US 2020 election: how Joe Biden won the presidency
The FT's US managing editor Peter Spiegel and global business columnist Rana Foroohar analyse the issues that shaped the US election outcome, how Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump in key battleground states, and whether their own predictions of the results were accurate
Executive Producer: Vanessa Kortekaas. Editor: Gregory Bobillot. Graphics Designer: Russell Birkett. Producer: Ben Marino. Camera Operators: Donell Newkirk and Oluwakemi Aladesuyi. Data Analysis: Christine Zhang.
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So, Rana, here we are a week after election day. God, it took long enough. And as we promised, we did look at the battleground states before the election. And now, we have to sort of look at what we got right, but also what we got wrong.
And let's start with the bad news, what we got wrong, at least what I got wrong, which is, frankly, our first episode, which was the Sun Belt. So we got it right. We both called Arizona for Biden. It looks like it's going to happen for Biden. It's very close.
We also got it right in that Trump got, held on to Texas, and I want to talk about that. The place where I got it very, very wrong was in Florida. So I want to start with Florida, just so I can atone for my sins.
Oh, sorry, that was Trump. So what did we get wrong about Florida? What did I get wrong about Florida? OK, what we had talked about is the surge of coronavirus in the summer turning off voters. And also you talked quite a bit about the economic downturn.
So we saw in the Jacksonville area in the north that Trump really was hurt by that factor. So the suburbs of Jacksonville, we saw Biden really surge. Again, these are areas that were Republican areas, but Biden was able to move the needle here.
St. John's County, which is southern Jacksonville, 6.5 per cent swing to Biden. Again, this is a county that went Trump, but again, he was able to peel off those voters. This area we talked about in the middle, the I-4 corridor, Tampa, St. Pete, Biden basically performed as well as Hillary did four years ago.
The big thing where Trump made gains was Miami-Dade County, and that is the Hispanic vote, which we're talking about in Texas as well. I mean, it was a 20-point swing towards Trump. Again, Biden won, but boy, Hispanics did not show up for Biden down there. And that's why Trump won Florida.
This is the big... and by the way, I thought it was going to be contested. I think I had a little line drawn between the two. I did think Florida was going to be close. To me, what I thought was going to be in play was, A, the economic issues, particularly with travel and tourism being so decimated, older people being concerned about corona, but you've still got that strong Trump base.
You've still got a lot of sort of libertarian financial types that are just voting on taxes, and that's it. You actually had a lot of billionaires moving from New York to Florida over the last few months in the wake of concerns about a wealth tax in New York. So I always thought that it was going to be close, but I think what's so fascinating, and in some ways, this is the story demographically of the election, is how the Latino vote is not a bloc.
Well, that's it. Yeah.
It is not a bloc. And it's actually quite naive in some ways for us ever to have thought it was, because a wealthy Cuban émigré in Florida that's concerned about tax, concerned about creeping socialism in the Democratic party, is not the same as some other urban immigrant voter, a Puerto Rican family in New York, or a Mexican immigrant in New Mexico. It's just not the same.
I think that's exactly right. And you mentioned that socialism issue. Remember, it's not just Cubans. We have a lot of Venezuelans who are now in Florida as well, Venezuelan Americans who are very concerned about what's going on in Venezuela.
This is just Miami-Dade County. I mean, the biggest county in the state - 53 per cent for Biden versus 63 per cent for Hillary Clinton. I mean, it's a huge, huge shift.
You say that this is also an issue elsewhere, because in Texas, again, McAllen, Texas. So that's right down here in the tip. The border... we talked about the border wall and how I thought that this was going to drive Hispanics into Biden's camp. McAllen, Texas went 20 per cent shift towards Trump.
And again, I think that that's about economics and not identity. So you've got a wealthier group of Latinos and African-Americans who are simply... they're voting much more like white counterparts in a certain economic group. They're not necessarily voting on identity. They're voting on economics. And I think that that's very much what's happening in some of these wealthier areas on the border.
And it's not even wealthier areas. And what someone was saying, and I was reading some accounts here, was that some of these areas here are 97 per cent Hispanic. They tend to be poor. But what... they're poor, uneducated, or lack of college education Hispanics, non-college-education whites are also voting for Trump. And so you're seeing, as you said, that they're voting like their Anglo...
In a bloc.
...counterparts. They're voting on socioeconomic issues, not necessarily as a minority bloc that we maybe thought going into the election.
Right, and it's interesting that gets into this idea of localism, of neighbourhood, of culture. We're starting to hear a lot of analysis that it really matters who your golfing buddies are voting for, what are people talking about at the club, in the school, at the grocery store, that people really do feel that social pressure. And so there's some swinging there.
