America’s Democratic Future

Despite the lasting impact of the attack on the United States Capitol on January 6, 2021, the Democratic Party may be comfortable with broader demographic trends. The 2020 presidential election was not just an administrative victory; The record turnout showed that the real problem was always barriers to voting.

AUSTIN – With the one-year anniversary of the January 6 riots in Washington, let’s move on to the big picture.

The big anomaly in the 2020 US presidential election was Joe Biden’s victory by 7 million votes nationally, but it was 43,000 (in three contested states) a loss in the Electoral College and with it the choice. In California alone, Biden got 5 million more votes than he needs, and in New York, Biden got another 2 million.

So far, in this century, only Barack Obama has won decisive victories in both the popular vote and the Electoral College. In 2000 and 2016, the winner of the popular vote lost elections. In 2004, the score was based on only one state: Ohio. This anomaly is not only persistent, but also constitutional, which practically prevents its resolution.

However, democracy triumphed in the 2020 elections. The voter turnout in terms of voter percentage has been higher than any other election since 1900 (when practically only men could participate, and nearly all of them were white). The Covid-19 pandemic has forced local election officials to innovate, and they have done so by expanding voting by mail, voting in the days leading up to Election Day, 24-hour voting, and car voting. More than 100 million votes were cast before Election Day. In the end, Donald Trump’s final count was more than 11 million from 2016, and Biden outnumbered Hillary Clinton in 2016 by 15 million.

Low turnout in the United States is often attributed to voter apathy, but 2020 showed that the real problem has always been barriers to voting. In previous elections, there were few places to vote, voting was long and complicated, and the process was slow (queues often lasted for hours). Many people lack the time, patience, or stamina to wait.

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The system also discouraged changes in voting patterns, because the electoral boards allocated machines and human resources based on previous participation. Thus, there were not enough machines for new voters when the turnout was somewhere high, for whatever reason. The 2020 election at the time was an excellent, unintended experiment to remove barriers to voting…and it worked.

Those who now claim that there was fraud point to the massive increase in participation as evidence. In fact, the growth in participation in the so-called major states was no greater than in states where the outcome was not in doubt. Arizona was an exception, with participation growing 30 percent. But once adjustments are made to account for the rapid population growth in Arizona, the relative increase is similar to that in California, where fraud in raising quotas makes no sense. If anything, voting in Arizona was run by Republican officials.

There are also no indications that the vote count was suspicious. Votes are recorded and reported in every county, not just the states. Any tampering with the vote count must occur in specific counties. And because the 2020 elections had a track record in 2016, it was easy to spot individual censuses in county voting patterns.

Our analysis of results by county with three colleagues compared the top five states (Georgia, Arizona, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan) with five states where the score was rich: California, New York, New Jersey, Ohio, and Texas. We noticed some anomalies. Along the Mexican border, in Texas, for example, there’s been a sharp shift in pro-Trump results (due to the boom that federal border spending has generated), but those few counties are very small. In the rest of Texas, two large counties showed strong changes in Biden’s favour, and the same was true in two large counties in Georgia. These results can be explained by voter mobilization and demographic changes. Other than this, the analysis shows that there were no noticeable changes in any of the main or other conditions, regardless of their direction.

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Why did Biden win? We can find a simple answer in the electoral data. Compared to 2016, Trump fared better with women, blacks and Hispanics, but lost ground with white men, who showed a shift of about five percentage points in Biden’s favour. The change was mainly due to the men who voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012, but elected Trump over Clinton in 2016. His return to previous behavior marked the difference in three contested states — Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin — in which they were decisive in 2016. Except for a small difference , the principal states did not show special behaviour; The overall exodus to Biden was slightly higher in other states, including California, Texas and New Jersey.

There is a great irony in the way the presidential election is currently being conducted in the United States. In states with the fastest growth in income inequality since the early 1990s — including California, New York, Connecticut, New Jersey and Massachusetts — voting has always been Democratic. And in states where inequality has grown less (although it was not absent), the vote is republican. This pattern has been seen for decades and has become more severe with each presidential election.

How are these trends explained? It has nothing to do with attitude toward inequality, most people don’t know (or don’t care) the levels of inequality in their states (which we calculated for our study). The Democratic Party became a coalition of two large groups representing the extremes of the distribution: high-income professionals and low-income minorities. Republican strongholds are in suburbs, small towns, and rural areas, in the middle of the income scale. Then Republicans dominate where there is less inequality and Democrats where there is more. It’s a simple, systematic, and compelling pattern.

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Its ramifications play out in the South and Southwest, where minorities (particularly Hispanics) are growing rapidly and where the power of cities is gradually overpowering that of cities and rural areas. That’s why Arizona and Georgia transitioned in 2020, and Nevada transitioned to the Democrats a few years ago.

In Texas, with 38 Electoral College votes — more than Pennsylvania and Michigan combined — there has been a ruthless shift toward Democrats of 3 points every 4 years. Obama had 40% in 2012; Clinton 43% in 2016 and Biden 46% in 2020.

Republican legislatures, especially in the southern and southwestern states, have made the calculations in a panic. That’s why they reversed the experiments that allowed big access to voting in 2020. The silent slogan of the Republican Party is: Let’s bring American voters back in long queues (and give them water)! The idea is to dissuade everyone from voting.

If Congress now fails to protect the rights of voters, this strategy may work for some time (especially this year in the midterm elections, which often have low turnout). Democrats may falter for other reasons in 2024, but Republicans won’t save themselves by excluding voters. Voting is a habit, habits are hard to break. And die cast.


Professor of Government and Chair of Government/Business Relations at The University of Texas at Austin; He was an economist with the House Financial Services Committee and a former executive director of the Congressional Joint Economic Committee. From 1993 to 1997 he served as chief technical advisor for macroeconomic reform of the China State Planning Commission. He is the author of Inequality: What Everyone Needs to Know and Welcome to the Poisoned Chalice: The Destruction of Greece and the Future of Europe.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2020

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