As several of my loyal readers pointed out, my “final” Election Tuesdays blog post was labelled “Part I.” That’s because we all knew that the story of the 2020 election was not over on November 3rd. Well before Election Day, President Trump and his allies made it clear that, in the event of a loss, they intended to rely on the court system to overturn the results. That threat was carried out, and it had serious consequences. In order to truly complete this blog series, here is a summary of what went down since my last post.
Election Night was a rollercoaster for both parties. As I noted in Part I, Florida was considered an early bellwether for the rest of the night. If Joe Biden had won it, Trump’s chances would have dropped to nearly zero. But we were not so lucky to enjoy that short narrative. Florida was one of the only significant polling misses throughout the night, mostly due to Cuban Americans shifting towards Trump. This heightened Democrats’ pessimism for the rest of the night, and Republicans’ optimism. Trump also performed well in Texas, Iowa, and ohio, dashing any hopes for a Biden landslide. Biden’s chances got a boost from Arizona and Nevada. Ironically, Fox News was one of the only networks to call Arizona for Biden on Election Night, a decision which proved crucial to preventing Trump from declaring a premature victory. As predicted, the night ended with several states still considered to be toss-ups. North Carolina seemed safely red, while Wisconsin and Michigan leaned blue. The two biggest unknowns were Georgia and Pennsylvania. Urban and mail-in ballots trickled in, making early Trump leads in these states uncertain.
The remaining ballots took days to tally. Trump allies took advantage of the situation by demanding an end to the count (while their candidate was in the lead). They stood by their argument that the large number of mail-in ballots was evidence of election fraud. In reality, the outcome had been entirely predictable. While urban and mail-in ballots normally leaned blue, this effect was magnified by Covid, allowing for large gains by Biden late in the process. In Pennsylvania, specifically, local Republican lawmakers caused an intentional delay by refusing to allow for counting to begin early. After several days of anxiety, the race was called by most major news outlets on Saturday, November 7th.
Joe Biden won! He will be America’s 46th president. The final electoral score was 306-232 (similar to Trump’s 304-227 spread in 2016). With over 81 million votes, Biden earned the highest popular vote total of all time. Turnout was extremely high on both sides. Trump had the second most votes ever, with 74 million (pushing Obama ’08 to third, with 69.5 million). Biden won 51.3% of the vote, to Trump’s 46.9%. It was the second largest percentage-point spread of the Twenty-First Century, only behind Obama’s 7.3% in 2008. Republicans have lost the popular vote in seven of the last eight presidential elections (the exception being George W. Bush in 2004). Unlike 2016, there was very little third party support.
At 78 years-old on Inauguration Day, Biden overtakes Trump as the oldest president to take office. In fact, he’ll even be older than Reagan was at the end of his term. He is America’s second Catholic president, following John F. Kennedy. Along with Chief Justice John Roberts and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Catholics will lead 2.5 branches of government. Trump is the first one-term president since George HW Bush, breaking a rare streak of three two-term presidents. Kamala Harris will be the first woman to serve as vice president, as well as the first person of African or Asian descent.
Before the election, FiveThirtyEight gave Biden a 90% chance of winning. They explained that, while Biden wasn’t the guaranteed winner, he could withstand a 2016-sized polling error. That turned out to be a pretty good summary! Biden failed to make the gains he hoped for in the suburban regions of Florida and ohio. Surprisingly, Trump actually made up ground with minority groups, specifically Latinos in Florida and Southern Texas. But, in the end, Biden’s 306 electoral votes was a sizable victory. If Democrats had known the results early, and avoided the drawn-out counting process, they would have undoubtably been satisfied. Biden benefitted the most from urbanization in the Sun Belt, renewed Democratic strength in the Rust Belt, and urban turnout in swing states.
Despite Biden’s presidential victory, Republicans performed well in local races. These included some of the biggest polling errors of the night. Their domination of state-level positions gives them a chance to gerrymander in the redistricting process following the 2020 census. Democrats actually lost seats in the House, though they kept control of the chamber. The Senate was more concerning. Democrats seemed to be in a position to take control, but at the end of Election Week, the total was 50 Republicans and 48 Democrats — the deciding races being two run-offs in Georgia. Biden’s ability to govern effectively was at stake.
