10 November 2020

Some final observations on the election

It's been a week and most of the dust has settled.  Here's my take on what happened.

1) Biden did better than the party as a whole.  We missed capturing most of the Senate seats we expected to flip, and some of them weren't even close.  And we actually lost a few House seats.  But Biden will probably end up carrying the popular vote by seven million, and flipping at least four states that went for Trump in 2016.  This seems to debunk any claim that we would have done better with a different presidential candidate.

2) Polling is broken.  Yes, polls correctly called which states Biden would flip -- but predicted that the margins would be big.  They were small.  Polls told us Florida and Texas were toss-ups.  Trump carried both, and it wasn't all that close.  The pollsters also got most of the Senate races completely wrong.  They'll need to overhaul their methods and deliver more accurate results for a couple of election cycles before we take them seriously again.

3) High turnout isn't unambiguously good for Democrats.  Yes, our fervor to get rid of Trump brought out millions of new voters -- but fervor to support him did the same for the other side.  Our side's turnout went up more than theirs did, but still, it's not only Democrats who have an untapped reservoir of extra voters to work on.

4) Money doesn't matter as much as people think.  In almost all of the really contested Senate races, the Democrat far outspent the Republican, yet we lost most of them.  Bloomberg's hundred million dollars spent to win Florida for Biden accomplished nothing.

5) The Senate hinges on the Georgia runoffs.  This is already obvious to everyone (analysis here).  If we win both, the Senate will be 50-50 with Harris as tie-breaker.  Otherwise, Moscow Mitch remains majority leader -- unless Biden is willing to play dirty.  (I've seen claims that we have an outside chance of winning the still-uncalled Senate seat in Alaska, but after seeing how other races went, we'd be fools to count on flipping a red-state seat at this point.)  Stacey Abrams and her Fair Fight organization, which helped make Georgia, well, a fair fight, now take on national importance.

6) We'll probably get the Senate majority in 2022.  None of the Democrats up for re-election in 2022 are at any real risk of losing, but several Republican-held seats in purple states are up -- three of them with no incumbent because those senators are retiring (map here).

7) Due to point 6, Republicans in the Senate and Supreme Court may curb their extremism.  Even if they keep the Senate majority, those at risk in 2022 may not want to be seen as totally obstructionist.  It may be possible to get a Republican vote here and there for cabinet appointments or for obviously-popular measures like covid-19 relief or Medicare expansion.  Those on the Supreme Court know that there's been a lot of talk about enlarging it.  They'll know that if they issue legally-unfounded rulings to block one Democratic reform after another, they're making such enlargement a virtual certainty after 2022 -- which would render them impotent forever.

8) The cultural issues are still going our way.  Five states, three of them deep red, voted for marijuana decriminalization, while Oregon and DC legalized teh shrooms.  California voted for tougher internet privacy rules.  Florida enacted a $15 minimum wage even as it went for Trump.  Voters, it seems, like our issues better than our candidates.

9) Other democracies will never quite trust the US again.  Especially since the margin of Trump's defeat was smaller than expected, they will need to take into account the risk that another authoritarian isolationist -- perhaps smarter and more dangerous than Trump -- could someday come to power here.  They will certainly welcome our country back into full membership in their ranks, and back into the fight against global warming, but they'll know that they can no longer permanently count on us to reliably perform the main function of the world leader -- military deterrence to keep the Chinese and Russian gangster-states contained.  Expect to see continued deepening of the India-Japan-Australia alliance against China, and of German-British-French diplomatic cooperation (despite Brexit) to deal with Russia and the Middle East.  And the option of an independent Japanese nuclear arsenal as a final checkmate against China will remain on the table, which would mean the emergence of a new superpower -- perhaps Trump's most significant legacy.

