Written by on November 6, 2020

First impressions of what transpired during the most consequential election of our lifetime

by Charles D. Ellison | WURD

As of this date, it’s perhaps a fool’s errand to get too immersed in the numbers because ballots are still being counted and lawyers are already getting into it. What we do know for sure is that many Americans – at least the better half of the nation that turned out to push back against the accelerated klepto-fascism of Donald Trump – did not get the landslide victory they were looking for. Joe Biden did not manage to leave President Trump behind in a plume of dust cloud and Democrats did not take the Senate. In fact, while Democrats still held on to their majority in the House, they actually found themselves losing a few seats and making no gains.

The inability of Democrats to compete in either the House or the Senate was somewhat surprising. That the Presidential election wasn’t called on so-called “Election Night” was not. We sensed there would be a possibility that Biden would lose states like Florida, Ohio and North Carolina – and, yes, after all that talk, even Texas. We took those off the board and proceeded with a less-than-ideal-scenario whereby Biden would make it 270 electoral college votes the same way the Philadelphia Eagles sloppily made their way to the top of the NFC East recently. Here are several key observations on what happened and what that all means:

  • A landslide win by Biden over Trump would have signaled a dramatic national repudiation of the president’s rampant white nationalism, corruption and destructive mismanagement of the pandemic. What we forgot, however, is that America doesn’t work that way. It’s racism and racial animus, particularly from White voters, is still a very powerful driver in political contests. Pollster, prognosticators and those of us naively hopeful for a display of our better national angels unfortunately underestimated the extent to which that influenced voter mood even as a pandemic and economic meltdown rage on.
  • As is the case with most major contests in modern American politics, we found the electorate intensely split over partisan lines. Generally speaking, voters seemed more inclined to put their political tribal interests over the common good. Many voters were comfortably hunkered down in their respective party camps. These splits appear to have not only worsened, but they will eventually lead to crippling paralysis and the potential for regional splits and the secession of states.
  • Still, the most remarkable outcome of the 2020 election is the stunning levels of early voter turnout: more than 101 million voters cast a ballot before Election Day. That’s nearly a full three-quarters of the entire 2016 electorate. All states actually managed to create a mail-in ballot infrastructure, on the fly, within a manner of months.
  • The White electorate shrunk from 71% of the total voting population in 2016 to now 65% of it in 2020. White support for Trump remained the same compared to the last time, although White support for the Democrat (Biden) increased slightly. Black support for Democrats remained somewhat the same in 2020 as it did in 2016, and is mostly responsible for helping Biden hold on in key battlegrounds; Latino support increased slightly for Trump.
  • It should be noted that despite the pandemic, despite all the open threats from the president and open intimation from white nationalists, despite the voter suppression, Black voters still pressed on to turn out in impressive numbers. Black voters did soldier through to the end. We’ll see what the more conclusive data sets will show us about that, but we did see a greater level of engagement from the Black electorate.
  • The national conversation on “Latinos” has now turned a major corner. After watching Biden lose Florida due to heavy Cuban support for Trump, most are now coming around to the fact that there is no such thing as one big Latino voting bloc and there never was. “Latino” has always meant a language group, and there are multiple cultural and racial groups within that language group.
  • Did the pollsters get it right? That’s one of the big questions arising from the 2020 election as the polling industry is under siege, once again, for not being on the mark. A reckoning is happening, and it’s clear that pollsters need to get better equipped at doing more granular state polls vs. national polls while considering data collection methods that are much more interactive and engaging. In addition, much of polling is based on an honor system that puts too much faith in respondents telling the truth (when there are some who will lie and skew results). Ultimately, however, pollsters need to get better at capturing diverse non-White populations.
  • We’ll also need to come up with a better working definition of voter suppression and how bad it is in key races. Pollsters, pre-election projections and data scientists and journalists did not do a good job at capturing the true extent of voter suppression in multiple states. Voter suppression was the most intense its ever been in recent years, and we won’t know until later how bad that suppression was. Pollsters really need to start factoring in elements such as a “Voter Suppression Margin of Impact” and observers need to take it more seriously enough to calculate it’s impact in key races and states.
  • Social media and the relentless wave of both deliberate disinformation and unintentional misinformation was severely underestimated in this election. The “infodemic” played a massive role in swaying voters and spreading falsities – and, it’s safe to say, that it definitely made the election much tighter than it should have been.  Communities continue to either downplay or underestimate the degree to which social media has become the leading culprit in deeply dividing the nation along political and cultural lines.
  • And, lastly, American journalism, especially so-called “mainstream media” again failed to responsibly cover this election. Instead, media organizations have insisted on playing a dangerous game of breaking it first rather than getting the information right and presenting it completely.  Media organizations should not have supplied any “projections” on Election Night and should have avoided calling states when it was obvious all ballots would not be counted that same day.  We are in an unusual and unprecedented time where the election was forced to operate differently; media organizations should have followed suit and resisted the temptation to try and call election results the “night of.” The more responsible course would have been for media organizations to have made a collective agreement to hold off on announcing any final vote tally announcements until the following week, preferably the next Tuesday at a time when every last ballot, including early ones, would have been counted.

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