True confession: I was shocked by the results of the 2020 Presidential election. Shocked because it was so close. Shocked that so many Americans voted for a man who is immoral, incompetent, racist, sexist, and — in my opinion — mentally ill.
Yes, Joe Biden received 81 million votes — the most any Presidential candidate has ever gotten. But Trump received 74 million votes — the second most votes any Presidential candidate has ever gotten, and 11 million more votes than he received in 2016. (Source: Associated Press, as of Dec 15, 2020)
The Associated Press follows the results on a daily basis. By now, most of the votes have been tallied. Biden received 51.4% of the vote; Trump received 46.9% of the vote. Approximately 65% of eligible voters turned out to cast their ballot. This is the highest turnout since 1900. In American terms, this shows that voters were very highly motivated. (Even so, 35% of potential voters didn’t make the effort to show up or fill out a mail-in ballot.)
I was expecting a widespread rejection of Donald Trump. I was expecting his enablers (McConnell, Graham, et al) to be soundly defeated. That didn’t happen. Indeed, Republicans did very well in this race, at every level but the top.
74 million people wanted Donald Trump to represent them in the highest office in the land. So. Either 74 million voters don’t see the Trump I see, or they see but they don’t care.
One hundred and fifty-five million votes were cast. Let’s take away the millions and imagine that 155 people are standing in a high school gym. Then put 81 of them on one side of the line, and 74 of them on the other side. Without actually counting, both crowds would look pretty equal in size. If I was standing in one group, I would think “half of us are us, and half of us are them.” And the other side would think the same thing.
And this is where the shock comes in. Is half of my country racist, sexist, xenophobic, immoral and violent? And, seen from the other side of the gym, is half the country socialist, godless, elitist, anti-police, and corrupt?
I don’t think so.
And therefore, I’ve been waiting. Waiting for the New York Times or the Washington Post or even the Wall Street Journal to tell me who “they” are and why “they” inked-in the little circle for Donald Trump. I have already read and heard lots of opinions about how Americans divided up, but I want to see the data.
I haven’t seen the hard data yet, but I think I have seen enough from pre-election polls and post-election polls to gather the answer. Really, the answers, plural.
I found two polls that pretty much told the same story. One was done in a collaboration between Survey Monkey, Tableau, and Axios. It was a pre-election survey, involving almost 800,000 likely voters, and based on a rolling three-day average over the period Oct. 20 — Nov. 2, 2020. The second was a post-election exit poll, taken in person at 115 polling places across the country (circa 10,000 people), and through calls to people who voted early or absentee (circa 5,000 people). This was undertaken by Edison Research for the National Election Pool (ABC, CBS, CNN, NBC). I found an overview of this data on the BBC website.
From these polls, one learns that if you thought that “jobs and the economy” was the most important issue, you favored Trump — 72% to 26%. If you thought that “health care” was the most important, you favored Biden — 80% to 16%. Trump voters also felt strongly about “immigration” and “terrorism.” Biden voters also cared greatly about “the environment” and “education.”
Surprisingly, in a Gallup poll taken September 14–28, the issue of abortion was 13th in a ranking of “extremely or very important” issues to all voters, falling behind terrorism and national security, education, health care, crime, response to the coronavirus, race relations, foreign affairs, gun policy, immigration, the federal budget deficit, and relations with China. Broken out by party, 64% of Republicans felt abortion was on their list of issues, but so did 56% of Democrats.
White voters favored Trump (57% to 42%), Protestant Christians favored Trump (58% to 40%), Rural voters favored Trump (60% to 38%), male voters favored Trump (54% to 44%), voters with a high school degree or less favored Trump (55% to 43%). So, this is “them.”
As for “us” (Biden voters), we find Women (58% to 39%), Very Young People (18–24, who split 66% to 34%), Young Adults (25–34, who split 60% to 39%), and City Folks (Urban voters, (65% to 33%), voters with College degrees (57% to 41%), voters with post graduate degrees (68% to 30%), Black voters (86% to 12%), Asian voters (63% to 34%), and Hispanic voters (59% to 39%).
