American politics, and especially elections, have always fascinated me. I did my first research paper in fifth grade about Jimmy Carter’s potential to rise to the presidency in 1975 (thanks, Mrs. Beard). I completed my doctorate at the University of Georgia writing about factors affecting outcomes in open seat (no incumbent) U.S. Senate elections.
So, a presidential election year with the potential for the White House and both houses of Congress to swap partisan control is like Christmas, my birthday and the Fourth of July all rolled into one for me.
But 2020 is different. The COVID-19 pandemic, the continuing descent of the political rhetoric, and the alienation for so many of us in having a shared sense of identity as Americans has made this cycle much more challenging for all of us — winning and losing seem to make our divisions more vibrant.
The year 2020 brought Georgia to the forefront of the political scene with its electorate perhaps having the most consequential influence on the political direction of the country. First, the state’s 16 Electoral College votes were competitive for the first time in 30 years. Not one but two U.S. Senate seats were up for election. Two U.S. House seats were competitive, indicating that partisan change was increasing in the Atlanta suburbs. And it appeared there was potential for Democrats to gain control of one house in the state’s General Assembly.
As of 10 a.m. Nov. 5, two days after the election, the final outcome is undetermined. The state’s electoral votes may go to either former Vice President Joe Biden or current President Donald Trump, but before that a recount is almost assured to take place and, more than likely, numerous legal battles.
There will definitely be a runoff in January for one of the two U.S. Senate seats and probably the other, with recounts and legal battles likely. The Gwinnett County-based seat in the U.S. House of Representatives that Carolyn Boudreaux appears to have won adds an additional Democrat to the Georgia delegation. This brings the balance of the delegation to eight Republicans and six Democrats, a remarkable shift from 25 years ago.
The race for seats in the Georgia General Assembly appears to be a draw with Republicans having knocked off the House Minority Leader, Bob Trammel, but that win has been offset by losses in the Atlanta metro area.
According to the exit-polling released by The New York Times, one of the most potent factors associated with voter choice was whether a respondent identified as male or female. Women voted for Biden by a 13-point margin while among men the president enjoyed a one-point margin. This dynamic held true not only with respondents who identified as white but was even more pronounced among Black and Hispanic voters. Race continued to correlate with vote choice, with non-white voters being far more likely to vote for Democratic candidates than white voters, with the important caveat that the sex of the respondent created splits in non-white voting blocs.
Other factors also evidenced in the data: younger voters were more inclined to vote for the Democrats while older voters trended Republican though by lower margins than in past elections. Individuals that self-identified as LGBT were more likely to vote for Biden — though Trump doubled his support in this bloc from his performance in 2016.
So what does all this mean?
When I look at these results, I see that Americans are deeply divided. Our basic perceptions of fundamental issues seem to differ and align by our partisan preferences.
Two major issues affecting our country — the COVID-19 pandemic and police interactions with our minority citizens — are seen quite differently by different groups of people. For the Trump supporter, the pandemic is seen much more as an economic crisis and not as much as a public health emergency. Likewise, the results of the unrest witnessed by Americans indicates we are deeply divided in our perceptions of whether police brutality or lawlessness is the root of the problem.
We are a divided nation and whoever will lead us in the next few years will face opposition in Congress and the American people more broadly.
As of the time of this writing, Biden seemed to be on the cusp of having accumulated the 270 electoral votes necessary to become the 46th president of an exceptional country. But I wonder how he can govern? The 2020 electoral outcomes provide clear insight, not to the direction we as a people would like to go but rather to the depths of the divisions among us.
We are in difficult times, and we must find commonality with our neighbors if we are to be able to once again thrive as a nation.