10) We don't yet fully understand the impact of Trump on the overall picture.  The 2018 blue wave wasn't replicated this year, due to higher right-wing turnout -- but it was real in 2018.  It may be that those extra Republican voters in 2016 and 2020, whom the polls failed to anticipate, are mainly Trump cultists who don't show up when Trump himself is not on the ballot, as he wasn't in 2018, and won't be in future years (certainly, Democrats doing worse in presidential years than in an off year deviates from the historical norm).  We won't know for sure until we see what happens in 2022 and 2024.

11) Demographic change is slow, but inexorable.  Yes, more Americans, for whatever reason, favor Trump than we expected.  The fact remains that year by year the country becomes more educated and less religious, and with every election cycle two years' worth of older conservative-leaning voters die off, while two years' worth of more liberal young people reach the age of voting consistently.  Change is coming.  It may be slower than expected and setbacks will happen, but change is coming.


Blogger Jack said...

Polling was so wrong in 2016 that it was depressing to see the mainstream news media embrace it again as if 2016 never happened. Now that it failed again, will anything be learned and applied to 2024? I doubt it. I'd also like to see some election reforms so that the counting process does not require this much time in some states. I suspect most elections are going to be close ones, and there has to be a better way for this process to be carried out.

10 November, 2020 02:53  
Blogger Sixpence Notthewiser said...

OMG so much to bite on.
Yes, we did worse than I thought. Polling is flawed because there's still too many closeted racist bigots in this country. GA is going to be pivotal for Uncle Joe and Kamala because Alaska may stay red.
The idea that so many people still support an inept, uncultured, petulant idiot is beyond me. It speaks volumes about the country, though.
And you may be right. Change may be coming, but damn!


10 November, 2020 04:19  
Blogger Bohemian said...

Well, No. 11 gives me Hope at least... and I'm Old, but my Adult Kids and Adult Grandkids might just benefit from those Changes in their Lifetimes! We barely dodged the Fascist Bullet this time around and it perhaps made Non-Cult Members more Aware of how Fragile Democracy actually is and how much Protection it really requires from us!?

10 November, 2020 04:19  
Blogger AWJ said...

>Democrats doing worse in presidential years than in an off year deviates from the historical norm

I was under the impression that the "historical norm" was for *the party out of power* to do well in midterms. The idea that midterms are specifically good for Republicans rather than for the out party seems to be based on a single data point, 2002.

10 November, 2020 04:38  
Blogger Li'l Innocent said...

Good morning from the other coast, Infidel! First time commenter, indeed first time reading a regular post as apart from your fab Sunday roundup. I like your final thoughts a lot, & would like to add a couple observations, neither one really my own.

- It's been speculated that many voters voted against Trump and for Republicans down-ballot, following their personal long-established party ID. Someone on some video podcast last wk said that where they grew up, being a Republican was the same thing as being, as they put it, "respectable", a normal, decent member of the community. I think that's true in broad swathes of the US. But decent, respectable people don't, really don't, care for Trump. And I don't think it's just his personality, but also that personality's uniquely mean, crude, dumb policy and political manifestations, babies in cages being the most dreadful example. You can hate that and be blind to, or ignorant of, the fact that your Republican delegation have been acting as enablers.

- on the Mitch McConnell front, I don't see that the suggested Senate-seizing ploy of Biden offering a "2nd tier" Cabinet post to someone like Gov. Toomey (I love your TikTok-style profiles of him and the other 2!) is "playing dirty". Also I'm not sure that Uncle Joe would be constitutionally averse to such a maneuver. He was in the Senate for decades and he's no dope. He knows what Mitch is and what the stakes are.

- Education, education, education. (There are reliable-information deserts out there as real as the food deserts in big cities.) Hands-on, RPG Civics required in every public school. Classes in critical thinking during consumption of social media (they teach this in Scandinavia, in the public schools). And some kind of control of "alternate facts" dissemination on cable, radio, and the internet.

Ok, that last one was my own.
Anyway, excellent post, thanks.
Mary Ellen

10 November, 2020 05:42  
Blogger Bob said...

Great post.
I do not listen to polls because every channel, every newspaper, every website has a different one with different results,
Just vote. VOTE> In every election that you are allowed, vote. Down ballot especially.

