2020 Presidential election analysis

The 2020 Presidential election is finally over. Joe Biden is going to be the first New Democrat President since Bill Clinton.

This post will have 4 main parts, the first will look at how Joe Biden did compared to his predecessors over the last 30 years,  the second part will look at individual state results and how they have evolved to give Joe Biden the victory, the third part will look at nationwide exit poll data for 2004, 2008, 2016, and this year, and the conclusion part will ask how 2024 looks based on these trends and what an election without Trump might look like, and what sorts of strategies will likely work based on historical results.

Overall

In the 1992 and 1996 elections Bill Clinton won very narrow margins twice. He won only 43% of the vote in 1992 and 49.2% of the vote in 1996. Bill Clinton covered a number of southern states in both elections, which no Democrat has managed to do since.

In 2000 Al Gore almost won by a very narrow margin which of course many believe was stolen from him in the famous Bush v. Gore decision which stopped counting ballots before they finished. He carried the Midwest, but he lost Ohio and Florida giving Bush a very narrow win. He won the popular vote.

In 2004 George W. Bush won a majority of the popular vote, and picked up New Mexico and Iowa giving him a total of 286 electoral college votes.

President Obama became the first Democratic President since Jimmy Carter to win a majority of the popular vote, and won 365 electoral college votes. He ran a campaign focused on reforming health care and getting money out of politics. He carried the largest trifecta with more seats in the Senate than any time since 1976, the largest majority in the House since 1936, a majority of State governorships,This is the and a majority of State legislatures. Democrats gained trifectas in Wisconsin, New York, and Delaware.

The 2012 election continued to see Obama pull over 50% of the vote, expanding his campaign to be unabashadly pro-gay marriage and announcing how he supports free community college. Democrats won more votes for congress, but due to gerrymandering Republicans retained their majority from 2010.

In 2016 Hillary Clinton lost very narrow margins in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. She was the first Democrat to lose Michigan since Michael Dukakis in 1988, and the first Democrat to lose Wisconsin since Ronald Reagan in 1984. Republicans won slightly more votes for the House.

This year in 2020 Joe Biden became the first New Democrat to ever win a majority of the popular vote. He lost seats in the House from his caucus at the same time.

Incoming Presidents have lost seats in the House from their party in 2020, 2016, 2000, 1992,  and 1960.

Incoming Presidents have gained seats in the House from their party in 2008, 1980, 1976, and 1968.

There appears to be no correlation between a new President being elected and gaining or losing seats in congress. 1980 saw the largest gains for an incoming President with 34 new seats for Republicans, although no majority. 2008 saw the largest gain for an incoming President along with a majority in their party, with 21 new seats which provided 257 seats.

Over the last 92 years, there have  been Republican trifectas elected in 1928, 1930, 1952, 2002, 2004, and 2016. There have been Democratic trifectas in 1932, 1934, 1936, 1938, 1940, 1942, 1944, 1948, 1960, 1962, 1964, 1966, 1976, 1978, 1992, and 2008. We have had far more Democratic trifectas than Republican trifectas in recent American history.

One flaw with this simplistic type of analysis is that before 1994 there were a lot of Southern Democrats in the Democratic Party who were very different from Northern Democrats. Newt Gingrich defeated a lot of moderate Democrats which has ended up with the two parties having less overlap today than they used to.

The deeper finding in this data is what made 2008 different from every other year since the post-1994 realignment. I find there are two things different from 2008 as opposed to every other election since Gingrich’s contract with America.

  1. Our Presidential candidate was not from the New Democrat Coalition, and focused on a message of hope and change.
  2. The Democratic Party under the leadership of Howard Dean fully embraced a 50 state strategy which led to gains at every level of government.

The Democratic Party has not run a candidate who is not from the New Democratic Coalition along with the 50 state strategy in any other year since the realignment of 1994.

When you take into account the fact that the Democratic party was a lot more ideologically pure in 2008 it makes 2008 even more remarkable than a simple party count will do. After a few switches we had 60 seats (given two Independents who caucus with Democrats) which is enough to overcome a filibuster. This is the only time this has happened without a large number of Northern Republicans being required to override a filibuster.

There have only been three major gains for the Democratic Party in the House since 1994, those occurred in 2006, 2008, and 2018. Democrats had the largest gain of seats in Congress during a Presidential election year since Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 2008. It is the first of only two times in the last 30 years where the Democrats did not run a New Democrat. The other time was President Obama’s reelection.