Evenly divided groups included Suburban voters (54% Biden to 44% Trump in polling, but I suspect the actual gap was much smaller), Middle-aged voters, voters over 65, Catholic voters, voters with some college or an Associates degree, and people who identified as heterosexuals (or in the pollster’s terms “not LGBT,” 50% Biden to 48% Trump).
So, if you live in the suburbs — as I do — and you run into a white, middle aged person, you can easily have a Trump versus Biden chat. This won’t be as easy if you live in Maryland, where Biden won 66% to 32%, but you could easily drive over to West Virginia, where Trump won 64% to 34%.
I will tell you what people on my side of the gym are saying. They are saying that the people on the other side are racist, hostile to immigrants, they are Christians who don’t understand the message of Jesus, and they are just plain ignorant. They have been brainwashed by Fox News.
From what I can gather, the folks on the other side of the gym think we Biden-voters are elitist, arrogant, godless, anti-family, happy to open our borders to a flood of immigrants, and we don’t appreciate the police. We have been brainwashed by MSM (mainstream media).
These stereotypes are wrong. They are hurting “us”, and they are hurting “them.” Most Important, the stereotypes and the feelings behind them are hurting the U.S. Our country, our democracy, is based on the notion of agreeing to disagree at the polls — and to live with the consequences.
It’s the Economy, Stupid.
Having looked at the data above, I believe that Trump voters were motivated more by the economy than by racism or any other narrow-minded agenda. There is no question in my mind that Trump would have been handily re-elected if it were not for COVID-19. The pandemic wrecked the economy, but Trump voters didn’t blame him for this calamity. They also didn’t blame him for a virus that came from outside the United States, and for which no one — not even the Democrats — had an immediate cure.
It is true that Fox News and the Republican mediasphere portrayed a palatable, even admirable Donald Trump. CNN and the Democratic-leaning mediasphere portrayed him as a heartless, self-centered monster. I believe the CNN version, and there is nothing that I have read or heard that has changed my mind. My neighbor believes Fox, and in addition sees Trump as a victim of (unproven) skullduggery.
Donald Trump is an immoral, philandering liar. Bill Clinton is (or was) an immoral, philandering liar. Trump hoped to enrich himself through the office of the Presidency. Bill Clinton did enrich himself through the office of the Presidency; he just did it afterwards. Democrats ignored or made excuses for Clinton’s “character.” Republicans ignore or make excuses for Trump’s “character.”
But the real lesson is that “character” and personal morality don’t appear to matter all that much anymore. In this, we Americans have become very French. We don’t care about personal peccadillos. We know that power can bring riches — if that’s what a powerful person wants. We know that powerful men can get sex — if that’s what they want.
We have become a nation of sophisticated voters, which is one way to put it. Another way would be to say that we are cynical. For most of us, we care most deeply about what a politician will do for us.
In my case, my most important issue is the environment and global warming. I truly hated what Trump did, didn’t do, and what he stood for — on the environment. It made me angry. It motivated me to do whatever I could to get him out of office. Yes, I was offended by his racism, his sexism, his giveaways to the rich, and his venality, and yes, I would have worked against him for those reasons as well.
But let’s suppose that I had lost my job or feared that I might lose my job. Let’s suppose that my business was going under. Let’s suppose that I thought that the Democrats wanted to help people of color more than they wanted to help me and my family. Let’s suppose that I thought Trump would do more to revive the economy. Let’s suppose that my son, or my brother, or my father had died in one of America’s endless wars. Let’s suppose that I felt in my heart that abortion is flat-out murder. Who then would I have voted for to represent my interests?
So here is my advice. Stop demonizing the other side. Once we have all benefitted from Trump’s vaccine (yes, he will get the credit), and once we have achieved herd immunity, and once we can hug each other and breath the same air……. then find someone on the other side of the gym floor and take them out for lunch or a coffee. Talk. Even better, Listen.
Epilogue: Bucks County, Pennsylvania
Bucks County was ground zero in 2016 and 2020. This is because Pennsylvania was a key swing state in both Presidential elections. So much a swing state that Trump won Pennsylvania in 2016 and Biden took the state’s 20 electoral votes in 2020. Bucks County is part of a suburban necklace of counties bordering Philadelphia, and if these four “collar counties” strongly tilt toward a candidate, then s/he is likely to take the state.
