Sitting With the Weirdness

If you want to learn something from this election,
don’t be too quick to explain it.

Every election is followed by a spate of what-it-all-means commentary, and usually what it means is that the commentator was right from the beginning: I saw this coming. I warned everybody. If people had just listened to me it all would have turned out better.

So I want to start this post out by saying clearly that I did not see this coming, I did not warn everybody, and I’m still not sure what we all could have done better. I think a lot of genuinely weird things happened in this election, and I don’t want to explain them away too quickly. Instead, I want to sit with the weirdness for a while and see if there’s something to learn.

Because I don’t have a this-explains-everything interpretation of this election, I’m going to wander a bit. So let me start with a quick list of the surprises I want to think about:

  • Donald Trump is not as unpopular as I thought, or as I think he ought to be.
  • The highest-turnout election in living memory did not result in a Democratic landslide.
  • Polling still had the problems that pollsters thought they had fixed since 2016.

Trump should be unpopular. My view coming in to this election was that Trump’s 2016 win was a fluke: He faced an unpopular opponent in a low-turnout election during a news cycle that was breaking against her. He got only 46% of the vote, but it was perfectly distributed to give him an Electoral College win, despite losing the popular vote by 2.8 million.

Since taking office, it seemed to me that he had done nothing to appeal to the 54% who hadn’t voted for him, and several things to alienate some of the 46% who had. His job-approval had stayed consistently low, though it never reached the depths that Richard Nixon or George W. Bush hit by the end of their presidencies.

The Trump administration has been marked by incidents and practices sharply at variance with what I saw as traditional American values: taking children away from parents who committed no crime other than coming to our border legally seeking asylum; siding with a hostile foreign dictator against our own intelligence services; lumping Nazi and anti-Nazi demonstrators together, even after the right-wingers killed someone; demanding that the attorney general arrest his political opponents, while protecting his own henchmen from the legal consequences of their actions; abusing his power to extort a personal political favor from Ukraine; showing zero empathy as nearly a quarter million Americans died of the pandemic.

His administration has been a failure not just by my standards, but by its own. Not much of his wall has been built, it’s costing more than he said it would, and Mexico has not paid a dime of it. ObamaCare has not been repealed or replaced; despite repeated promises, no replacement plan has even been announced. America’s international prestige has plummeted. Even before the pandemic, economic growth chugged along at the Obama-era pace, with no acceleration. Fewer people have jobs now than when he took office. GDP is at the same level as 2018. The trade deficit has gone up. The budget deficit Trump inherited from Obama had nearly doubled before the pandemic, and the 2020 deficit by itself is larger than the total deficit from Obama’s second term.

Trump had a disastrous performance in the first debate, and in general ran a terrible campaign. He never presented a second-term vision, to the point of not even bothering to produce a 2020 GOP platform. He mismanaged money, and wound up getting outspent down the stretch. His Hunter Biden conspiracy theories never got traction.

Going into the election, the news cycle was breaking against him. The third Covid wave was hitting, and his plan for dealing with it was for us all to go back to normal life, as if thousands of Americans weren’t dying week after week with no end in sight. Worse, he was going around the country actively spreading the disease by drawing his supporters together for big maskless rallies.

So the polls that showed him down by double digits seemed very credible to me. Sure, some of the people who supported him in 2016 will never admit they were wrong, but given all that has happened, why wouldn’t he lose in a historic rout?

Well, he didn’t.

Trump didn’t just increase his vote total (from 63 million to 71 million counted so far) he got more votes than Barack Obama did in his 2008 landslide. Wednesday, Ben Rhodes put his finger on something important:

I think Biden will win. I also think the problem in this election is not the polling industry getting it wrong, it’s the fact that this many Americans took a hard look at Trump and determined “yeah, I want four more years of that”

This is one of the mysteries I still need to wrap my head around. Trump attracted millions of millions of voters who didn’t vote for him in 2016. If you consider the number of votes still uncounted and how many of his older voters have died since 2016, he probably got 10 million or more new votes.