Individual States

*when I use the word “significant” I mean that it brought the candidate over 50% support in a demographic.

Arizona

Biden pulled his most impressive win in Arizona by far.  He was only the second Democrat to win Arizona since 1948. when Harry Truman was the last President to win it by over 50 points. Bill Clinton won a small majority in Arizona in 1996. The Democrats also performed extremely well in the Senate. This is going to be the first time the Democrats have controlled both seats in Arizona since 1953 when Ernest McFarland lost his seat. We also took over the State Senate and are only one seat behind in the State House. I will do a deeper analysis on which seats we won and lost in the State legislature in its own post.

It looks like President-elect Biden won the Hispanic vote by 63%, he won voters under the age of 30, and he won a majority of the vote in cities, particularly for people of color. Biden also won the white college graduate vote.

This strongly indicates that Democrats need to really focus on increasing ballot access for voters in cities if we are to win future elections. We should focus on getting out the vote on college campuses.

Florida

Florida was missed even though the polls expected Biden to win it. During the same night, Florida voted for a $15 minimum wage with a 2/3 majority as well.

Biden won the Black vote, Hispanic/Latino vote, voters under the age of 30, the college graduate vote, the city vote. Gender and whether you have a college degree was not a significant factor for turnout. Trump did better among noncollege graduates than college graduates, but not significantly. Trump won the Cuban vote which makes 6% of the population with 56% of the vote, just like he did in 2016.

Similar indicators for Arizona, Democrats need to make sure people of color in cities can vote easily.

We need to do everything we can to preserve no excuse mail in voting in Florida.

Georgia

This was the first time Georgia voted for a Democrat since 1992. What really made the difference was the incredible work Stacy Abrams did in getting out the vote in key Democratic demographics, primarily African Americans.

Biden won voters under the age of 45, African American and Hispanic voters, college graduates, families who make under $50,000 a year, and won a majority in Atlanta and Atlanta suburbs. Gender did not make a significant impact to the election, except among Latinos. Latino men voted for Trump, Latino women voted for Biden. There also were more Latino women voting than Latino men. College education did not make a significant impact, but Biden did do a lot better among people with a college degree.

Michigan

Michigan has voted for Democrats every year (except 2016) over the last 30 years.

Kerry, Gore, and Clinton all got around 51% of the vote.

President Obama got 54% and 57% of the vote, and Gretchen Whitmer got 53% of the vote.

New Democrats had their best performance in Michigan of 51% against Dole and Bush. Bill and Hillary Clinton failed to pass the 50% threshold in 1992 and 2016. They campaigned differently from Obama. President Biden is only barely scraping past the 50% mark, and he is about to become the first New Democrat to ever win a majority of the vote in Michigan, by just a hair.

Joe Biden is on track to win Nevada, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Georgia with less than a majority after a recession and epidemic which the sitting President has not helped us recover from. These 5 states carry 63 electoral college votes.President Obama and Gretchen Whitmer offered very daring visions for the United States and direct solutions to the problems people faced in this state Democrats must win in order to win. Clinton and Biden ran more lukewarm campaigns which didn’t focus on the same issues Obama focused on and got lukewarm results.

Jimmy Carter is the only Democratic president in the last 70 years to win the Presidency and not win Michigan.

With all of this being said, we need to understand where we picked up voters in this critical state.

Biden won younger voters, people of color, families who make less than $50,000 per year, union voters, city voters, Wayne county and Southeast MIchigan, and white college graduates. Gender did not make a significant impact when controlling for race, although Biden did poll better with women. Women had better turnout then men.

Get out the vote on college campuses and to low income neighborhoods in Greater Detroit and Democrats will win Michigan in 2022 and 2024.

Biden flipped White college graduates as opposed to 2016. We must retain the White college graduate vote in future elections.

Given the core of the Democratic party, this should be easy. Gretchen Whitmer in Michigan came closer to winning the high school vote than Clinton did, but did significantly better than  both Clinton or Biden with voters who have some college or an Associates Degree.

Also, I do not believe that it was simply the issue of lead pipes in Flint, Michigan for her success. Thousands of U.S. Areas have issues with lead in their pipes, and those states continue to elect Republicans who do nothing. Whitmer won because of her campaigning style, moving Michigan from giving 58% of their vote to Snyder in 2010 to 53% of their vote to Whitmer in 2018.

If the Democratic Party is wise, they will learn from her success and replicate it.

Nevada

Similar to Michigan, President Obama appears like he will continue to be the only Democrat to win over 50% of the vote in Nevada since 1964.

