Since I haven’t yet come across any reason to suppose that the Election 2020 exit polls are any more accurate than most of the surveys throughout the campaign, and especially during the general election, worthwhile post-mortems are going to be really difficult to produce.
One exception: It’s clear what happened with the hundreds of counties across the country that voted twice for Barack Obama for President, and then flipped for Donald Trump in 2016. I’ve written repeatedly (most recently here) that these mainly lower-income counties are especially important because they clearly contain lots of Trump voters who couldn’t possibly be the racists who are so often viewed as the majority of the President’s base.
Moreover, they not only look like a representative sample of voters who bought Mr. Trump’s promise that he would champion their economic interests. They also look like voters who made a smart bet in this regard, as the majority of these counties saw their annual pay grow faster under Trump pre-CCP Virus than during the most comparable Obama administration time frame.
And how did they vote earlier this month? Recounts and challenges could change some of the numbers we have already, but as of this writing, an overwhelming majority of these so-called “forgotten Americans” stuck with the President a second time around. So did nearly all of those whose economic fortunes – at least by that wage measure – improved faster under Mr. Trump than under his predecessor.
First the overall numbers. In 2016, 194 counties for which the aforementioned wage data are available from the Labor Department supported the Trump candidacy after voting Obama in 2008 and 2012. Three other counties for which no such data have been kept followed this pattern.
Of the 194, 173 (89.17 percent) stuck with the President this time around, along with two of the data-less counties. Just as important, of the 194, 116 (59.79 percent) saw faster pay growth under Mr. Trump than under Obama, and 102 of them (87.93 percent) pulled the lever for the President in 2020. To me, that adds up to a pretty powerful case that a great deal of the President’s appeal stemmed from his economic populist pitch.
These outcomes can’t possibly be either-or. That is, just because a flip county prospered more under Mr. Trump than under Obama doesn’t necessarily mean that this performance was foremost in every voter’s mind. And it can’t be assumed that counties that have supported the President despite worse relative economic performance were filled with racists and xenophobes and other deplorables.
Nonetheless, a strong relationship between greater prosperity for these flip counties and their support for the President held up well through Election 2020.
Of course, the presidential vote this time around was awfully close, especially in the six key battleground states where the talleys seem certain to decide the final outcome: Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Yet it doesn’t seem that the Trump flippers relatively few flops back to his Democratic opponent made much of a difference in any of these states.
Of the total 49 Trump flip counties in these states, only five flopped back last week. Moreover, the 49 were highly concentrated – 23 in Wisconsin alone, and 12 in Michigan. Arizona had none and Pennsylvania only three. Interestingly, two of the Wisconsin flippers supported Biden in 2020, as did two of their Pennsylvania counterparts. But even given the closeness of the statewide totals, their populations appear too small to have made a difference.
A stronger argument can be made for the floppers’ importance in three states that were not as close as expected. Iowa, for example, was long thought to be up for grabs despite the handy margin it gave candidate Trump four years ago. It’s arguable that his repeat performance in 2020 stemmed in part from the decision of all 27 Trump flip counties to remain in the Republican column.
Minnesota was considered a Trump possibility this year, since Mr. Trump came within five percentage points of victory in this traditional Democratic stronghold. But President Trump actually lost some ground this month, and the decision of four of the state’s 19 Trump flippers to support Joe Biden clearly didn’t help.
Finally, New Hampshire looked like another possible Trump pickup. But two of its three flip counties (including Coos, for which there’s no economic data), opted for Biden.
All told, the numbers represented by these shifts were pretty small, too. But they could have reflected changes in sentiment elsewhere in these states that accounted for the somewhat surprising outcomes. A similar argument can be made for the six high-profile battlegrounds, but in my view the number of floppers returning to the Democratic camp was so small that it’s much weaker.
Again, some or even many of these results could change in the near future. But if they don’t, then no doubt many of the Americans who agree with President Trump that they’d been forgotten before are hoping that they’re remembered better over the next four years.