The 2020 election feels very similar to the 2016 election, each gave the sense of a changing wind for the United States. While 2016 was an unambiguous ‘red tide’ purging the supposed taint of long held tradition, bureaucratic reform, and presumptions about statehood; 2020 is shaping up to be a restoration movement in the opposite direction. As I’ve said many times before, the United States is a lost country. Internally divided, easily perturbed, void of purpose, and lacking any ideological vision. But this post isn’t to discuss the issues with America’s parties (see prior posts for that), but instead to talk about the self serving nature of the election narrative as it’s broken through partisan lines. Maybe as a nation we can see through this charade and move past this turmoil with open eyes.
The narrative post election is going to segment itself into two pieces. The first is poll accuracy, the right wing will use it as an example of ‘out of touch’ elites who are hopelessly unaware of ‘real America’, and therefore argue that reality isn’t so objectively observable after all. Meanwhile the left wing will say that it was accurate enough, a win is a win. Below are some broad points on polls for the 2020 cycle.
- It is too early to tell how accurate or inaccurate the polls were but it’s important to understand the division between directional accuracy and real accuracy. Someone claiming that Trump is destined to win Florida would be correct. Saying his win would be with a 10% spread is horrifically wrong and is objectively more inaccurate then a competing claim that Biden would win by 2% (given the actual result appears to settle around ~3% Trumps favor). Polls missed WI/MI/PA to varying degrees (WI more so than any other state) and there will be some work by the polling community down the line to understand why. However, polls did not miss North Carolina, Arizona or Georgia.
- Secret trump voter theory takes another swing and a miss at explaining why polls are inaccurate this year. It is an idea that people are refusing to tell pollsters that they would vote for Trump (a theory that, even prior to the 2020 election had little to no evidence to support it). This year, with house republicans outperforming Trump, the theory needs to be put to bed, buried, and forgotten. Those who continue to espouse this theory are being unashamedly partisan, not objective.
- HOWEVER, Decline response rates to polls in general is a long standing trend in the industry, something well understood and documented. Certain demographic groups are difficult to get on the phone (or online) which may cause skewing of the polling results (note the difference with secret trump theory, secret trump theory claims that once you are on the phone you lie, declining response rate simply says you don’t pick up the phone), going forward into future elections this challenge is only going to become greater. Looking at an informed crystal ball, this will probably be a strong underlying cause for poll inaccuracy within certain segments of the hispanic communities of Florida, for instance. Claims that declining response rates disproportionately impact one political affiliation or another will only be accurate if said demographics become entrenched. That’s unlikely to be the case for 2020 (we saw big shifts in how minorities voted this year) and is unlikely to be true in general, because if it were true then pollsters could reliably correct for it, thus eliminating the error all together.
There comes a time when both-sidesism becomes a sick charade. On one end you have Trump who claimed voter fraud in 2016 before the votes were even read, continued to claim voter fraud after winning, controlled both the House and the Senate for two years who failed to find any substantial voting fraud, then continued to argue that the reason he lost the popular vote was due to millions of fraudulent votes while doing nothing to ‘fix’ it for two years (2016-2018). The leftwing in contrast shrugged its shoulders, accepted the loss, and prepared to take the house. There is no ‘midpoint’ to draw in this scenario. The voter fraud allegations were obviously telegraphed in 2016 in order to ‘win’ the public relations battle in the event Trump lost, and they have been telegraphed again in 2020 to do precisely the same thing.
The polling error narrative of 2016 played into the hands of anti-establishment, anti-expertise theory; we live in a world which is unobservable, unknowable, and in some ways uncontrollable. Only our collective social experience, guided by a strong figurehead can help collapse this chaotic world into an understandable reality. The half-truths of voter fraud played into this not-so-subtle grift; we are told voter fraud is rampant and corrupts our system to the core BUT is not quite enough to stop president Trump from being elected in the first place. Weird how that works out. This is better understood by the fundamental paradox of subjectivism and the fascist credo, reality is as the party dictates. And in a democratic world, what the party dictates is what the people want them to dictate; we like Trump therefore Trump discerns reality.
Evidence is irrelevant in a world where you believe credibility can’t come from an impartial body. And nothing exemplifies this double-think better than the slow churn of election results that came just days ago, we were told briefly that we need to keep counting the votes in Arizona and stop the count in Pennsylvania and Georgia. The reason why? Fraud of course! Proof of that? Well, nothing yet aside from twitter videos made by people who don’t understand what they are looking at but Trump must know more than we do (stay tuned this is all part of a master plan).
This brings us to the next piece of the narrative, something so essential to bring credibility to the claim that there is fraud; this election is just so darn close! Well, not really.
The Election Was A Little Closer than 2016… but not much
The way the results came this year resulted in a very deceptive (although, completely predictable) narrative. We knew (through accurate polls, of all places) that the in-person vote would skew heavily republican and that the mail-in vote would skew heavily democratic. Therefore it followed that unless a state (say, PA) was going to be D+20 this year, that we would begin the night with republicans winning the state and democrats slowly over taking the lead as the democratic votes got counted. There was a non-zero probability (~30%) of a ‘blue wave’, but once Florida went red we knew that was not going to happen. Therefore because of how long it took for those results to appear, the narrative began as a ‘close race’ each hour bringing us more and more results which promise to turn the tide (but wait! there was a delay! turn in 6 hours from now to find out more). This was stoked by both liberal and conservative media trying to cash-in on the desperate clicks and page refreshes of the nation. Unfortunately, if you zoom out and look at this a month from now the picture is very different.
