Roar writer Ishaan Rahman summarises the aftermath of the 2020 US Presidential election and what this may mean for the parties going forward.
To the relief of many, the 2020 US Elections are over. Democratic candidate Joe Biden will be inaugurated as the 46th President in a month. However, this election was messy with no party emerging fully dominant. Though Republicans are obviously badly bruised by a Biden win, especially with his victories in Arizona and Georgia, Democrats will also be disappointed at meagre gains in the Senate and losing seats in the House of Representatives. So, after a dirty fight, who won what and what does it mean for the future?
While Republicans lost the Presidency, and ground in the Senate, there is some cause for optimism among the GOP. Donald Trump’s ability to invigorate his base meant that his party avoided being wiped out. Most notably, he won roughly one-third of the Latino and Asian American vote and even made minor gains amongst African-Americans, who usually vote almost homogeneously for Democrats.
Crucially, Cuban American support meant that Trump won Florida by an unusually large margin (by swing-state standards, that is) and helped unseat two Democratic representatives. Despite losing ground in every other state, the President actually increased his margin of victory in Florida compared to 2016.
Democrats should be concerned about this state as it seems to be immune to blue waves in other parts of the US. In 2018, Democrats actually lost the Governor and Senate races here, despite winning nationally. Though Republicans should remain vigilant, as Florida is a volatile state politically. Former Republican President George. W Bush won it by an impressive five points in 2004 only for Democrat Barack Obama to win it back four years later.
To be clear, the GOP has not won, but rather started to win back these ethnic groups from Democrats. In the 1990s, Republicans President George H.W. Bush and candidate Bob Dole won an outright majority of Asian American votes. A decade later, W. Bush also won over 40% of Hispanic votes. However, President Obama largely unified the non-whites as Democrats under his Presidency.
Trump also kept a firm grip on Ohio and Iowa, two states that Obama had carried back in 2012. Trump’s wins can be credited with his personal appeal amongst working-class white voters. The President’s focus on bringing jobs back from overseas and reopening the economy after Covid-19 lockdowns was a winning message in this region, though it remains to be seen whether other Republicans will have the same appeal. Previous GOP candidates failed to come close in either of these states and Democrats managed to win a Senate race, and come close in a Governor’s race in Ohio in 2018. Therefore, Republicans success here may be short-lived depending on their post-Trump strategy.
Overall, Republicans should feel fortunate that they avoided a Democratic landslide. Gains amongst minorities should bode well for the party in an increasingly non-white America. However, as the Trump era comes to a close (barring a possible 2024 run) it may be a challenge for them to maintain their momentum amongst the key demographics they need to win, notably working-class voters in the rust belt and minorities in Florida.
What about the Democrats? The winners of this election have much to be happy about. Most obviously, they won back the key rustbelt states of Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania – albeit by narrower margins than expected. It’s an accomplishment that, even with Trump’s uncanny ability to turnout GOP voters, Biden still came out on top. Biden’s improved performance with (college-educated) white and suburban voters are to credit as well as mostly maintaining support from African-Americans.
Democrats also solidified several long-term trends in their favour. Colorado, New Mexico, New Hampshire and Virginia were once swing states that Republicans won as recently as 2004. However, Biden trounced Trump in these states, winning three of four of them by double-digits. These states may now be considered out-of-reach for the GOP in national elections, further narrowing their path to victory in Presidential elections. In addition, while Biden’s margin of victory in Nevada was small, it’s a state that has become narrowly out-of-reach for Republicans since they won it in 2004.
Perhaps the biggest boost for the Democrats (and blow for the GOP) are wins in Arizona and Georgia, two previously deep-red states that even Obama failed to make ground in. Arizona has been trending Democratic since 2016 and the party has now won both of the state’s Senate seats and the majority of its House districts. Biden’s win here solidifies this trend. Democrats came close in Georgia’s governor race back in 2018. This time, unprecedented voter turnout, particularly amongst African-Americans, gave Biden the edge. Though it’s worth keeping a close eye on January’s Senate runoff races to see whether Democrats can continue their momentum. In addition, while the party did not turn Texas blue, they put the GOP on the defensive and came within five percent of winning a formerly safe-red state – that’s an accomplishment in itself.
One year ago, the upcoming election looked bleak for Democrats. A booming economy, failed impeachment process and divided opposition gave Trump a clear pathway to victory. Then, Covid-19 shocked the world on its head and gave us speculation that Trump and the GOP were headed for a historic loss. In the end, 2020 gave us something in the middle: a Democratic win, yes, but not a wipeout for Republicans.
America’s political landscape is changing drastically and its diverse demographics mean these changes are not straightforward. The Democratic Party will have the challenge of governing a divided nation, possibly with a Republican Senate. Internal conflicts between the moderate and progressive wings will also spur up as they are no longer united in their opposition to Trump.
The GOP also faces an uncertain post-Trump environment. The President divided the party’s base, winning them crucial states in the rustbelt but loosening their grip on traditional red heartlands such as Georgia, Arizona and Texas. Trump’s continued insistence that there was rampant voter fraud in the election and claim that many Republicans were complicit in this will likely hurt the party’s standing with Trump voters, as is already happening in Georgia.
Look to next month’s runoffs in Georgia and, in the long term, the 2022 and 2024 Elections in key states to see which party can reap the benefits of a changing country.