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2020 shattered voting records. But once Trump is off the ballot, the GOPand Democratsmay have trouble matching that turnout.

Published by Business Insider on Sun, 29 Nov 2020

<p><img src="https://static5.businessinsider.com/image/5fbd0fb532f2170011f70d6a-2400/ap_19162639105935.jpg" border="0" alt="donlad trump" data-mce-source="Evan Vucci/AP Images" data-mce-caption="President Donald Trump"></p><p></p><bi-shortcode id="summary-shortcode" data-type="summary-shortcode" class="mceNonEditable" contenteditable="false">Summary List Placement</bi-shortcode><p>2020 was a historic election for the United States. A massive number of Americans came out to vote.Turnout is projected to end up around&nbsp; two-thirds of the total vote-eligible populationthe highest level since 1900.</p><p>That turnout surge followed a similar explosion in the 2018 midterms, where half the eligible population cast a ballot. 2018's number was the highest midterm turnout since 1912.</p><p>Keep in mind that in the early 20th century, women were still denied the right to vote and large swathes of the country were gripped with Jim Crow laws which prevented access to the ballot for Black Americans. So these turnout numbers are all the more staggering.</p><p>Adjusting for the more restrictive ballot access of the past, it's fair to call the last two years the highest turnout in American history, even if millions of Americans are still prevented from voting by requirements related to registration or felony convictions.</p><p>The result was a decisive, if not overwhelming, rejection of Donald Trump in the Electoral College and national popular vote, a small advantage for Democrats in the House, and a small advantage for Republicans in the Senate.</p><p>Contrary to popular consensus before 2020, a turnout surge did not accrue overwhelmingly to Democrats. Urban areas did turn out, and some are still counting votes that will add to those totals. But Republicans also enjoyed major gains in turnout in rural areas, which helped to keep Trump competitive even as Democrats <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/11/06/upshot/suburbs-shifted-left-president.html'action=click&amp;module=RelatedLinks&amp;pgtype=Article">swung suburbs</a>.</p><p>These turnout surgesfor Democrats in the cities and the GOP in the rural areasleave both parties facing an enormous challenge: how to convince voters to return to the polls in the future.</p><h2>Two factors drove high turnout</h2><p>So what drove turnout rates up so dramatically'</p><p>One obvious <a href="https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2020/11/04/trump-polarization-mail-voting-drove-record-2020-turnout-column/6153959002/">answer</a> is voting by mail. While states like Colorado and California have long had universal mail voting, a much larger group of states adopted some form of expanded vote-by-mail for 2020 that opened up access to that form of ballot substantially.&nbsp;</p><p>Even in places like Texas, where there were no significant expansions of vote-by-mail, innovations like drive-through and 24 hour voting drove <a href="https://www.khou.com/article/news/politics/texas-harris-county-early-voting-records/285-7a6574fe-ad6e-451f-8827-d4f54e89468f">huge increases</a> in ballots. Some of those innovations will stick around, but it's unlikely that national voters will so easily cast mail ballots going forward.</p><p>The second factor was the name on the ballot.</p><p>Americans have had sharply polarized views of the outgoing president almost since the start of his run for the office five years ago. Swings in suburban counties towards Democrats illustrate how his politics drove away <a href="https://www.cnn.com/interactive/2020/11/politics/election-analysis-exit-polls-2016-2020/">educated white voters</a>, as well as the increasing <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2020/07/28/politics/trump-2020-election-suburbs-diversity/index.html">diversity</a> of the suburban electorate.</p><p>The push factor for suburban moderates was also offset by a pull factor elsewhere. Conservative-leaning voters, non-college white voters, and rural voters all turned out in huge numbers and with large margins for the president.</p><h2>Where to next</h2><p>It would be easy for either party to view the upswing in voters for their side as a permanent shift, but there are some clear reasons neither Democrats nor the GOP should take the turnout surges for granted.