As analysts begin to pore over the results of the 2020 presidential election, it's quite clear that pollsters got some things very wrong this cycle, yet again. This was particularly true in the race for control of the US House of Representatives, which all the experts saw as a slam dunk for Democrats to expand their majority -- and not without reason. As we've noted elsewhere, district-level polling was pretty rough for the GOP, causing deep concern even among Republican operatives. But a funny thing happened when the people voted: Republicans gained seats, and are on track to net somewhere in the ballpark of 12-15 seats, building substantially on their current 197-seat minority:
Best guess of plugged-in folks I’ve spoken to is that Republicans will win ~10 (+/-) of the uncalled 14. House GOP caucus likely ends up in the 209-214 range. https://t.co/JiglCNEoOF— Guy Benson (@guypbenson) November 8, 2020
Trende, a very smart analyst whose overall 2020 prediction was pretty much bang-on, says he expects the final total to settle around 212 -- just six short of a majority, which would make the GOP an early favorite to win back the lower chamber in 2022. What explains this polling misfire? National Journal's Josh Kraushaar argues that part of the equation is "shy" moderate-to-right-leaning suburban voters hiding their preferences and rebelling against political correctness and lefty bullying:
Of the 20 GOP-held seats that The Cook Political Report rated as lean Democratic or toss-up, 13 were in affluent suburban areas. Most of these districts swung significantly towards Democrats in 2018, and Republicans were bracing for further erosion in 2020. But Republicans showed remarkable across-the-board strength in these conservative-tilting suburban districts, from Phoenix to Cincinnati to Oklahoma City to Charleston. Republicans are now well-positioned to win back four seats in California, including two in the Democratic-trending suburbs of Orange County. The surest sign that Republicans didn’t see this red wave coming: Even in suburban races that Republicans largely ignored, weak GOP challengers came within striking distance of winning.
Many of the early takeaways involve accusations that polls undersampled white working-class voters. But the House results give credence to an alternative view, outlined in a compelling article by political science professor Eric Kaufmann, arguing that “political correctness has left a cadre of white college graduates unwilling to reveal their voting intentions.” In the piece, he offers evidence that there is a shy Trump vote coming not from white working-class MAGA supporters but rather from affluent Republican-leaning voters in the suburbs afraid to share their views on politics and hot-button cultural issues in public...One of [Public Opinion Strategies'] most significant conclusions was that many participants volunteered their frustration about the excesses of so-called “cancel culture,” pointing to a stifling environment where employees worry they can be fired or punished for heterodox political views expressed at the workplace. This wasn’t an issue popping up in polls, but it was clearly registering in these moderated conversations.
Based on this data, a significant portion of "shy Trump voters" in 2020 were white, college-educated people, especially women. They didn't want to tell anyone how they were voting because of the toxic environment. These quotes tell part of the story, helping to explain how Biden's national showing fell short of polling expectations, and how Republicans over-performed down-ballot:
Some on the Left -- especially those addicted to the sort of poisonous racial politics that fuels the phenomenon described above -- will use this information to blame white people, but given Trump's improvements among people of color, that doesn't quite fly. And in Florida's diverse Miami-Dade County, these outcomes are both intriguing and cut against the lazy analysis that GOP gains were "only" about Cuban-Americans:
It wasn't just Cubans in Miami-Dade. Pretty much every element of the Democratic coalition - Black voters, Jews, LGBTQ - swung towards Trump. https://t.co/TCwPXuAouJ— Patrick Ruffini (@PatrickRuffini) November 9, 2020
That's South Florida. This is South Texas (via the Wall Street Journal):
For decades, no Democratic presidential candidate had won Starr County with less than a 48-point margin. Local lore is that the last Republican who came close to winning a partisan race was a sheriff’s candidate gunned down in a saloon in 1907. Yet last week, 8,224 Starr County residents voted for President Trump in a red wave that moved the South Texas county from Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton ’s 60-point margin in 2016 to a 5-point win for Joe Biden, the largest swing to Mr. Trump of any county in the U.S. In nearby Zapata County, Mrs. Clinton won by 33 points in 2016. This year, Mr. Trump took it by 6 points...Though Mr. Biden prevailed, the falloff of support in a historically loyal but socially conservative region signals trouble for a Democratic Party seeking to hold together a broad voter constituency...What seems likely, he said, was that Democrats didn’t counter Republican messaging on three issues important to Latino voters: pandemic shutdowns, oil jobs and abortion...“There’s a lot of parallels between a community that’s 96% Hispanic and a community that’s 96% white,” said Freddy Guerra, a former mayor of nearby Roma. “Racism is not something that people deal with in Starr County because everybody’s brown. Climate change isn’t something they feel. They prefer bread on the table.”
And if Millennials truly are shifting rightward as they get older (either substantially or dramatically), that's just another reminder that nothing in politics is permanent. On that score, I'll leave you with this:
It's harder to argue the GOP coalition is demographically "dying out" after Tuesday's results. As with past waves of immigrants throughout U.S. history, Hispanic voters are beginning to vote a little closer to the rest of the country - and it's one possible path forward.— Dave Wasserman (@Redistrict) November 9, 2020