Final election results are not yet in. The presidential race is still to be decided, as are several congressional and legislative contests. However, we know enough about the results to draw some conclusions
As the nation headed into election day, the consensus was that Biden would win handily. Additionally, Democrats were expected to pick up several seats in the House of Representatives, potentially take majority control in the Senate, and take control of as many as ten state legislatures including the House in Texas which has been Republican for some time.
As of this writing, many races have yet to be finalized. Vice President Biden is favored to edge out Trump for a victory. But Republicans will almost assuredly retain control of the Senate. Democrats not only didn’t pick up seats in the House but will end up losing around ten seats to Republicans. And Democrats lost a governorship and didn’t come close to achieving their targets at the state level. The results will be very different than most people’s thinking before election day.
(And in full transparency, Thinking Man’s predictions were also way off. Assuming that polling organizations had learned lessons from ‘last time around’, I also thought it would be a good night if you were a Democrat.)
Even given that we are still waiting for final results in many races, some things are already clear. Here are three takeaways from this election:
#1 The polls were way off, again. Or more specifically, the polls from national media sources were way off.
Polls from national media groups across the country over-estimated the vote for Biden. In Michigan, Florida, Pennsylvania and many other places, the polls showed consistently much higher vote percentages for Biden than for Trump.
The most vivid example may have been in Wisconsin where a few days before the election, an ABC News/Washington Post poll came out saying that Biden was ahead by 17%. The margin in Wisconsin turned out to be less than one percent.
Oddly, it wasn’t that the polls were off across the board; only certain polls, from certain organizations. Two examples:
Large national polls for Florida never showed Trump ahead and few were close enough to even be within the margin of error over the last few months. Yet election morning, the Biden campaign pretty much told the media that they were going to win even though they would lose Florida. The Trump campaign, almost as soon as the polls closed said they were going to win Florida. So it isn’t that the polls were wrong. Both campaign’s polls got it right. The polls from the national media were wrong, and decidedly so.
We saw a similar situation in Iowa, where polls showed Trump behind consistently and showed the same for the Republican incumbent Senator, Joni Ernst. Yet just before the election, a local poll from the Des Moines Register showed Trump and Ernst slightly ahead. As it turns out, both Trump and Ernst won in Iowa.
So it is an open question as to why polls from national media organizations were off and off so widely, even after supposedly learning the lessons from the last election. One can’t help but conclude there is some fundament issue that is causing that to be the case.
#2 The far left wing of the Democratic Party is the Republican Party’s biggest ally
Though we don’t have much post-election data yet, there is a lot of anecdotal evidence that parts of the American electorate are turned off by the left-ward shift in the Democratic Party and that helped Republicans in key areas.
Despite the public battle over immigration and charges that he was racist, President Trump got more of the Hispanic vote in this election than any Republican candidate in sixty years. No place was that more evident than in Miami-Dade County in Florida, where Hispanics make up over half of the electorate and where Democrats in Florida routinely have their biggest vote totals and margin of victory. This time, however, Biden got slightly fewer votes than Hillary Clinton did in the last election and Trump increased his vote total by roughly 200,000 there. Additionally, Republicans picked up two House seats in south Florida. With a large Cuban population and with the influx of immigrants from Venezuela over recent years, many in the Hispanic community there could relate to living under socialism or had family members who could. The fact that major figures in the Democratic Party openly admit to being socialists and possibly the most visible, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (nicknamed ‘AOC’), being Hispanic that likely drove much of that vote to Republicans and ended up being a big part of the margin of victory for President Trump in Florida.
Another driver was the widespread violence of ‘protests’ that are still going on after months, the toleration of violence by Democratic leadership of large cities, and the movement to defund police. That is a turnoff to people who just want to be safe in their homes and communities. This probably had an effect across the country (except in the most radically liberal areas on the west coast) but the largest evidence for that was in Kenosha County, Wisconsin where riots after the police shooting of a black man went on for days. Kenosha County went heavily for Obama eight years ago and has been fairly reliably Democratic for years. This election, Trump took Kenosha County by a large margin.
# 3 Donald Trump is his own biggest problem
Donald Trump can’t help himself from publicly insulting people that disagree with him, even slightly and even when they are members of his own party or even his own Administration. Even supporters who like his policies tend to agree that his bombastic, antagonistic nature tends to rub people the wrong way. There are two places where it’s clear that has hurt him politically.
The first one is Arizona. When Trump took office in 2016, the state had two Republican US Senators and leaned heavily Republican in national elections. Today, after four years of a Trump Administration, both of those Senate seats are now held by Democrats and Trump looks like he has lost the state of Arizona and by doing so, literally lost the election by losing Arizona’s eleven electoral votes.
One of Arizona’s senators was John McCain. A former POW who refused release unless his Vietnamese captors also released his fellow prisoners, a long time senator from the state who had been re-elected several times and also Republican nominee for President, McCain was an iconic figure in the state. Yet McCain was known for trying to work across the aisle and that often conflicted with Trump’s style. Trump developed an almost a visceral hatred for McCain and even infamously criticized him for his military service more than once. Trump’s advisors and most Republicans (and many Democratic friends of McCain) had urged him to quit criticizing and taking shots at McCain. Yet Trump couldn’t help himself and continued to publicly insult McCain even after he was dead. What benefit could he get from insulting a dead person? Yet he did. After the last time, McCain’s widow spoke at the Democratic National Convention and publicly endorsed Biden by saying that Biden was a decent man even if she and her late husband usually disagreed with him.
Jeff Flake, the other Republican senator, was the former Executive Director of the Goldwater Institute, a conservative think tank named after the long-time Arizona Senator and Republican presidential candidate in 1964. Flake was also a frequent target of Trump’s public criticism. Now, both US senators from Arizona are Democrats and, as of now, it looks like Trump will lose the election because he lost the state of Arizona by a razor thin margin.
The last time that Arizona went Democratic in a presidential election was almost three decades ago. And the state hasn’t had two Democratic senators since the 1950’s.
Georgia has seen a similar change in landscape. When Trump was elected in 2016, both of Georgia’s US Senators were Republican, Georgia was considered a ‘safe’ Republican state and Republicans had dominated state-wide elections for years. As of this writing, two days after election day, Georgia is still close enough that there isn’t a winner and it looks like neither of the Republican senators got more than 50% of the vote and so with Georgia’s unique election laws, they both will face a runoff election in January. What should be a slam dunk for Republicans, has become a toss up.
While the specific results of the election remain outstanding , some of the messages are clear. It remains to be seen if they are learned by those involved.