Following up on the historic 2020 election, the Nashville Health Care Council hosted a discussion with one of the nation’s top election experts, David Wasserman, editor and senior election analyst at The Cook Political Report, on Wednesday. Wasserman shared his analysis of the current and future political climate, as well as his data-driven breakdown of the November 3 election.
“It’s dangerous to make assumptions,” Wasserman said. “Just think about where we were one year ago. We had not gotten through the first Trump impeachment trial, COVID-19 was not yet a household name and Joe Biden was politically left for dead, having performed poorly in the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary.”
He went on to say it’s been a remarkable road for President Biden, boosted by the fact that the campaign became virtual and that, by Super Tuesday, voters were starting to feel nostalgic for the Obama administration and Biden’s key role in it. At the same time, Trump derived a lot of energy from his rallies, which became polarizing events as COVID-19 surged. “I think downplaying COVID-19 was a missed opportunity for Trump in 2020,” Wasserman said. “Had he come out in the beginning with MAGA masks and a unifying message to fight the pandemic, it could have been a different outcome.”
The House Elections and A Senate Shift
Republicans narrowed the Democrats’ majority in the House in 2020, to Wasserman’s surprise. There is no doubt that Trump is a powerful influence within the Republican party and was a huge driver in getting people to the polls. Many people who are less politically active, but support Trump, boosted Republicans as they voted down-ballot.
With the Georgia special election in January, Trump was not on the ballot and both Democratic candidates for Senate won. Initially, both Sen. Warnock and Sen. Ossoff were behind in the polls. But the Biden coalition has two growing core groups – suburban, college-educated white people (particularly women) and African Americans. As demographics shift and these voters come out to the polls in greater numbers, they will drive results for Democrats.
Can We Still Trust the Polls?
Wasserman pointed out that there were no major polling errors in 2020, but they were off by a greater margin than in 2016, particularly in Florida, Michigan and Wisconsin. He explained that the subset is no longer reliable because the people willing to pick up the phone and participate in polls is dwindling – down to single-digit response rates. In order to strengthen the reliability of polls, new online models are needed.
What does the future hold?
This is still a deeply divided country, with opposing Democrat and Republican attitudes on key issues. But, Wasserman believes that this is just as much a story about our residential clustering than division. He said redistricting, which is largely controlled by state legislatures, could have a dramatic effect on future elections.
2020 had a record-shattering voter turnout. But, D.C.’s leaders, including President Biden, Senator Mitch McConnell, Senator Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, are all in their 70s and 80s, and may have run their last race. The future of both parties is up for grabs as a new generation of leaders takes over in the coming years.