To drive this a little further, imagine a world where all votes this cycle were immediately recorded, we would learn that Joe Biden won something like 249 electoral votes quite easily (note that Biden is winning Michigan by ~2.7%, Trump in 2016 only won it by 0.3%!). Then we would move from 249→259 with Wisconsin but with a tight-ish margin of 0.7%. Again, such a margin that was nearly equivalent to Tumps victory in that state back in 2016 (a 0.7% margin, the irony of fate here). Then Biden moves from 259→279 votes with PA. He wins this state by a margin of 0.6%+ (still counting, but noting again that Donald Trump won that state by just 0.7% of the vote in 2016). Now, if we can all open our memory banks we will recall that Donald Trump won the electoral college in 2016 with 306 electoral votes, with margins of victory in the above states approximately equal to Joe Biden’s or worse. Yet, the media narrative in 2016 was a clear red wave victory for Donald Trump (to their credit, they did win the house too), but now 2020 seems to want to claim that Joe Biden was a shaky winner, that this was a razor thin election that could potentially go the way of Bush v Gore of 2000. That is a partisan narrative allowable only because of the time in which it took to count votes.
While Georgia and Arizona will be objectively close races (and the difference between a 279 and 306 Biden victory), we can say pretty clearly that the 2020 election is indeed closer than 2016. But on the spectrum of super-super close (2000) and pretty close (2020) and pretty close-ish (2016), there is a massive gap between super-super close and pretty close here. Recalling that in the 2000 election the entire result hinged on a single state (Florida) being determined by something like 500 votes. The idea that the margins of PA and WI are anywhere near that is a fantasy. The belief that recounts in these states (and AZ and GA) will result in discovering literally tens of thousands of fraudulent votes or mistakes is similarly fantastical, although if we had believed Trump back in 2016 (or forced him through a time machine now) we would have to agree that all those states could suddenly ‘flip’ due to rampant fraud discovered via a recount.
But oh no, 2016 was a red wave, 2020 was a razor thin victory.
If we want to believe that recounts can have such massive impacts on outcomes, then that’s reasonable so long as we skew our probability space by beginning our ‘reasonable worse case’ as “a-meteor-could-hit-and-kill-us-all-tomorrow.”
Some may try to cover their bases by saying that simply generating claims of litigation will force the courts to re-create 2000 (by delaying certified results), to me, is similarly fantastical until some evidence shows up that courts will actually agree has merit.
Only the most dense partisan can’t see through this obviously telegraphed nonsense, ignoring the fact that house republicans nearly took back the house and probably kept the senate, our secretive cabal of democrats is simultaneously infinitely powerful and hopelessly inept (another fascist paradox). The middle ground in this case is only governed by those navigating the 7 stages of grief and just entered the albatross which is denial. You have a rough road ahead of you. But sure, your $100 contribution is definitely going to fund a 0.6%+ Wisconsin recount, a Georgia recount, a Pennsylvania recount, an Arizona recount, and all the legal cases therein; you can trust the team who couldn’t even afford to bus its own followers to and from a parking lot not to blow it. Instead we should see this for what it really is, funding a Trump campaign part 2 solely to help Trump transition to his next post-presidency action adventure of navigating roughly $1billion in foreign debt repayments and the most dangerous litigation battle he’s ever faced all while running a business empire hemorrhaging cash because of COVID.
It’s time to wake up.
Trump will remain supported by republicans so long as he remains popular, and to his credit, he’s a popular guy. But ultimately Trump will lose his legal bids, the republicans who ‘defended’ him will claim loyalty to bolster their re-election credentials come 2022 (while doing little to help), and the net losers will be the republican party and the American people. We are in a situation where the democratic party in this country is devoid of vision, a party which was able to win an election by literally letting Donald Trump talk himself into falling into a bed of nails, and liberalism in general which is in dire need of intelligent and principled opposition to keep it in line.
The sooner the republican party can purge itself of the irrationalism of Trump, the better. At some point it will become clear that Donald Trump’s decision to lead the future party as king maker will only shatter the GOP, allowing a weakened and ideologically shriveled democratic party to limp through electoral battles victorious simply due to lesser evil posturing. The net loser in this exchange is the country at large. America deserves a democratic party with vibrant, new leadership battling for the social democracy of its forefathers; American deserves a republican party energized by dynamic, ideologically sound coalition geared toward governmental efficiency and sound foreign policy of its past. This conflict between two parties offering alternative, but fundamentally liberal (in the classical-liberal sense of the word) visions of the future is what makes this nation so powerful. Until the withered corpse of economic nationalism is shed, we will remain a shadow of any former glory.
Republicans, it’s time to grow up. This one’s on you.