And that was, again, much like Jacksonville here, we saw in Dallas area, we saw in the Austin area, the suburbs shifted big for Biden. And that was where Beto O'Rourke and where everyone was very enthusiastic about Texas turning was the suburban areas here. They did not account for that being knocked out by the lack of Hispanic support along the border.
And I think this is a phenomena, again, briefly on Arizona, because obviously the most important state becomes my home state - Maricopa County. You again saw Hispanics turn out more for Biden here, but again because of local issues. I mean, this a state where you had Sheriff Joe Arpaio. You have state legislation that was stop and frisk, almost, where if you looked Mexican, you got to get stopped and check your papers.
So much like California in the '90s where the Hispanics were turned off by Republican anti-immigration policies. Arizona you saw Hispanics move, again, for local issues. But elsewhere, as you said, we should not expect that a group should vote like a bloc amongst Hispanics any more than any other ethnicity. So I think that's the lesson from this election.
The other thing I got to say is you got to give Hillary Clinton credit. I mean, I know everyone talked about how disastrous her campaign was in 2016. But boy, they turned out the vote here, and they turned out the vote here. And if you look at the way their get-out-the-vote efforts, you know, even talking about Philadelphia and elsewhere, they had a better ground game than Biden did in a lot of these places.
And I think that is something that you've heard a lot of Hispanics say: you blew it on the ground game. And when we talked in our episode about Bernie Sanders being able to motivate and get out the vote amongst Hispanics in Nevada and elsewhere, we talked to Bernie Sanders' people, and what you heard from them is like, they never even tried.
They never even tried on the ground. I think that's really a...
You're getting at something else important, too, which is that when pollsters try to - pollsters got it wrong, again - when they try and predict, they're looking at, what did Hillary do in these states? What was the turnout? What were the cohorts? It's always changing.
I mean, it's just like quantitative traders. They're using bad historical data. It's pollsters come in, and they try and recreate the last war. And it's never the same. So I think we're going to see a lot less sort of quantitative polling going forward and a lot more sitting with focus groups of 15 people and really trying to understand what are their motivations, what are they thinking about?
And it's hard in the age of coronavirus. I would just say one last thing before we shift to our next group of states. I wouldn't be surprised if the way that Biden governs is affected by this. Could you see a lot of Hispanics in the Cabinet because of this?
I think you're going to see a focus on Hispanics as a voting group that is in play for 2024. And so I think these results in the Sun Belt are really going to have an effect on the next four years.
Mmm. I think you might even see a Republican in Cabinet as a peace offering.
All right. Well, let's move on to our next group of states where, again, in episode two, we talked about the African-American vote. And we looked at the south, and we looked at the industrial north. So Georgia, I hate to say it, Rana.
I got it right. You got it wrong.
You did. I blew it with Georgia...
...and North Carolina.
Went for Biden. And again, organisation there. North Carolina - you want to put the red on North Carolina to admit your sin there?
And then, in the industrial north, we looked at Pennsylvania, which went for Biden, and Michigan, which also went for Biden. So we actually got those right. But I really want to focus on Georgia. And not to rack up my win here.
No, no, listen.
But this, to me, is one of the most telling stories of the race, and it gets to this issue we talked about, which is the African-American vote.
It was all Atlanta...
...and the surrounding suburbs. The one that I really noticed was Cobb County. So a lot of people talk about Fulton County, which is where Atlanta is, huge upsurge in African-American vote. But Cobb County's one of these suburban counties. This is where Newt Gingrich used to represent in Congress.
This is rock-ribbed Republican.
Went for Biden. Went for Biden big. And this has a lot to do not only with changing demographics, so it's, as we said in the episode when we dealt with Georgia, huge move of African-Americans from the industrial north back into the south, so reverse Great Migration, particularly Atlanta, Charlotte.
But what we also saw is organisation, organisation, organisation. And that was Stacey Abrams, almost became governor of Georgia two years ago, and from the day she lost that race put together an organisation, particularly in the Atlanta area, that turned out African-Americans for Biden. And that's really what put him over the top.
It's so important. I mean, both these things are crucial. For years, almost decades, you've been hearing from the Democratic party, look, demographics are destiny. We are going to be a majority minority country at some point.
We are seeing African-Americans moving into these southern states, becoming more prosperous. They're going to shift the vote. But ultimately politics is about leadership. And it's about somebody getting behind a really galvanising leader. And Stacey Abrams was that person.
And it didn't really happen with North Carolina.
It didn't really happen in North Carolina. She is a rising star. I think that she's going to... I'm going to be watching to see if she gets something in the new administration.
North Carolina. My story was that, look, this is a big cotton manufacturing state. This is a state where the made in America, bring back the supply chains story was playing out. I thought that manufacturers would see, you know what, Trump talked a big game, but he really hasn't done much for us. We've gotten into this trade war. We're not necessarily bringing jobs back. If we are bringing them back, they're being done by software. It didn't really resonate.