10 November, 2020 06:14  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Jack: Everyone, including candidates, will be a lot more cautious about relying on polling from here on out. They won't want to get burned again.

The dragged-out vote counts are mostly due to Republican laws in those states which prohibit early votes from being counted before election day. There's no practical reason it has to take so long.

Sixpence: The more I think about it, the more I suspect it's Trump cultism that undermined the polls. They were more accurate in 2018. But Trump seems to inspire the wingnuts like nothing else, and it throws the pollsters' turnout models off.

Bohemian: Change can also happen fast -- look at how dramatically support for gay rights, and the number of non-religious people, have increased over the last 20 years. But change in voting for candidates seems to move much slower. It's an odd dichotomy.

No: Generally presidential years have high turnout, which benefits Democrats, while off years have low turnout, which benefits Republicans. It doesn't mean the respective party always wins, but it's a factor working in its favor in each case.

Mary E: Thanks for commenting! Your first point may well be the case -- and that's a concern, since those ticket-splitting voters would likely go back to the next Republican presidential candidate, since that candidate will not be the uniquely-repulsive Trump (unless he gets their nomination again in 2024, which I suppose is possible). On the other hand, a more "normal" Republican might have trouble rallying the pure Trump cultists.

I don't see the proposed Biden senators-to-cabinet ploy as particularly dirty either, but some might see it as subverting the election result, and of course the wingnuts would scream bloody murder.

The wingnuts and fundies do seem to be terrified of education. They increasingly keep their kids out of public school to keep them insulated from the real world.

10 November, 2020 06:24  
Blogger Mary said...

I’m saving this post to view at later dates......
My biggest concern is a smoother talking, more intelligent man than trump returning next time and the base will be waiting...
Time is the only thing on the side of normal people and that die off you speak of. One can hope.

10 November, 2020 09:35  
Blogger Ami said...

Thank you for your calm, measured posts regarding all that has been happening (and continues until January 20).

I have very few people in my vicinity that I can discuss all of this with. A lot of my family members are Republicans, others are like me but so angry that within a few minutes any discussion turns into ranting.

I've managed not to completely lose what's left of my mind for a few reasons, and what you write and share here is part of it.

Funny, I kept my kids out of public school for reasons that weren't religious or political, turns out they're cynical and they question *everything*. And both are religion-free.

10 November, 2020 13:06  
Blogger Mike said...

I think it's going to take another presidential election to totally regain the trust of our allies. And if Biden lasts through these four years and wins a second term, it will probably take another election in 8 years to regain their trust.

10 November, 2020 18:50  
Blogger RO said...

This election has been something else for sure. My wish is for kindness in every way as we move forward. Hugs, RO

11 November, 2020 04:29  
Blogger Shaw Kenawe said...

All of your points are well-argued and taken. We've got, what? 70+ days left of this abominable man in the White House, but I'm fairly confident that he will be given the boot he so richly deserves.

The NYTimes reported this AM that their people, over the last two days, contacted almost every election official in almost every state (the usual suspects, Texas, i.e., did not respond), Republican and Democratic, have stated there is no fraud. Mistakes, irregularities, yes, and that's common in elections, but no systemic fraud.

Trump and his shameful allies in the Senate and elsewhere are undermining our democracy by not accepting Joe Biden's win. Republicans have never really accepted democracy. Now, Trump has paved the way for an all-out assault on our country's democratic institutions, and the Republican Party and its tribal adherents are enthusiastically joining in.

While many people are surprised at the intensity of the Republican attacks on our democracy, anyone who has paid attention to the writings and public pronouncements of Republicans over the past forty years isn't surprised at all.

I wonder how many of these anti-democracy adherents think they're making America great. Do they think a dictatorship is the epitome of greatness?