The Last 2.5 Months
Surprisingly, Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff went on to win those Senate run-offs in Georgia by comfortable margins. Many observers had assumed that the Republican candidates would benefit from a mini-midterms effect (in which the opposition party to the president usually performs better). With a 50-50 party split in the Senate, Vice President Kamala Harris will be the deciding vote. Notably, Warnock and Ossoff are not “Blue-Dog” moderate Democrats, as are typically required to win elections in the South.
For once it seemed like Donald Trump — now consumed with allegations of election fraud — was a curse on the Republican Party, rather than a blessing. The President and his allies continued to fight against the certification of the election results. They kept their promise to use the court system to their advantage. Unfortunately for them, the courts repeatedly affirmed the validity of the election. In every state, the results were eventually certified — with bipartisan support in swing states! Of course, the dangerous and anti-Democratic rhetoric of Trump and several Republicans incited the Capitol riot on January 6th. Five people died, including one police officer. President Trump was subsequently impeached by the House for the second time, with ten Republican members crossing the aisle.
Although the election (and ensuing coup attempt) dominated most news cycles, the Covid crisis worsened dramatically in Trump’s final months. As state governments of both parties stumble with vaccine rollout, they now find themselves in a race against the clock as cases spike yet again. Trump, and the federal government, appear to have lost interest in the issue. As I write this, the death toll in the US has now passed 400,000.
What Did It Say About America?
For almost all presidential elections in recent memory, voters have clamored for the “outsider” candidate. In 2020, they asked for a return to normal. Joe Biden enters the office with the most Washington experience of any president since Lyndon Johnson. While part of me believes that any candidate could have beaten Donald Trump (his approval numbers barely moved throughout 2020), his mismanagement of the Covid crisis played into Biden’s strengths. 81 million voters saw that America needs a president who can simply run the government. In fact, Biden’s Covid plan is incredibly basic, and essentially encompasses all of the baseline responses one would expect from the federal government.
The polls were basically right. Trump’s gains were within the margin of error, and predictable by historical standards. The problem going forward, however, is that it’s not clear exactly how pollsters can improve their methods. Major changes had already been implemented to prevent another 2016-sized miss. Many analysts even guessed that the polls were too cautious towards Biden. The inherent distrust of media by conservatives (specifically Trump supporters) clearly bleeds into their ability to be polled accurately. So far, it’s unclear if this is a uniquely Trump-related problem, or if it is the new normal. That said, polls proved to be incredibly accurate in the Georgia run-off elections.
Trump’s loss, plus the Georgia run-offs, might finally prove to the Republican establishment that Trump-ism isn’t the best way forward. This realization likely played a crucial role in the hours and days following the Capitol riot, when many prominent Republican leaders disavowed the President. If they thought they could still benefit from Trump electorally, they surely would have avoided clear condemnation. Going forward, it seems like the divisions in the Republican Party are much worse than they were for the Democrats after 2016. That said, they will still enjoy the benefits of the electoral college, the Senate, and gerrymandering. They also have a chance to improve on Trump’s gains with Latino voters, potentially proving that America’s changing demographics don’t guarantee future success for Democrats.
Was It The Right Decision?
Yes! In my 2016 post, I explained that Donald Trump probably isn’t the worst president ever, but rather, the worst person to become president. At this point, however, I feel comfortable saying he was the worst president. His extreme narcissism inspired a riot in which many participants intended to kill members of Congress and his own vice president. Though he has since insisted that he does not support violence, it is too little, too late. He still refuses to acknowledge the validity of the election results, putting our entire democracy in danger.
Although I was slow to get on the Biden-train, I’ve become a strong optimist for his presidency. I know that the left won’t get everything they want, but so far, I have been pleased with his nominations and policy proposals. My hope is that, under his leadership, the Democratic Party will address the Covid crisis with progressive policies that directly make people’s lives better. As Andrew Yang said, “The magic of Joe Biden is that everything he does becomes the new reasonable.” If Democrats play their cards right, they can build a new New Deal coalition and we’ll never have to think about Donald Trump ever again.
Happy Inauguration Day!