Biden might have won but Democrats lost big in 2020

Biden might have won but Democrats lost big in 2020

Ben MacKillop

Now just over a week after Election Day, despite lawsuits in swing states and weak allegations of voter fraud, it looks almost certain, given projections, that Joe Biden will become the 46th president of the United States. While millions of voters and media members alike are celebrating the long-awaited end of Donald Trump’s presidency, many are missing the overall theme of this election, that the Democratic Party overall lost big on Election Day. 

Republicans are likely to hold the Senate 

Leading up to the election, many mainstream Democrats were open to the idea of extreme measures like packing the court or ending the Senate filibuster. Vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris had previously stated she would be open to court packing in an interview with The New York Times, but has since dodged all questions regarding the matter. These changes, among other progressive wish list items, were all assumed to be a possibility based on the assumption that Democrats would retake the Senate. 538’s election forecast gave Democrats a 75% chance to retake the Senate. 

Despite massive polling advantages in races like North Carolina, Iowa, and Maine, Republican incumbents held strong and won these swing races handedly. Especially in the case of Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, where Collins was never leading in a single poll leading up to the election, averaging a 6-point deficit to challenger Sara Gideon. Gideon quite literally had “more money than she could spend” in the election, out-raising Collins 4 to 1. Despite this, on election day Collins won by an 8-point margin, a 14-point flip compared to the polling average.  

Across the country, Democrats spent more than double what Republicans did in Senate races, including more than $200 million in Kentucky and South Carolina alone attempting to unseat Republicans Mitch McConnell and Lindsay Graham, both of who won their races by double digit margins.  

While Democrats still have a chance to retake the Senate through Georgia’s two runoff elections in early January, the odds are very slim. Even in this scenario it would leave Democrats with a 50-50 split in the Senate where a vice president Kamala Harris could break ties in their favor, meaning even a single detractor such as now infamous moderate Joe Manchin (D-WV) could bust their majority. This also gives a very weak mandate to a Joe Biden administration looking to effect progressive change.  

Republicans maintain state control 

In the fight for state legislature control, Republicans on local levels seem to have largely benefited from split-ticket voting across the country maintaining state government control despite losing up ticket. Republicans have likely maintained all but 1 of their 21 state government trifecta (control of the state’s house, senate, and governorship), as well as maintaining control of 9 other state legislatures where states have Democratic governors.  

While Republicans have likely lost state government control in Arizona, it is a major win for Democrats who have those Senate seats and voted against President Trump in the election. New Hampshire voters gave a clear mandate to state Republicans, giving Republicans large majorities in both legislative chambers, the executive council, and a massive reelection win for Gov. Chris Sununu.  

With divided government at the national level, these state election results are set to have some of the largest impact on our politics in recent history. Since 2020 is a census year, the 2021-22 elected state legislatures will control the redistricting process ahead of the 2022 midterm elections. This sets up Republicans, especially in swing states, to make a strong attempt to retake the House of Representatives in 2022, solidifying their hold of swing state congressional districts through the redistricting process. This use of redistricting to create an advantage for one party is often referred to as “gerrymandering,” a contentious process that many see as unfair. 

This is also an important year for state government control as the newly held 6-3 conservative majority on the Supreme Court is in a position to strike down many of Democrats’ progressive policy goals, which would push these decisions onto the states. While there is no reasonable evidence that the Supreme Court would look to overturn either Roe v. Wade (which refers to abortion rights) or Obergefell v. Hodges (which refers to same-sex marriage), in the event these cases were overturned, decisions on abortion or same-sex marriage would fall back on individual states legislatures.  

Changes in the Democratic coalition 

In a post-election conference call of Democratic lawmakers on Thursday, Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-VA), who won reelection by less than 7,000 votes, lashed out at progressive Democrats claiming their policy goals such as defunding the police and ending fracking nearly cost her reelection. The leaking of this call sparked large internal, and external, disagreements between prominent Democrats over the policy future of the party. 

Despite numerous high-ranking Democrats such as House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC), claiming that sloganeering such as “defund the police” caused many democratic incumbents to lose their races

These internal struggles for Democrats highlight their biggest problem going forward in building a coalition of voters that can defeat a Republican candidate that has greater appeal than Donald Trump. Democrats also face a large problem in a growing Republican coalition that is including more Black and Hispanic voters, something many in the political elite who blamed Trump’s election in 2016 on white voters are having trouble explaining

According to CNN exit polls, Trump increased his vote share compared to 2016 in every demographic group except for white men, of which he lost 13 points. Trump gained 6 points among Latino men, 2 points among Latina women, 7 points among both Black men and women, and 3 points among white women. This in no way discounts the significant Black turnout for Biden in areas like Detroit and Atlanta that helped swing the election in his favor, but does represent that across the country, for whatever reason, non-white people have warmed up to Trump. 

The area that perhaps shows the results the most in Trump’s favor is Texas’ Zapata county, which is 85% Hispanic and on the Mexico border and, according to The Washington Post, has not voted for a Republican candidate since Reconstruction. In 2016, Trump lost Zapata to Hillary Clinton by 31-point margin, this year Trump beat Biden by 6 points.  

While the hole Trump leaves in the Republican Party will be hard to fill, for better and worse, there are a lot of signs pointing to Republican success in the coming elections. It is hard to blame people having optimism over Trump leaving the White House, but Democrats face a serious uphill battle over the four years, and if they continue to fight among themselves will face a serious challenge in two years. 

Photo Courtesy of the Smithsonian Magazine