11 November, 2020 06:58  
Blogger Ranch Chimp said...

All that is going on, is frankly still confusing to me, I had to read your paragraphs twice just to absorb it all ... but at least, your take was easier to understand than some that I read/ viewed ... and Biden inherited such a mess, much greater than the mess Obama had to clean up. I didn't follow any polls this time around, because I was disappointed with some past polls, and confusing media.

For me, it's simple ... I could see a sense of strong relief all over the country when Biden was declared winner, I'll never forget it, I was in Trader Joe's getting some food ... and I got like 8 or 9 texts back to back, reading one as another comes in ... folks were excited. I was driving through Dallas' Oaklawn District later and you couldn't even get through, so many celebrating ... so it's the best thing that happened ... being already what the American people had been through, especially with this virus, and Trump's reckless irresponsible response to it (which was the worst thing he done in my opinion ... and frankly/ honestly should be on trial ... just my view). Another 4 years of Trump's shenanigans would have been a mess, whether you like him or not ... he was a disorganized mess.

Leaning with many progressive views myself (I guess I'm considered a radical communist or something), I have noticed some progressive media already attacking Biden/ Harris. But we should feel relieved that Trump is out, at least ... and give him (Biden) the benefit of doubt. I read up on some of Biden's picks for positions, which are much better than any picks of Trump. Also, I read Biden's plan on challenging the COVID problem, which is a super big issue ... what I read was good, even though Republicans will try to attack it ... there is some damn good things in there, even stimulus payments on to social security checks, unemployment, on top of addition checks, testing, and some good task force positions being filled, small business, etc, etc ... people need help like this. So frankly, I feel pretty good.

I was actually surprised, being that I thought Texas would have done better for Democrats ... I thought Texas may have went blue this time, I assumed wrong.

11 November, 2020 08:52  
Blogger Margaret said...

I'm still extremely concerned about how this will play out; it seems like Trump is mobilizing his "troops" for a coup. Although a majority of voters believe that Biden won, the GOP admin seems to be moving toward installing Trump. Will they be able to play with recounts, electors and states to subvert the election? I think I need to stay away from the news.

11 November, 2020 09:52  
Blogger yellowdoggranny said...

I'll rest easier when he's sworn in ...and come on Georgia..

11 November, 2020 12:57  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Mary: That has occurred to me too. A smarter, more self-controlled version of Trump could have done far more damage. But I do think we're more alert to the danger now. And perhaps an autocrat less crazy than Trump wouldn't enthuse the moron legions as much, ironically.

Ami: Thanks for the kind words, I appreciate it. I know what it's like having a right-wing nutjob among the people who should be closest to you. It's sad that it can divide families, but when you're confronted with someone who can support Trump (or the whole right-wing theocratic anti-social-safety-net agenda), what can you really do?

Mike: I honestly don't think that trust will ever be fully regained. Not because they won't respect Biden (and Harris later on), but because they'll always know some freak combination of circumstances could result in another Trump, or something even worse, getting elected. As long as they believe that possibility exists, they'll need to prepare for it. In their position I'd do the same.

RO: We'd all like to see a kinder world. Unfortunately that means we need to defeat the people who want a crueler one -- and defeat them convincingly.

11 November, 2020 15:42  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Shaw: I heard about the NYT survey. And yet the wingnut "news" media are claiming there's abundant evidence of fraud (without presenting any, of course). Their business model is based on keeping their readership whipped up with fury.

A lot of Republican officials are playing along with Trump's ravings because they don't want to piss him off (or piss off his heavily-armed easily-enraged moron legions) while he still has some power. I really doubt any of them actually want to help facilitate a coup. For one thing, they know it would probably fail. Also, they've seen how easily Trump turns against people, even those who had been most loyal. They know that giving him genuinely unlimited power would eventually be dangerous to themselves.

Ranch: Evidently you were right to ignore the polls. I'll be looking at them with great suspicion from here on out, at best.

