arizona and Georgia..

Trump joined the infamous “one-term” President club, alongside Herbert Hoover, Jimmy Carter, and George H.W. Bush.

2. Trump got a lot of votes: Biden brought out his voters.  But so did Trump.  In 2020, Trump got 12 million more votes than he did in 2016.  This turned the tide in several states.  For example, in 2016, Trump won Texas with 4.6 million votes; in 2020, Biden got 5.2 million Texas votes, but Trump prevailed because he increased his vote total to 5.8 million.

How did Trump increase his vote count?  Two explanations: First, in the last two weeks of the competition, Trump developed a compelling message.”Biden wants to shut down the economy, I want to open it up.” New York Times exit polls indicated that a significant percentage of Trump voters decided to vote for him in the last couple of weeks. The most important issue for Trump voters was the economy.  Exit polls indicated that Trump supporters strongly supported this position: “Rebuilding the economy now, even if it hurts efforts to contain the coronavirus.”  (Versus the position that Dems supported: “Containing the coronavirus now, even if it hurts the economy.’)

The second explanation: Republicans registered and mobilized 3 million new voters.  In 2016, the vote breakdown by Party was 36 percent Democratic, 33 percent Republican, and 31 percent Independent.  In 2020, the breakdown by Party was 37 percent Democratic, 35 percent Republican, and 28 percent Independent.  Republicans increased their voters by two percentage points and increased their voting loyalty by 5 percent (88 percent voted for Trump in 2016 versus 93 percent in 2020.)

The fact of 3 million newly registered Republican voters accounts for some of the election poll errors.  That is, the Trump voters who didn’t show up in the polls weren’t “shy” they were too new to show up in the polling data bases.  (In addition, pollsters probably underestimated the enthusiasm of Trump likely voters.)  In the New York Times (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/12/us/politics/election-polls-trump-biden.html?referringSource=articleShare ) David Leonhardt suggests another reason for the poll errors: “The most likely explanation remains an unwillingness among some Republican voters to answer surveys. This problem may have become more acute during Mr. Trump’s presidency, because he frequently told his supporters not to trust the media.”

3. The Coronavirus pandemic was a wedge issue.  Out here on the Left Coast, we thought that Trump’s mishandling of the pandemic would finish him off — lead to a ‘blue wave.”  It didn’t turn out that way; “Machiavelli Trump” managed to use the pandemic to further his objectives: first, he ignored the health issues and mounted a ferocious voter registration and get-out-the-vote effort.  (Democrats, sensibly, didn’t do this — for example, in most states, Dems didn’t go door-to-door as they usually do.) On election day, massive numbers of Trump supporters showed up, in person, at polling locations.  Democrats saved the day by virtual canvassing and generating 80 million votes, many of which were mail-in ballots.

The second way that Trump responded to the pandemic was to promote a false coronavirus narrative. During the last two weeks of the campaign, Trump’s core message was: “The Coronavirus pandemic is not serious enough to justify shutting down the economy.”  Of course, Trump had contracted COVID-19, been hospitalized, and recovered.  Trump flew around the U.S. with the message, “The Coronavirus is no big deal; see, I’ve recovered.”  (Trump’s implied message was that he was a real man, who confronted the Coronavirus without a mask; in contrast, Biden was a wimp.)

Trump’s closing theme held his base.  The most important issue for Trump voters was the economy (57 percent); in contrast, the most important issue for Biden voters was ‘Racial inequality” followed closely by “the coronavirus pandemic.”   Not surprisingly, Trump voters believed that Trump “would better handle the coronavirus pandemic” compared to Biden.

Most Trump voters believed the “U.S. efforts to contain the coronavirus pandemic” were going “very well” or “somewhat well.”  (Biden voters believed the opposite.)  Most Trump voters reported that the pandemic had caused them “a moderate financial hardship” or “no financial hardship at all.”  (Again, Biden voters reported the opposite.)  Most Trump voters consider wearing a mask “a personal choice” rather than a “public health responsibility.”

Regarding the coronavirus pandemic: there’s a chasm between Trump voters and Biden supporters.  This will likely have lasting consequences.

Trump’s closing message — “The Coronavirus pandemic is not serious enough to justify shutting down the economy” — was criminally irresponsible.  Trump flew around the country and hosted “super spreader” events.  He mobilized his base at the price of their health and safety.  Trump’s actions yielded short term results — his base turned out — but, in the long term, this will hurt the economy and the nation.  We are adding 135,000 new Coronavirus cases per day and are on track to add 5 million new cases by the end of 2020.

Trump waged a “scorched earth” campaign.  He placed his own interests above those of the American people, but his supporters did not see this.

Bottom line: Considering the circumstances, the Biden-Harris campaign did a remarkable job getting their voters to turn out.  Donald Trump plumbed new depths of immorality.  It’s very sobering to consider that more than 70 million Americans voted for Trump.

Joe Biden has pledged to be President for all Americans, regardless of who they voted for.  Godspeed, Joe.