Shortcuts / 11 November 2020

The US Elections: What Went Down

As we come down from a frantic week of wall-to-wall US election talk, this final episode in our shortcut on the US elections covers how it all went down. We take a look at how America voted; how the House and the Senate vote played out, and what happens in the lead up to Joe Biden’s inauguration on 20 January.

What was the voter turnout like?

This year’s US presidential election saw a record turnout, with about 160 million people voting, or 66% of the eligible population. It’s some 22.5 million more people who voted in this election than the 137.5 million Americans who voted in 2016. And records look to have been set in more than 40 of America’s 50 states in terms of the percentage of the population that cast a ballot for president.

How many votes did Donald Trump and Joe Biden receive?

While there’s still some counting to go to allocate some of those 160 million votes, its expected that Biden will amass 81.8 million, while Trump will receive 74.9 million – that makes them the most and second-most in US history.

Did many states change their political preference?

Not a whole heap of states changed how they voted from 2016 to 2020. As it stands though there are three and possibly five states that changed their preference from Republican to Democrat. This includes the so-called ‘blue wall’, which refers to three states in the north of the country: Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. They were states that reliably supported the Democrats until 2016 when they flipped to vote for Trump. Winning them back was crucial to delivering Biden victory. Biden might also win Arizona making him the first Democrat to do so since 1996. And across the other side of country Georgia is still in play where Biden would be the first Democratic winner since 1992.

What do we know about the demographic trends?

A little is known – going more strongly Biden’s way were women than in 2016 for Hillary Clinton. It looks like a lot more young people voted in this election, and that helped Biden. And going Trump’s way were some key groups of Hispanic voters, especially Cuban Americans in South Florida and Mexican Americans in South Texas. But there’s a lot still to unpick there.

So did the polls get it wrong again?

The discussion on that is just starting and there’s going to be a lot to go through on that front. One school of thought already is that it’s projected that Biden will win the popular vote by 4.3 percentage points. And Biden led in the final national polls by around 8-9 points. So some say the result will wind up within the margin of error of around 3 to 4 points, both nationally and at the state level. But there’s others who say the polls got it badly wrong and it’s a real problem for gauging elections in the future. Meanwhile, Trump says the polls reporting a shift away from him in the lead up to election day was a conspiracy of the media against him.

How did the battle for the House of Representatives play out?

So just to refresh, all 435 House of Reps seats are elected every 2 years. The Democrats won control of the House at the 2018 midterms, and at the moment it has not yet been declared. But it looks like the Democrats have the 218 seats they need to secure a majority and Democrat Nancy Pelosi is seeking the support of her party to be returned as Speaker of the House.

But interestingly, the Democrats have underperformed against expectations in the House vote, and have lost almost every race that has been close so far. And in fact it looks like the Republicans have made a net gain of five seats and counting. A lot of work will go into analysing this on a seat-by-seat basis but it does look like in some areas there was a vote against Trump when it came to voting for President, but the same voters have preferenced the local Republican candidate for the House ahead of the Democrats. That was not expected.

And what about the Senate?

It doesn’t have a winner yet either. It’s a chamber with 100 seats and the Republicans held power there heading into the election. At the moment it’s sitting at 48:48, which means there’s 4 more spots to be decided. Just as a reminder, there were 35 seats up for grabs this election with Senators cycling through 6 year terms. It went into the election with the Republicans holding a 2 seat majority. There doesn’t seem to have been any huge upsets in the Senate races but the Democrats have again lost most of the toss-up races, like they did in the House.

However, there is a scenario where it ends up with a 50:50 result which would favour Biden because it gives the newly installed Vice President Kamala Harris the casting vote when things are deadlocked as part of her role. And that would obviously make like a lot easier for Team Biden as they pursue their policy agenda to have a favourable Senate.

What has the Trump campaign been saying in the election aftermath?

Donald Trump has not conceded that he’s lost the election and he is mounting legal challenges to pursue vote recounts and allegations of voter fraud in those critical and close battleground states. But Trump has so far not produced any evidence of widespread voting fraud.

There has been a lot of talk from Team Trump about what they consider to be ‘legal’ votes and what are ‘illegal’ votes. On election night Trump said he wanted “voting to stop” – what he meant was he wanted counting to stop there and then so that early postal votes that were mailed in and postmarked by election day but arrived in the days afterwards should not be counted. And by that score Trump would probably have won the election because of what they call the ‘red mirage’. That’s a reference to more Republican supporters casting their votes at voting centres on election day – and those votes are counted on election night. The issue being that millions of Democratic Party supporters used early voting to participate in this election. But while each state has different rules about how they count the vote, it’s not ‘illegal’ for those votes to be counted.

So all legal challenges considered, what happens with the electoral process now?

So are far as the process goes, those legal disputes have to be finalised by the 8th of December because on the 14th of December, the electors – those 538 people who represent the electoral college – have a job to do. They need to vote by paper ballot in their respective state capitols for the presidential candidate who won their state. 33 states and Washington DC have laws or regulations requiring those electors to vote the same way as the popular vote from their state, but there is a wildcard scenario where the go rogue and vote for the other candidate. That’s probably something Trump’s team are dreaming about but there’s no suggestion that will happen this time around.

So after the electors cast their electoral colleges votes, and they are turned into “certificates of the vote”, which are then sent to officials, including the President of the Senate, by registered mail. That has to be received by officials by 23 December. And on 6 January, the House and Senate hold a joint session to count the electoral votes. If one ticket has received 270 or more electoral votes – which Joe Biden has – the president of the Senate, currently Vice President Mike Pence, announces the results. And 20 January is inauguration day when the new administration is sworn in and Trump is to vacate the White House.

Are they going to be able to get him out?

Yes is the short answer, but he’s probably not going to go without a fight.

What will Trump be able to do between now and 20 January?

Trump is in the period when he’s known as a ‘lame duck’ president. That refers to this period between losing the election and his successor being sworn in. But he’s not lame at all because between now and then, Trump has the full powers of the presidency to exercise the policy and personnel changes as he sees fit.

And there’s a lot of focus now on what Trump’s going to do with that time. On the policy front, he can’t force too much change because any shifts can be undone by Biden after he’s sworn in. But what he can do is punish his enemies and reward those who have been loyal to him – and that can be pretty consequential.

So that can encompass things like firing Cabinet members, like he’s done recently over Twitter to Defence Secretary Mark Esper. And he can potentially sack senior government officials, and issue pardons. What everyone is keeping an eye out for is Trump pardoning himself, friends, family members and Trump business entities and employees for any crime they might have committed before or during his presidency.

Squiz recommends:

NYTimes The Daily – About Those Polls…

SlateTrump Team Holds News Conference Outside Drab Landscaping Firm, Next to Adult Bookstore



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