Jacobin - December 10, 2020

In 2020, Democrats did not focus on winning back working-class voters in the two-hundred-plus counties that shifted from Barack Obama to Trump four years ago — and they won back only a tiny fraction of those locales. Instead, Democrats adopted a strategy aimed at replacing the blue-collar segment of the Obama coalition with suburban voters and anti-Trump Republicans — which succeeded at the top of the ticket but created the weakest Democratic coattails in six decades.

While the curtain falls on Donald Trump’s desperate and frivolous post-election lawsuits, Democrats are rightly asking how they were able to beat Trump but could not regain control of the Senate and maintain or increase their margin in the House. At a time when Democrats should be dispassionately examining the lessons learned from 2020, some in the conservative wing of the party are instead using this opportunity to attack the party’s growing progressive wing.

Soon after the election, centrists began arguing that Democrats lost House seats and most key Senate races because terms like “defund the police” and “socialism” turned off too many moderate voters — despite Joe Biden getting far more votes for president than any presidential candidate in history. In their telling, Biden was Teflon while promising to raise taxes on the wealthy and make major investments in fighting climate change, but centrists who lost House seats and failed in Senate bids were dragged down by Republican name-calling and red-baiting.

On its face, the story is incongruous. In fact, it is so nonsensical that one of the standard-bearers of the “the Left dragged us all down” crowd, former CIA officer and Blue Dog Coalition representative Abigail Spanberger, actually won a higher percentage of the vote in 2020 than she did in 2018.

So, what’s really going on?

Much of the answer lies in the very strategy chosen to elect Biden and oust Trump.

In 2020, Democrats did not focus on winning back working-class voters in the two-hundred-plus counties that shifted from Barack Obama to Trump four years ago — and they won back only a tiny fraction of those locales. Instead, Democrats adopted a strategy aimed at replacing the blue-collar segment of the Obama coalition with suburban voters and anti-Trump Republicans — which succeeded at the top of the ticket but created the weakest Democratic coattails in six decades.

Democrats’ Strategy Boosted GOP Turnout, Which Hurt Downballot


Tens of millions of dollars were spent by Democratic groups to turn out Republicans who could no longer stomach Trump. Coupled with a surprisingly effective turnout operation by the GOP machine, 15 million more Republicans voted in 2020 than in 2016, while Democratic turnout only increased by 6 million votes.

It is difficult to know how effective Democrats’ focus on swinging GOP voters was, given that Trump consolidated the Republican vote percentage-wise from 2016 to 2020 — going from 90 percent support to 94 percent support among GOP voters. That said, an analysis of 2016 and 2020 exit polls shows Biden did get almost a hundred thousand more Republican votes than Hillary Clinton did in 2016, because the overall size of the electoral pie was much bigger.

It is an open question whether those Republican votes would have come to Biden without the enormous cost of Republican outreach by pro-Biden groups — Trump may have made himself so toxic that those voters would have gone to Biden anyway, and there is evidence that some of the strategies to court GOP voters were ineffective. ...
Read full report at Jacobin