Featured Post

New book available! David Kaiser, A Life in History

Mount Greylock Books LLC has published my autobiography as an historian,  A Life in History.   Long-time readers who want to find out how th...

Saturday, November 07, 2020

Dodging the bullet

 Like so many of my fellow citizens, I felt extreme nervous tension early this past week, waiting for the election.  I realized how much it frightened me a few months ago when I made a routine dentist appointment for the morning of election day.  It wouldn't affect my vote--I knew I would cast it in person, well in advance, as indeed I did--but I was frightened to think that that day might actually come, and end with Donald Trump's re-election and American democracy in tatters.  Despair threatened on Tuesday night, and some of the younger viewers that I watched the returns with on zoom succumbed to it briefly, but I went to bad around 12:30 convinced that there were far too many outstanding votes to know what would happen, and that we would not have clear results at least until Wednesday morning.  After I got up Wednesday and had breakfast, it didn't take too much calculating to realize that Joe Biden was quite likely to win.  Now,. on Saturday morning, that seems like a certainty, although the four key states are counting their final ballots at an excruciating pace.  We will turn to Donald Trump's reaction later.

I had hoped to do a comprehensive state-by-state analysis of the differences between 2016 and 2020 this morning, but I can't find state-by-state popular vote data in convenient form--form that can be easily put into a spreadsheet. Wikipedia is waiting, apparently, for more final results.  I have enough overall data, however, to contribute some original observations.

The 2020 election saw a probably unprecedented increase in voter turnout, probably the largest such increase since women got the vote before the 1920 election.  The total vote in 2016 was 136.7 million; so far this  year 151.7 million votes have been counted, a full 10% increase, with more to come.  Equally importantly, we have seen a return to an effective two-party system.  In 2016, Clinton and Trump together secured only 94.2% of the total popular vote.  So far this year Biden and Trump have won 98.2% of the vote, and Biden, like Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, seems certain to have an actual majority of popular votes cast.  The Democrats appear to have picked up nearly all the votes that went to third parties in 2016.  Biden was a more appealing candidate than Clinton, and voters took this election much more seriously than the last one.  Biden already has about 13.2 million more votes than Clinton received in 2016 and his total will increase.  Clinton by contrast in 2016 did not quite equal Barack Obama's total in 2012.  All this confirms what I found in an earlier analysis of the 2016 election: the Democrats lost in 2016 because they nominated a very unpopular candidate.

That, however, is only half the story.  Donald Trump also gained significant votes, increasing from 63  million in 2016 to 69.9 million (so far) this year.  While Biden increased the Democratic share of the total vote from 48.1% to 50.5%,  Trump increased his share from 46.1% to 47.7%, evidently picking up a much smaller portion of 2016's large minor party vote.  That is what has depressed so many liberals and flabbergasted so many commentators.  I wanted systematically to look at where Trump had increased his vote share, but I don't have enough data in convenient form.   I will look one by one at some critical states.  His share of the vote in Wisconsin increased from 46.1% to 48.8%, even though he won it in 2016 and lost it this time.  He declined marginally in Michigan, where he went from 47.9% to 47.5% this year.  He has done better in Pennsylvania, increasing from 48.2% to 49.1%.  In Georgia he has fallen from 50.8% to 49.3%, and he currently has the exact same percentage of the vote in Arizona--48.7%--that he had in 2016, and in Nevada he has increased from 45.5% to 48%.  Of the critical states that are deciding the election, Georgia is the only one in which Trump's percentage of the vote has suffered a measurable decline--1.6%--and even there, his vote total increased by about 360,000 votes.  

What about the large states that have become Republican strongholds?  Trump in Texas had 52.2% of the vote in 2016, and he has exactly the same percentage of the Texas vote right now.  He had 49% of the Florida vote in 2016, and he has 51.2% of it now.   How about the biggest blue states? Trump gained slightly in California,  from 31.2% in 2016 to 33%. this year.   He gained significantly more in New York, 36.5% to 40.4%--a gain, so far, of 115,000 votes.  (Biden is currently running more than 300,000 votes behind Clinton in 2016 in the Empire state, but New York as 16% of its vote left to count.  Trump did lose about a single percentage point in most of the New England states, the only group I have discovered where he polled worse as a percentage of a larger electorate than he did four years ago.

