“How are you feeling?”, I messaged my strongly Democratic family yesterday.
“Optimism undergirded with a small spot of dread”, replied my Dad, no doubt reflecting the feeling of many Democrats across the country. What we know of the presidential results so far appear to validate these feelings.
Though it was accepted that it was going to take days, if not weeks, to know the final results from the election, this is not the emphatic start for Joe Biden the party would have been hoping for, with Trump in a stronger position to retain the presidency than many will have predicted. Democrat hopes for a Blue Wave, by flipping control of the Senate, are also close to vanishing. This was personified by high profile attempts to unseat Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky and Trump stalwart Lindsey Graham in North Carolina, with both incumbents retaining their seats comfortably.
To be sure, the Biden camp is confident about its paths to victory in many of the states yet to be called. Turning Arizona from red to blue is significant and marks an important moment in that state’s ideological evolution. Losing Florida, though, with an apparent significant underperformance amongst Hispanic voters, will sting.
Focus is now on a handful of swing states: Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania in particular. All states Donald Trump carried in 2016 and all states where he currently holds polling leads, albeit none are ready to declare a victor, one way or the other. The president though has already claimed victory and said he will call on the Supreme Court to stop the counting process. An uncertain period awaits the country.
Whether or not Biden does win the presidency, there appears to be a larger issue with the offer Democrats are putting to Americans. It has become a truism to say the Trump presidency has been one of the most divisive in the nation’s history, with what many saw as a transactional approach to governing that sought to reward the president’s supporters. In a vacuum, the race shouldn’t have been close. Why is it then that the party looks set to hobble across the finish line, if they indeed even make it that far?
Long pegged as a party of elitists, there seems to be something about the cultural currents running through America that Democrats may simply not fully grasp. I was struck recently listening to a recent New York Times podcast despatch from Rhinelander, Wisconsin, a town in the generally pro-Trump northern half of the state. Interviewing Harvard grad Kirk Bangstad, the Democratic candidate running for the town’s Wisconsin State Assembly seat, the journalist asked why he thought Trump garnered so much support amongst voters in the region. Bangstad replied, “I have to believe it’s because they’re consuming the wrong news. A lot of them I feel haven’t been equipped with the tools of media literacy or critical thinking skills to be able to discern if they’re being told something that doesn’t quite gel or is not true”. The real issues of “fake news” and misinformation aside, is that characterisation of local voters as, really, a bit dim, supposed to be helpful? A deeper grappling with the anxieties facing voters I’d suggest is needed.
This election should serve as a cautionary tale for the Democrats. While there was little stopping the coronavirus pandemic from becoming the focal point of the Biden campaign, it came at the expense of the development of a wider, compelling policy platform. Whatever the result, this shortcoming needs to be addressed with urgency, whether Biden ultimately wins the presidency or not.