</p><p>Despite record setting numbers of votes for Biden, there has been some consternation over small marginal shifts towards Trump from demographics that Democrats traditionally dominate, like Black voters in urban areas. But while Trump may have picked up a percentage point or two, this also <a href="https://www.ft.com/content/31a0273a-d745-4ed5-b497-c7c61c26e32d">led to</a> <em>larger</em> raw vote margins for Democrats, owing to the massive base support levels for the party overall. For instance, majority Black precincts in Atlanta swung towards Trump by 2 percentage points, but ended up delivering a vote margin nearly 15,000 larger for Democrats in 2020 versus 2016.</p><p>So while there has been lots of focus on the swings in percentage terms, raw vote totals and the huge margins that exist mean much has to change before Republicans can make real headway into Democrats' grip in these cities.</p><p>While adding a huge number of raw votes is a good sign for Democrats, the choice of a moderate, low-ideology candidate like Biden as the party's nominee was part of a strategy to flip suburbs. That strategy worked in 2020, but if Trump is not on the ballot again, Democrats cannot assume that their gains will be repeated.</p><p>For Republicans, it would be easy to look out on the vast sea of red votes banked in rural areas this year as a source of permanent strength going forward. But again, without Trump on the ballot it's not clear that these areas are likely to deliver as many votes as they did in 2020.&nbsp;</p><h2>Trump is a unique figure in the history of American politics</h2><p>It would be easy to attribute any number of events over the last four years to an inevitable, long-running historical process. But the simpler, and less comfortable, explanation is that one man has proven uniquely successful connecting with and motivating voters on a personal level.</p><p>Back in 2016, actor Matthew McConaughey <a href="https://thehill.com/blogs/in-the-know/in-the-know/526521-mcconaughey-says-hed-consider-running-for-texas-governor">offered</a> a concise explanation for Trump's success:&nbsp;</p><p style="padding-left: 80px;"><em>I remember saying, well look, regardless of [Trump's] politics, in the very first question, what do we say in America is successful' What do we give credit and respect' The top two things are money and fame. And I said guys, just on a very base level, Trump has those, so I don't know why we should be so surprised that he got elected.</em></p><p>Absent that personal connection and its mirror image personal abhorrence, both parties lose huge motivators. Figuring out what comes next is a challenge for both the GOP and Dems. That's especially true given that both parties appear to be coalescing around non-material platforms.</p><p>Democrats, eager to bank suburban votes, have shied away from explicitly redistributive policies and rhetoric like those embraced by two-time primary runner-up Sen. Bernie Sanders. Instead, a focus on cultural appeals stitched together a coalition that turned out to remove Trump from office.</p><p>Republicans are attempting to lay claim to the mantle of "the working people's party", but opposition to basic worker protections, minimum wage increases, and anything approaching a social safety net expansion mean that appeal, like Democrats' to other voting blocs, is largely one of mood affiliation.</p><p>It's unclear whether the new non-material battle lines of the two parties can drive turnout as they did when Trump himself was on the ballot. But this reorientation recalls an earlier stage of American history when Democrats were <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/solid-south-georgia-republicans-democrats-advantage-election-demographic-change-2020-11">the party of the Solid South</a> while Republicans represented the North. The major cross-party battle lines were not material left versus right, but over other issues. Material conflict was contained <em>within </em>the wings of each party.</p><p>This shift in valence is unlikely to lead to the sort of turnout that we saw in 2020 unless Trump is on the ballot again via a 2024 run. But again, 2020 has shown that there is a durable coalition nationally who will oppose that nominee in a general election.</p><p><a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/trump-leaving-office-trouble-for-gop-democrat-voter-turnout-elections-2020-11#comments">Join the conversation about this story &#187;</a></p> <p>NOW WATCH: <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/transgender-activist-former-white-house-intern-sarah-mcbride-isnt-discouraged-by-trump-2018-3">Sarah McBride made history becoming the first openly trans person elected to a state Senate seat. In 2018, she explained why the Trump administration wouldn't discourage her work.</a></p>
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