I do not have time to do a systematic analysis of exit poll data this morning, but a quick look at CNN's data has yielded an extraordinary shock.  I knew that Trump increased his share among both black and Hispanic voters--he lost both of them badly, of course, but he did better than four years ago.  The CNN data shows him 7 points better among black voters and about 6 points better among Hispanics, where there was a substantial gender gap.  But the real shock is that despite all the talk about suburban women, white women voted for Trump in a slightly larger percentage--about 1.5% more this year as they did in 2016.  White men, on the other hand, shifted significantly away from Trump, losing about 6.5% from their 62% Trump majority in 2016. The gender gap shrank this year because white men shifted towards Biden.  That may have given him the election.  In  later post, I will revisit the issue of generational voting.

The electorate remains deeply divided, as the House and Senate results show as well.  I don't see much chance of Donald Trump overturning the election results, but I am very worried about the role he might play out of office, riding herd on the Republican Party and perhaps inciting violence.  Unless the Democrats do win two runoff elections in Georgia, the Senate will remain Republican, and it will be very hard for Joe Biden to pass the test I set for him last week--to substantially improve the lot of the American people in the next two years.  Still, it appears that a functioning adult--who will appoint more functioning adults--will occupy 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue on January 20.  The American people have barely passed one of the most severe tests in their history.


Jude Hammerle said...

Dear Dr. Kaiser,

Don't forget the Grover Cleveland scenario!

Jude Hammerle

Gloucon X said...

With 11 million votes left to be counted, mostly in places like CA and NY, Trump's percentage will drop to something close to Romney's. The final national margin also looks like it will be close to 2012, Obama 51.1% Romney 47.2%. Biden's current national lead is already bigger than G.W. Bush's 2004 reelection margin. It's a bigger popular vote margin victory than JFK('60), Nixon ('68), Carter('76), Bush('00 & '04), Trump('16), and it may equal or surpass Obama's 2012 reelection margin.

Energyflow said...

Apparently the MSM take on the count is being legally contested. I recall hanging chads in 2000 and believe Gore won. In 1960 Kennedy Sr.bought the election in Chicago (and Texas?) for his son. The country is in no mood for that again. The process through the courts, state legislatures and Congress to validate every vote and elector will be taken. Constitutional process will be used to its fullest. If one or the other side starts riots, tries intimidation of judges, legislators or their families it could get ugly. The fake russiagate attempt at election nullification has made the left leaning population full of hatred. Fanning flames of hatred promotes civil strife. Calm moderate centrism by the press would have been better. Let us pray for calm.

Bozon said...

The title puts it very well.

By a supreme unique electoral effort, their very diverse, divisive, back biting backs, up against the same wall, as they see it, voting entirely against the evil bearing down, each for him or her self and theirs, or again, alone against known hostile others some even their own family voting for the evil icon, more against Trump than for Biden, who in the primary had run back in the pack, not even chosen until the very last desperate moment.

All the best

Bozon said...

Here is your prior post. Very helpful.
Maybe it's a bit of a stretch to call some of this a failure of democracy.
Some would call it the working out of deomcracy..... I am not sympathetic with this interpretation myself.
For those who believe in limited democracy, it might be considered a victory.
For those who believe in so called direct, not. For others along a spectrum, different conclusions.
Sunday, September 27, 2020
How Democracy Might Fail

This was one of my comments, there, on the issues playing out now:
Wonderful analysis of the oddities of the system, then and now.
This was especially interesting for me in connection with recent posts I did re the beginnings of the Republican Party. A reference to those posts, is below.

"...Many state legislatures reserved the power of appointing the electors rather than delegating it to the voters in the early days of the republic, and some continued to do so right up to the Civil War. And lest anyone think that no 21st-century Republican legislature would dare take such a step, allow me to point out that in December 2000,. when the Bush-Gore election controversy was reaching its climax, the Republican-controlled Florida legislature was preparing to do exactly that--to call a special session to award the state's electoral votes to Bush if they had been unable to stop any recouts in the courts...." DK


All the best,