I expect it is for the same reason.

Biden won voters under the age of 45, college graduates, suburb voters, Washoe county (Reno), nonwhite voters. Gender did not make a significant difference when controlling for race except among Latino voters. Biden tied Trump among White college graduates and lost White noncollege graduates.

Ohio

Joe Biden is the first Democratic President to lose Ohio since John F. Kennedy in 1960. Ohio has voted for the winner of the Electoral college in every Presidential election since 1900 except for in in 2020, 1960, 1944. It will likely continue  to be a bellwether in the future.

Biden won voters under the age of 45, college graduates, low income households, cities with over 50k people, and white college graduates, and people of color. Gender did not make a significant difference although Biden did poll better among women.

If we get out the vote in big cities we can win Ohio in 2024.

Pennsylvania

Al Gore and John Kerry just barely passed the 50% margin in Pennsylvania, and Obama won Pennsylvania by 52% in 2012 nonwhite people.and 54% in 2008. Bill and Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden failed to pass 50% of the vote in this state.

Biden won voters under the age of 45, college graduates, people who make under $50,000 per year, people in big cities. Gender did not make a significant difference controlling for race, although Biden did poll significantly better among white women who were more likely to turn out to vote. Biden won white college graduates.

Wisconsin

Barack Obama’s campaign was the only Presidential campaign since 1964 to win over 50% of the vote in Wisconsin. He did it twice.

Biden won the college graduate vote, people who make under $50,000 a year, cities with over 50k people. Wisconsin is unique among swing states in that gender made a significant difference among white people with Biden winning the vote of 52% of white women. He won white college graduates and people of color.

Nationwide exit poll data

Vote by Education:

YearNo High SchoolHS GraduateSome CollegeCollege GraduatePost Grad
20040.50.470.460.460.55
20080.630.520.510.50.58
20120.640.510.490.470.55
20160.460.430.490.58
20200.480.520.510.62

Obama won such margins because his policies appealed to High School Graduates.

The only three successful Democratic Presidents to successfully pull voters from Republicans were Carter in 1976, Clinton both times, and Obama in 2008.


Obama’s platform was the first Democratic platform to capture voters whose family income is above $75k. This is probably due to the recession, given that Biden also managed to pull voters who make between $50k and $100k. This is also likely because Obama lost these voters in 2012 but still commanded 63% of voters who make under $30k and 57% of voters who make between 30k and 49k.

Obama’s platform was the only modern candidate to get a majority of the vote from people who only have a high school graduate.  People with only a high school education often vote for the winner of presidential elections, so we need to make sure that our platform appeals to them and win that demographic by at least 50%. People with some college have played kingmaker in all of the last 5 Presidential elections, and President Obama won them twice.

Let’s learn from our successes and not replicate our failures.

Going Forward

Given the results of this election night, the biggest most important rule of the elections going forward if not just in general for the rest of time is this…

Do NOT speak out against progressive initiatives which have won at the ballot box in swing states

This should be extremely obvious to anyone with any experience working in politics.

It took a recession with unemployment peaking over 10% and a literal epidemic under a Republican President to elect a New Democrat in the modern era. Even with that incredibly favorable situation, Joe Biden is on track to win Nevada, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Georgia with less than a majority after a recession and epidemic which the sitting President has not helped us recover from. These 5 states carry 63 electoral college votes, and if they had flipped to Trump, Biden would have lost. 3 of those states worth 36 electoral college votes which have a total of do not have Republican Trifectas, which brought Biden down to only 270 if they had flipped to Trump.

If we want to win in swing states we need to do a deep autopsy of the campaign messaging of Barack Obama and ensure that whoever we run in 2024 will have similar messaging which works in critical swing states and carry significant benefits in down ballot races for state legislatures and congresses.

I absolutely do not think that we are seeing losses in these states “because of Donald Trump”. Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden are getting similar results to other New Democrats we have run in swing states. From this comparison of how New Democrats and Obama performed my conclusion is simple.

Moderate messaging does not work as well in swing states as opposed to a strong progressive platform focusing on health care, eliminating corruption, and free community college. Progressive messaging provides overwhelming wins for the Presidency which leads to historically strong performance in State Legislatures and Congress. There appears to be no significant impact between the first election of their candidate and their reelection.

All of the evidence from both Presidential and state races I have looked at supports this conclusion.

We should replicate our results in 2024.

References

New York  Times 2020 exit polls

Wikipedia for election results

2004 exit polls
2008 Exit polls
2012 exit polls

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