This discussion is one segment of a multi-part series centered around the 2020 Presidential Election.
Interviews have been transcribed from a digital roundtable that took place on 11/19 that included panelists, Democratic pollsters, and WINS team members Bernard Whitman and Matt McDermott. The roundtable was moderated by Scott Kotchko.
SCOTT: There were so many different competing stories and narratives with this election. From all of the pre-election prognostications, to the stories on election night, election week (or whatever we’re calling it now), to what’s been made apparent after the dust has settled.
From your perspectives, what really went down here? How did Joe Biden win and who deserves credit for propelling him to victory?
BERNARD: I don’t think there’s one clear answer. I think it’s very complex. Any presidential election is ultimately a referendum on the incumbent. This year was a referendum on Donald Trump, and Joe Biden won. But he just barely won. I think many of us would agree that Donald Trump may in fact be the worst President in American history, but 74 million Americans disagree with that. And Democrats did abysmally in the House, pretty bad in the Senate, and pretty bad in the state legislatures.
How did Joe Biden win? Why did he win when Hillary Clinton lost? And this is no disrespect at all to our progressive friends. No disrespect at all to the Rising American Electorate. No disrespect to the incredible work that was done by numerable constituency groups.
But in a word, Karen and her husband helped win this election, more than anyone else. The suburbs, particularly large metropolitan suburbs around major cities in battleground states made the difference in the election. It wasn’t very much. It didn’t shift by a whole lot. It didn’t need to shift by a whole lot. But if you had to isolate one group that changed, it was white women, college and non-college educated, and also, in some states, certain states, like Georgia, white men, even without college degrees.
MATT: I agree with Bernard completely, that this election was and was always going to be a referendum on Donald Trump. And it was exactly that. We have lived through four years in which a majority of this country did not support his presidency, did not view his administration favorably. A majority of him did not vote for him in 2016. And the same was true in 2020.
And I think we can pretty safely say at this point, that a majority of this country doesn’t support Trumpism. There are certainly structures in place that allows Donald Trump and his party to have a pretty sizable influence over our country. But at the end of the day, when you look at both the popular vote and the Electoral College results in this election, Republicans do not have a majority in this country.
And Joe Biden, as the opposition candidate, was able to put together a majority a coalition to get to 50% plus one. That’s how you win elections.
And whether it was black voters in urban areas across America, white suburban voters who swung against Donald Trump, whether it was maintaining a significant advantage among Latinos, though admittedly, to a smaller percent than Hilary Clinton did a few years ago, Biden put together a majority coalition, which is what you need to do to win the Presidency.
BERNARD: Yes, the coalition that Joe Biden put together was diverse and included young people, people of color, unmarried women. And it also appealed just enough to white working class, white suburban men and women, some with college degrees, some without college degrees, to flip the votes in key Northern industrial states like Michigan, Wisconsin, and also Pennsylvania. Trump never governed with a coalition, and he never sought a coalition. He just sought to intrench his base and turn them out.
Joe Biden took the coalition approach and expanded it, just a little bit from what Hillary Clinton did in 2016. And I think that’s going to be critically important to his governing and reshaping the Democratic Party. Certainly the Republican Party, post-Trump, has to rebuild. But the Democratic Party, got a down ballot shellacking, the likes of which most of them never even saw coming. And I think we really need to sort of figure that out.