On the cusp of history. Trump’s defeat is a clear victory for Democrats even if it is not the blue tidal wave that had become a pre-election expectation of some. They did it with a unique coalition of liberal democratic socialists, disaffected moderate Republicans and everyone in between — and they expanded the electoral map, proving that a younger and more diverse electorate has new priorities. They have elected a woman — a woman of color, no less — on a nationwide ticket for the first time ever, and Democrats may yet gain a slim majority in the US Senate.
Turnout for this election set records. More than 74 million people cast votes for Biden and more than 70 million cast votes for Trump. Those numbers will continue to creep up, but it appears that well more than 65% of Americans participated in the election process, according to one estimate. It could be the highest turnout since 1900 — before women could vote.
There’s good news for the idea of democracy. The candidate who got more votes is on pace to win this election, which didn’t happen in 2016. In fact, Biden will exceed 50% of the vote. Clearly the country remains bitterly divided, but it’s hard to argue Biden doesn’t have some kind of political mandate with more than half the vote.
There’s bad news for Democrats, too. A large portion of the country continued to support Trump despite his impeachment, his personal divisiveness, his courting of racists and more. The country is divided to a degree many people didn’t realize. And while Republicans may not have the White House, they seriously ate into Democrats’ House majority and may yet hold the Senate.
Rust Belt states have been the base of Democrats’ electoral map for a generation, but along with winning them back, Biden also expanded the map into the Sun Belt and won two states that have not gone toward Democrats in decades.
The coalition of states that hands Biden the White House represents both the party’s past and its future.
Democrats can’t count on the Rust Belt. While Biden did rebuild the blue wall, it’s clear that Democrats can’t bank on the Rust Belt. Biden, a Pennsylvania native, cut into Trump’s lead with White men in the Keystone state, in particular, over his 2016 margin when he faced Hillary Clinton. That’s not a path future Democratic candidates may be able to achieve.
Look to states like Ohio and Iowa, which Democrats thought would be competitive but which ultimately went comfortably to Trump to understand the difficulty the party still faces with White, socially conservative voters.
Nationally, one of the largest changes from 2016 was Biden’s ability to cut into Trump’s support among White men. Read more here about what we learned from exit polls.
Biden, with help from new activism among young Black Democrats in Georgia as well as a coalition of Latino voters and disaffected Republicans in Arizona, is leading in two states Democrats have long had in their sights.
While he failed to win the massive prizes of Texas and Florida, which Democrats had hoped to win on similar terms, it’s clear the country is changing and states once unthinkable for Democrats to win are now on the table.
And Biden’s failure in Texas and Florida holds warning bells for Democrats. Their efforts to turn out and win Latino voters needs help. It’s also a lesson that Latino voters are not a monolith: Cuban-Americans in Miami proved receptive to Trump’s allegation that Democrats would veer the country toward socialism.
Before the election, Democrats had become increasingly confident they would take control of the US Senate. And that’s still technically a possibility.
But Republicans easily scored key Senate victories. Sen. Lindsey Graham in South Carolina and Sen. Mitch McConnell in Kentucky won by large margins. Sen. Susan Collins defied expectations and is on the cusp of victory in Maine, and Sen. Thom Tillis is leading in his bid for reelection in North Carolina. And they lost a seat in Alabama.
But they did pick up seats in Colorado and Arizona. And there are not one but two GOP-held Senate seats moving toward a January 5 runoff in Georgia. Those runoffs now appear likely to decide who controls the Senate.
In the House, rather than building on their majority, Democrats have lost a handful of seats and may lose more as we get more results in California, where some of their 2018 gains appear likely to be erased.
Biden’s victory came as a result of incredible turnout and some gains not in cities that are Democratic strongholds, but also in the suburban counties that often decide U.S. elections.
In Rust Belt states, Biden won back some suburban counties Clinton lost in 2016. In Sun Belt states he won suburban counties that Democrats haven’t won in recent elections. And repeating this trend in suburban counties in key states, Biden made up for increased turnout in rural counties where Trump improved his showing from four years ago.
Importantly, those gains in suburban counties extended even into states that Trump ultimately won, such as Ohio and Florida, which is something for both parties to consider in the future.
Biden’s failure in some other key counties — in Kenosha County, Wisconsin, and MacComb County, Michigan, for instance — is proof that suburbs will be battlegrounds going forward.
The point here is that the country is clearly changing. It’s changing around our political parties and re-forming our understanding of the country. And what worked in this election might not work in the next one, particularly if the singular politics of Trump are not involved.
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