America’s Democratic Future
Despite the lasting impact of the January 6, 2021 attack on the United States Capitol, the Democratic Party may be comfortable with broad demographic trends. The 2020 presidential election was not only an administrative victory; Record turnout showed that the real problem has always been barriers to voting.
Austin – With the first anniversary of the January 6 riots in Washington, let’s get back to the big picture.
The major discrepancy in the 2020 US presidential election was that Joe Biden won by a margin of 7 million votes nationally, but lost 43,000 (in the three contesting states) in the Electoral College and, with that, the election. In California alone, Biden received more than 5 million votes, and in New York he received 2 million votes.
So far this century, only Barack Obama has won decisive victories in both the popular vote and the Electoral College. In 2000 and 2016 the winner of the popular vote lost the election. In 2004, the result depended on just one state: Ohio. This discrepancy is not only permanent, but also constitutional, which practically prevents it from being resolved.
However, democracy won in the 2020 elections. The turnout to voter ratio was higher than in any other election since 1900 (when practically only men could participate, almost all of them white). The COVID-19 pandemic forced local election administrators to innovate, and they did so by expanding voting by mail, voting until Election Day, voting 24 hours a day, and voting by car. More than 100 million votes were cast before election day. In the end, the final tally for Donald Trump was 11 million more than in 2016, and Biden surpassed Hillary Clinton’s 2016 vote by 15 million.
Low turnout in the United States is often attributed to voter apathy, but 2020 showed that the real problem was always barriers to voting. In previous elections, there were few places to vote, voting was long and complicated, and the process was slow (lines often ran for hours). Many people lack the time, patience or stamina to wait.
The system also discouraged changes in voting patterns, as the electoral board assigned machines and human resources based on past participation. Thus, there were never enough machines for new voters when the turnout was skyrocketing, for whatever reason. The 2020 elections were then a classic unexpected experiment to remove voting barriers… that worked.
Those who now claim that fraud took place point to a huge increase in participation as evidence. In fact, the increase in participation in the so-called major states was not higher than in states where the outcome was not in doubt. The one exception was Arizona, where participation rose 30 percent. But once adjustments are made for Arizona’s rapid population growth, the proportionate increase is similar to that of California, where stake-raising fraud would have made no sense. If anything, the vote in Arizona was managed by Republican officials.
There is also no sign of the counting of votes being suspicious. Votes are recorded and reported not only in the states, but in every county. Any manipulation in vote counting would have happened in specific counties. And, because the 2020 elections had a closer track record to 2016, the odd count could easily be seen in county voting patterns.
An analysis of results by county that we conducted with three collaborators first compared the five major states (Georgia, Arizona, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan) with the five states where the results were singled out: California, New York, New Jersey, Ohio. and Texas. We noticed some oddities. In Texas, for example, along the Mexican border, there was a sharp turn in pro-Trump results (apparently due to the prosperity that federal spending generated along the border), but those few counties are extremely small. In the rest of Texas, the two larger counties showed strong changes favorable to Biden, and the same was true in the two larger counties in Georgia. These results can be explained by voter mobilization and demographic changes. Furthermore, the analysis shows that there were no visible changes in the dominant states or other states, regardless of their direction.
Why did Biden win? We can find a simple answer in the electoral data. Compared to 2016, Trump fared better with women, blacks and Hispanics, but lost ground with white men, who showed a shift of about five percentage points in favor of Biden. The change was mainly due to men who voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012, but elected Trump over Clinton in 2016. Their return to previous behavior defined the gap between the three contesting states – Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin – in which they were decisive 2016. Beyond the small margin, the major states did not show special behavior; Biden’s overall displacement was slightly higher in other states, including California, Texas and New Jersey.
There is great irony in the way the presidential election is currently unfolding in the United States. In the states with the fastest increase in income inequality since the early 1990s – including California, New York, Connecticut, New Jersey and Massachusetts – the vote is always Democratic. And in states where inequality increased somewhat (though it was not absent), the vote is Republican. This pattern has been observed for decades and is becoming more intense with each presidential election.
How are these trends explained? This has nothing to do with attitudes towards inequality, most people do not know (or do not care) about the level of inequality in their states (which we calculated for our study). The Democratic Party became a coalition of two large groups representing the peak of the distribution: high-income urban professionals and low-income minorities. Republican strongholds are at the center of the income scale in suburbs, small towns and rural areas. Then Republicans dominate where inequality is low and Democrats where there is high. It is a simple, systematic and compelling pattern.
Its implications are evident in the South and Southwest, where minority populations (particularly Hispanics) are rapidly increasing and where the power of cities is gradually increasing over towns and rural areas. This is why Arizona and Georgia turned in 2020, and Nevada went to Democrats a few years ago.
In Texas, with 38 Electoral College votes—with the combined votes of Pennsylvania and Michigan—there was a drastic shift toward Democrats by 3 points every 4 years. Obama got 40% in 2012; Clinton, 43% in 2016 and Biden 46% in 2020.
Republican legislatures, especially in southern and southwestern states, have done the math and are intimidated. That’s why he worked to reverse experiments that allowed access to the vote in 2020. The Republican Party’s mute slogan is: Let’s put American voters in long lines (and don’t water them)! The idea is to stop everyone from voting.
If Congress fails to protect voters’ rights now, that strategy may work for some time (especially in midterm elections this year, which often have low turnout). And Democrats may stumble in 2024 for other reasons, but Republicans won’t save themselves by eliminating voters. Voting is a habit, and habits are hard to break. the die is cast.
Professor of Government and Chair of Government/Business Relations at the University of Texas at Austin; He was a staff economist for the House Financial Services Committee and former executive director of the Congressional Joint Economic Committee. From 1993 to 1997, he served as the Chief Technical Adviser for Comprehensive Economic Reform at the China State Planning Commission. He is the author of Inequality: What Everyone Needs to Know and Welcome to the Poison Chalice: The Destruction of Greece and the Future of Europe.
Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2020
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