The US election is over. After four full days of vote-counting agony, Joseph R. Biden Jr., former Vice-President of the United States, was declared America’s next president. It was a result many tentatively saw coming, even if it was far from certain – the 2016 election showed just how inaccurate polls could be. Though President Donald Trump has not conceded yet, with his campaign frantically filing lawsuits and screaming about voter fraud, this election has concluded in a Biden victory. So, after almost an entire year of election season, what now?
Let’s start with tying up some loose ends. No, Trump’s lawsuits won’t work. Many have been thrown out already, and the one in Pennsylvania that ruled favorably for Trump only granted the segregation of certain ballots to be added to the final count later. Recounts won’t do anything either; in 2016, a presidential recount in Wisconsin ended up changing less than 200 votes (in the winner’s favour, no less). And this isn’t 2000, where a recount could determine everything. The Supreme Court cannot unilaterally declare Trump victor, or even throw out votes (assuming they were legally cast, which they were!). So, Trump has lost. An interesting question might be when he concedes, and how. But compared to other questions, that’s small potatoes (and mostly for my amusement anyway).
The Presidential Election received most of the press, but one-third of US senate seats were up for election this year. The Republicans started the election with a 53-47 majority, and ended up flipping one seat (Alabama). The Democrats flipped two (Colorado and Arizona). Notably, though, three seats are still undecided. Alaska has yet to be called, with only 50% of the vote in; that said, in all likelihood Dan Sullivan (R) will retain his seat. The interesting state now is Georgia, which Biden seems to have won (barring recount) and has two runoff senate elections happening in January. Both seats are currently held by Republicans, and with the current 50-48 split in the Senate, the runoffs could determine senate control. If both Jon Ossoff (D) and Raphael Warnock (D) win, the Democrats will have a majority in the Senate (50-50 tie is broken by the Vice President, who, of course, will be Kamala Harris). This is unlikely though, leading us into arguably the most pressing question this election raised: what will Biden do without the Senate?
Mitch McConnell (R), the Senate Majority Leader, does not play nice – he famously blocked dozens of Obama judges, used the nuclear option on the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch, and blocked a Covid-19 relief bill last month. He is far from an ideal partner, but Biden has no alternative. We are left with two scenarios – one of my wishful thinking, and one of probable reality. Optimistically, Biden is known for his ability to work across the aisle. He served in the Senate for decades and thus has connections with the right people. It is possible that with those connections and Democratic control of the House of Representatives some generally popular legislation can be passed. Think more Covid relief, some healthcare reform, or the DREAM Act. Nothing grand or particular ambitious, but a few good things. That’s the best case. On the other hand, McConnell was willing to bet on Republicans in 2016 by playing spoiler, and it is perhaps naïve to think this situation is any different. There is a real possibility nothing gets done for four years, and that McConnell blocks many of Biden’s cabinet appointments. What happens remains to be seen, but for all of Biden’s talk of reuniting the country, a lot of that goal’s success hinges on McConnell’s willingness to play ball. And even then, it is unlikely we will see massive, structural change.
What else matters from this election? Electoral shifts! It’s hard to see on the Electoral College map, but there were some serious voter realignments this year. Florida stayed red, but not for the same reason as 2016 – Biden seriously underperformed Clinton in Miami-Dade County, particularly with Hispanic voters. It’s tempting to write this off as a fluke, but Biden also underperformed in majority-Hispanic counties in Texas despite his overall positive performance there. What does this mean? Trump and Republicans are seeking to diversify their coalition, and it seems to be working. Though not enough to win the election, it should trouble Democrats. They need a new strategy.
In this vein, the next four years are going to define both the Democratic and Republican parties. Democrats obviously need to figure out who they are and who they appeal to. On top of their troubles with minority voters, some of the last rural Democrats (sorry, Collin Peterson) lost House elections this year. And with a growing progressive wing fighting against the more moderate establishment, there is little universal ideological basis for the party. Over the next four years, watch for how the ideological and demographic makeup of the Democratic Party shifts and solidifies, or if it does at all.
With all this negative talk about Democrats, you would think Trump won handily. Well, he lost, and now Republicans are going to have an even harder four years on their hands. The GOP sold its soul for Trump; they didn’t even have a platform this year! What does the Republican Party stand for? Is it a big tent party of conservatives, neoliberals, libertarians, and conspiracy theorists, or is it a narrow aisle of Trump-aligned politicians? What are its values? Who is Trump’s spiritual successor? These questions need to be answered, and it will be interesting to see what the GOP’s next move is. Do they erase Trump from history, or run Don Jr. in 2024 (or even let Trump run again)? Do they pivot into or away from QAnon? I’m not sure about any of these questions, but it seems unlikely that Trump will just go away. His voting bloc was large and somewhat successful, and the entire Republican Party has pinned its fate to him over the past four years. That is not so easy to erase. Long story short, in both parties, keep your eye on who starts manoeuvring for the 2024 nomination.
Lastly, a note on the polls. They were wrong once again. As a daily poll-watcher, it confuses (but does not surprise) me. There are serious problems with the polling system in the US, and this is true for every single firm (well, almost: good work, Selzer!). It is worth looking at how polling methodologies change over the next few years, and how successful they are in 2022/4. 2020 was not the death of the polling industry, but it, like every other person or group I discussed in this article, sure has a lot to prove over the next four years. Let’s see if any of them can do it.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Liberty Club.
‘Senate and House elections 2020: full results for Congress‘ – The Guardian
‘What’s a Runoff, and Why Are There Two? Here’s Why Georgia Matters‘ – The New York Times
‘McConnell’s historic judge blockade‘ – Politico