It didn't really resonate.
It didn't come through.
Where we were right was the cities like Charlotte and then the Research Triangle, Wake County, both moved pretty significantly for Biden.
Again, these are the college-educated suburban voters. Wake County was particularly - that Research Triangle area - particularly hard towards Biden. But as you say, that sort of light manufacturing area where we had a lot of white non-educated voters, that just didn't move. And as a matter of fact, what we didn't really count on was this... actually, Republicans did a pretty good job of registering these people and turning out these people. They had a better ground game in some of those communities than Biden did.
Yeah, I think that there's also this idea of... we talked a lot about identity and ethnicity and voting blocs. It could be that the real identity divide is rural-urban, right...
...because that's where you're seeing... in some of these places, and we'll get to these, you know, Pennsylvania and Michigan, you're seeing the cities go Biden and the rural areas go Trump.
Let's shift north on that because, obviously, we had Philadelphia and Detroit. Philadelphia, interestingly enough, did about as well as for Biden as it did Hillary. But boy, Detroit, Detroit did huge for Biden. Wake County, I'll just say, 587,000 votes for Biden, 519,000 votes for Hill. It's $70,000 votes it turned out.
Not only that, but I also want to get to the issue of, again, the suburban areas. Macomb County, Michigan, which is always the county that is sort of this classic working class - shift for Biden, right. Oakland County, which is more the upscale suburban counties around Detroit - shift for Biden. So it was, interestingly, and then Erie, Pennsylvania, too, which is, again, this classic white working-class county, went for Biden.
So there was move in those rural areas, strong turnout for Trump. And again, that voter registration edge that Republicans had in those counties really, really helped them. But there clearly was that working-class white thing.
The other thing I'll say is was we saw some exit polling. We talked about this. Women, white women breaking more, particularly in those suburban counties, breaking more for Biden than for Trump. So I think you're right in that there is this rural-urban division. But I think that suburban area is going to become the battleground for the next four years.
Well, the point about women is fascinating, because working-class white women are voting on kitchen table economics. And so you see them, working-class...
This is, I don't know, but your most famous drawing was your women and your men.
Actually, it was my men...
I know your men with no hair.
No, I think it's my husband, but we won't tell him that. Anyway, no, I think working-class women were looking at their pocketbooks and being like, look, we're going to have to choose between food and medicine. I mean, they were just voting plain kitchen table issues.
I think there was also the Biden labour card at play in Pennsylvania. He's very tight with the unions. The unions are very big. AFL has a lot of power in this area, actually, the head of the AFL, Richard Trumka, is from Pennsylvania. He was a coal miner.
So I think that that helped a little bit too. I still think that, really, Biden is a different candidate in these types of states than Hillary was.
And I would just, once again, say we both got Michigan and Pennsylvania right. That was not an easy call. And there was obviously days where Pennsylvania, we didn't know if we were going to be right. But actually, it looks like, both states, that Biden's going to win going away. I mean, hundreds of thousands of votes in Michigan.
We'll do some confetti.
Yeah. And in Pennsylvania you have 40,000, 50,000. It looks like Biden's, so not even close there. So again, in these four states I may have gotten a little bit more right than you, but we were pretty close on at the end of the day.
So the last group we talked about in our three-part series was the Upper Midwest, and that's where we want to talk about the white vote. I hate to say it again. I think I got more right than you did on this one.
RANA FOROOHAR: Uh-oh.
We both got Wisconsin right for Biden.
But I called Iowa for Trump.
I'm showing my stripes as a columnist and not an actual political analyst like you.
Iowa, interestingly, not only did Biden not make any... that was one of those states that the polls were just way wrong. I mean, 10-point win by Trump, which is basically the same he got over Hillary.
And then strong showing we both got right, Minnesota. That was, again, one of those states that the Trump people they could flip from Hillary. It was a Hillary state, the only Hillary state, frankly, we talked about. But Biden won pretty handily there.
So two things I want to talk, too, about here is, again, this is where we talk about the white vote. These are all states where about 80 per cent, 85 per cent, of the population is white. This is with the classic Trump angry white guy. Clearly, in rural - your point about rural versus urban - rural Iowa, huge for Trump again.
But the interesting thing is, first of all, there is an urban centre in Wisconsin, Milwaukee. Milwaukee - African-American turnout there, something like- - where did - I have the numbers down here? 30,000 more votes for Biden than for Hillary, so huge black turnout.
But again, those suburban areas really turned out for Biden. And also in Madison County, Dane County, which is sort of college, the state capital, where the university is. Again, huge surge in turnout in those areas. And again, exit polls, now the exit polls are a little bit dodgy this time because people didn't show up on the polling day. But 61 per cent of women, white women, voted for Biden. 51 per cent of white men.