I am a Democratic committeeperson for one of the county’s 304 voting districts. In addition, I am the chair of the Democratic Committee for one of the county’s 54 municipalities. This is about as “grass roots” as it gets.
My job is to find candidates for the local school board, the township Audit Committee, the Township supervisors, and the Tax Collector. And further, to support Democratic candidates at the county and state level. This involves knocking on doors, distributing campaign literature, making get-out-the-vote phone calls, and serving as “watchers” at the polling places. Every two years we add some national spice through a Congressional campaign; every four years, a Presidential campaign.
There are thousands and thousands of other people exactly like me across the entire country — most of whom are either Republicans or Democrats. We are all unpaid volunteers. We are the backbone of both parties. When the media talks about the Republican Party or the Democratic Party, they are almost always referring to the national party structure — not the state structure, not the county structure, not the township structure.
It would be wrong to think of the national party structure as the tip of the Party iceberg. It is far more accurate to see the national party as a media-fueled “team of rivals” and the rest of the infrastructure as a heterogeneous collection of little cells, and of individual volunteers who may or may not agree with each other and may or may not even like each other.
And then of course, there are the millions of Americans who have registered as Republican or Democrat. This is not a solid structure, but rather an amalgam of people whose degree of interest and engagement runs from dedicated loyalist to the indifferent and occasional voter.
Please think of this the next time you say, “The Democrats” or “The Republicans.”
Donald Trump has gathered more than his share of enthusiastic supporters. The only comparison that comes to mind is Franklin Roosevelt, who had such a dedicated following that he was elected, reelected, reelected again, and reelected again. Four terms. For the past four years, Trump’s loyalists have intimidated pretty much every Republican office-seeker at the national and even state level. His power has not so much been exercised when there is a general election, but earlier, in the primaries — when Republican is running against Republican. A few nasty tweets from Trump can doom a candidate for office — but at the primary stage. Once we move from the primary stage then his power has been paltry. Look at the 2018 elections, where Democrats took the House, look at 2020 where local Republican candidates often did better than the President.
This happened in Bucks County. Here registered Democrats slightly outnumber the Republicans, 196,000 to 184,000. We also have 75,000 registered Independents. In the recent election, Biden took Bucks County by 17,000 votes, 52% to Trump’s 47%. But the Republican candidate for Congress, Brian Fitzpatrick, overwhelmed Democrat Christina Finello 57% to 43%. In my little patch of the county, State General Assembly candidate Frank Farry clobbered Democrat Lauren Lareau 61% to 39%. This means that a lot of Biden voters turned right around and voted for the local Republican candidate.
Biden took Pennsylvania 50% to 48.8%, a margin of 81,000 votes. But popular Democrat Josh Shapiro won the post of State Attorney General by a 307,000 vote margin. So a good number of Republicans split their ticket. But wait, there’s more. Republican Timothy DeFoor won the statewide office of Auditor General, and Republican Stacy Garrity was elected State Treasurer. So in these races a good number of Democrats split their vote.
This pattern of ticket-splitting happened around the country, helping Republicans add seats in the House of Representatives, gain at least one Governorship, and to strengthen their control of state legislatures.
What about Independent voters? The truth is that we do not have a granular breakdown of how each and every group and subgroup voted. Independents voters account for 36% of potential votes, and accounted for 26% of the actual vote in 2020. According to The Fulcrum, a web-based news site that tracks “good government” efforts, Independents split 54% for Biden and 41% for Trump. I have yet to find data on their influence in Pennsylvania or elsewhere.
As of this writing, Donald Trump is leaving office “kicking and screaming.” In his poisonous fantasy of being robbed of a second term by evil Democrats and traitorous Republicans (e.g, Georgia, Arizona) he was joined for the grand finale by 17 state Attorneys General, a passel of Republican Congressmen, and a host of other actors like Senator Ted Cruz. This shameless display of political theater shows that the fear-of-Trump factor is still pungent. And that in this true-life Game of Thrones, the real battle is all about who gets Trump’s fanbase. (Don’t assume he will keep it. Knives are being sharpened.)
Perhaps this not the best time to take a Republican to lunch. They are going to be busy with their own internal struggle.