The far-left radicals have always been a bane to the Democrats. Part of the reason I'm so concerned to see vote suppression and gerrymandering done away with is that by empowering our mainstream voters, we'll get big enough margins that we can win without the radicals, and won't need to worry about their endless demands and complaints any more.

Texas will go blue eventually. It's a matter of making it easier to vote.

Margaret: On the "coup" concern, see my response to Shaw above. This article is also worth reading. There's less here than meets the eye.

JackieSue: Indeed, that's when the nightmare will truly be over.

11 November, 2020 15:57  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Three points.

1. i disagree about Biden putting one or more Republicans in the Cabinet. While this seemed to work for Lincoln, when Clinton put a Republican in charge of the FBI, he spent all his time trying to find a Whitewater scandal that did not exist, and finally came up with Monica. Keep the GOP at arm's length, they will do everything and anything to handcuff Biden, as McConnell already has said.

2. As (I belive it was AOC who) said, we need new laws on curbs to Presidential powers. As we all have seen, Trump got away with all sorts of illegal, immoral, and nasty crap, and the Senate backed him or did nothing, all because they were afraid of their rabid base and their rabid president.

3. As I understand it, GOP finances are the cause of the seemingly lockstep Republican congress-people. All are not only fearful of more radical primary challengers, it is the national GOP finances that gives most of them their money for campaigns. If one of they strays from the party line, the national GOP can withhold money, and there goes their reelection campaign down the drain.

11 November, 2020 16:34  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Anon: I never argued that having Republicans in the cabinet wouldn't be a bad thing -- just that getting the Senate majority would be worth it.

We do need to limit the president's powers and return more authority to Congress, the way the Constitution intended. It's hard to see that happening soon, though, if the Republicans keep using the Senate as an implement of obstruction.

It should be possible for a more popular candidate to be more independent with direct fund-raising. People these days are certainly willing to donate money to candidates they like.

12 November, 2020 02:07  
Blogger Tommykey said...

As a New Yorker who lives in suburban Long Island, in the weeks leading up to the election I detected what I would call eddy currents that would flow against the blue tide that a lot of Democrats were looking forward to. A lot of my peers from high school days with whom I am friends of Facebook vented their disgust at what they felt was a Democrat war on the police. They bought into the Trump rhetoric that electing Democrats gives us the anarchy you see in Portland, Oregon, the Chaz Zone in Seattle, etc. NYC mayor Bill de Blasio, who is deeply unpopular even among Democrats here in New York, became a convenient symbol of all that was wrong with New York Democrats.

A few examples.

1. The enactment of bail reform at the beginning of the year.

2. Allowing undocumented immigrants to apply for drivers licenses. While I personally did not have a problem with it, it was implemented very poorly. Our motor vehicle offices became overcrowded due to the rush of the undocumented to apply for licenses at the beginning of the year, which pissed off a lot of people who had to go to the DMV and found incredibly long lines and waiting lists. The state should have set up temporary satellite offices to specifically handle the undocumented applicants.

3. Letting prisoners out of jail to keep them from being exposed to COVID in the prisons, and then some of them would just commit more crimes. And just a general sense that Democrats care more about criminals than law abiding citizens, with gimmicks such as offering them Mets tickets and donut gift cards in return for good behavior.

4. There are accusations that Governor Cuomo's policies resulted in the deaths of thousands of senior citizens in New York from COVID, which blunted the argument that coronavirus deaths are Trump's fault.

Consequently, Republicans gained some congressional and state legislative seats on Long Island and in the NYC metropolitan area.

Democrats are going to have to find a way to change this narrative, especially if they want to expand their numbers in the House and try to win a majority in the Senate in 2022.

12 November, 2020 11:15  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Tommykey: Those are very good points, and we do indeed need to address that kind of behavior by some officials. The mayor here in Portland has been exasperatingly feckless in the face of months of violent rioting. He only won re-election because the challenger was even more "out there". It's frustrating.

14 November, 2020 01:33  

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