So this thing we talked about where, again, our beautiful pictures of women and men - we don't know our genders other than hair, apparently - that was really pronounced in these three states, where that gender divide really did the president in.
Yeah. So thinking about the rural vote, I mean, this is... Iowa's a farm state, too. And I'm remembering the big battle. Republicans were trying to convince Iowa farmers that it was all about China. China was going to eat their lunch. And Democrats were trying to use concentration of power, big ads, Covid...
...the disruption of the supply chains.
You talked about that. I forgot about that.
Clearly, anti-China won, which is not unexpected. I mean, and you're still seeing - you saw that with Biden - there was a little bit of we are going to get tough on China. You're seeing some policies already talking about ring-fencing supply chains. It's going to be very interesting to see how the economic nationalism card plays out and whether or not actually there might be some blue-red coalitions to be built there.
Well, let's hope there's coalitions somewhere, because it really has not been that way for the last four years. The other thing I'll just say, again, we didn't talk much about Minnesota, but we talked a bit about suburban Minneapolis-St. Paul. Again, those counties, 7 per cent, 8 per cent shift from Hillary to Biden.
And again, I can't emphasise this enough. You look where Biden really won. Again, there's the African-American factor. But the suburban voter really is where that turned for Biden. It helped him maintain that blue wall we talked about. Should I put back my blue wall?
Yeah, put your blue wall.
Yeah, and that was re-established. But again, I think this is about Covid...
...because clearly a lot of those college-educated people in the suburbs were upset and worried and having, much like ourselves, kids forced to work from home during school, have older parents who are... have to maintain social distancing and quarantine. That battle for the suburbs, which has really been the factor of American politics for the last 30 years, and we kind of forgot about it in the age of Trump. But that battle for the suburbs, I think, is really what won Wisconsin for Biden and really sort of doubled down for Minnesota.
I find this very heartening, too, because if you remember, in the wake of some violence in places like Portland, you had the sort of square-offs between Proud Boys and some of the Antifa. I was worried that that kind of nervous white suburban soccer mom was somehow going to think that her city was under threat and go right. That did not happen.
It didn't happen.
These people did not buy into that...
Because I checked also results in Kenosha.
RANA FOROOHAR: ...that narrative.
...because that was one of the towns, just south of Milwaukee, where, obviously, there had been a lot of unrest. There was no perceptible change in the vote there. And again, Minnesota, St. Paul, this is where George Floyd happened. Biden won big.
So clearly, that really had no impact. Now, maybe in rural areas, I mean, it's a classic thing. The most anti-immigrant parts of the United States tend to be the places where there is no immigrants.
It's really possible those anti-BLM - Black Lives Matter - areas tend to be the places where there are not African-Americans, so maybe that's what happened in Iowa and some of these other states.
That's actually very true.
But in the areas that are multicultural.. and again, it gets to this point we talked about where Trump doesn't quite understand the suburbs. He kept talking about suburban housewives. Those don't exist anymore.
Our suburbs are multicultural. They're younger. Again, this Cobb County in Georgia, Oakland County in Michigan, these counties are much more diverse than they were 20, 30 years ago, when Nixon rolled out that playbook 40 years ago.
I'm still wondering about North Carolina, because that's diverse too, and yet...
It is. Again - but I think, in North Carolina, if you look at those counties - again, Wake County being a perfect example of that. Research Triangle, where you had people coming in from all over the world to work at University of North Carolina, Duke, and the like. Those counties shifted for Biden, but it is the counties you had, you spent a lot of time in, I know, in that... the rural agriculture counties, not dissimilar from Iowa and obviously, your home state of Indiana, they stayed with Trump. And maybe it's the agriculture argument. Maybe it's the protectionist argument played very well there.
And they didn't move for Biden in the ways that you and I thought they would, given the economic uncertainty of the last six, seven months. But, by and large, I know the media has gotten beat up, and the pollsters rightly got it beat up. But I think Rana Foroohar and Peter Spiegel got it pretty close to right.
I think we did OK.
Florida was the one I really feel I missed. And I thought we were getting Florida called for Biden on the night. I was wrong.
And that's the one I think, in terms of reporting resources, I'd like to send my reporters down, once we get out of the pandemic, down to Miami-Dade, down to McAllen, and really try to figure out what happened with the Hispanic vote, because that's, to me, the biggest surprise.
It is, indeed. And I think demographics really is destiny, but, A, it takes a while, B, it doesn't always play out the way you think it's going to. How it's playing in different places is up for grabs.
I'm going to be watching the Carolinas. I'm going to be watching the Rust Belt too to see not... I mean, they clearly went with the blue wall, but just to see how Biden's approach to China, Biden's approach to trade...
Yeah, how much different it is to Trump...
How different it is, and then what are we going to see in the midterms by then?
All right, that is it. Rana, thank you again.
We'll do it again next - in four years.