What did they see? What are they thinking?

I had hoped for a result that killed Trumpism forever. Instead, Republicans can attribute their loss to bad luck: If only the pandemic had waited until 2021 to show up, Trump might be set up for a second term.

Who killed the Blue Wave? Don’t get me wrong. Biden did fine. If you had promised me during the primaries that some Democratic candidate could hold all the Clinton states, win back Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, and add Arizona and Georgia, I’d have been been happy to see that person get the nomination. Biden got an outright majority of the popular vote, has a 4.4 million vote margin so far, and (with so much of California and New York still to be totaled) his ultimate margin is likely to be in the 5-6 million range. The turnout was historically high, so his vote total is the largest ever recorded.

But the October polls had me hoping for more: For Florida, North Carolina, and maybe Texas or Ohio. For a 10-point win that would demonstrate to Republicans that Trumpism is a dead end, and send them looking for a new paradigm. No Trump 2024. No passing the torch to Don Jr. or Jared or Ivanka. No Trump 2.0 like Tom Cotton or Tucker Carlson.

The polls had me hoping for a Senate majority that even had a little slack, so that we could fix the structural problems with our democracy: end the filibuster, admit D.C. and Puerto Rico as states, pass voting rights legislation, end gerrymandering, and perhaps even add justices to the Supreme Court.

Now, none of that is going to happen.

The final polls had a Biden margin of around 8%, and that gap had not been particularly volatile. Instead, Biden is winning by about 3% nationwide. In Wisconsin, where he had an 8.3% polling lead, he won by less than 1%. He had a 2.5% polling lead in Florida, and lost by 3.4%. (On the other hand, polls accurately predicted narrow Biden wins in Georgia and Arizona.)

In spite of efforts to fix the polling mistakes of 2016, the error in Trump’s favor grew, and showed up in precisely the same places.

I think we need to resist the temptation to read this as some kind of Biden failure or Democratic failure. The hoped-for Blue Wave didn’t collapse, it was never really there. Looking backwards, I think we have to reevaluate everything we thought we knew about public opinion. Those four years of Trump’s low approval ratings — why should we trust them? Maybe Trump was never as unpopular as we thought.

Ditto for those polls about the popularity of Medicare for All or any other policy. Why should we believe them?

I think Democrats need to resist the urge to point fingers at each other. Centrist and Progressive Democrats are like heirs who discover Grandpa’s estate isn’t nearly as big as they expected. The problem isn’t that one or the other of them took the money, it’s that the old guy wasn’t as rich as he appeared to be.

Sit with the weirdness, progressive version. My social-media universe skews left, so I’m seeing a lot of articles claiming that a candidate with a more progressive message would have done better than Biden. I’m skeptical. The post-2016 version of that argument was that Hillary’s centrist message failed to inspire the turnout Democrats needed to win. This year we got the big turnout, just not the landslide that was supposed to go with it. And I’m not buying that Medicare-for-All supporters showed up at the polls and voted for Trump because Biden would only propose adding a public option to ObamaCare.

I’m still waiting for progressive versions of Doug Jones and Joe Manchin and Claire McCaskill: candidates who have won elections in places where Democrats aren’t supposed to win. If the progressive theory of the electorate is true, such examples should be everywhere, but they’re not.

And I’m not satisfied with conspiracy theories about the DNC. The RNC didn’t like Trump either. But he turned out voters, so they had to accept him.

Progressives have proved that they can raise money, so lack of support from the big donors is not the problem either. If they can run candidates in purple-to-red districts and win, the Establishment will take notice. But if they can’t, it won’t.

Sit with the weirdness, centrist version. One big failure of this election was that Biden’s Republican endorsements didn’t turn into any sizeable number of Republican votes. I loved all those Lincoln Project ads, but who did they convince?

The biggest loser of this cycle is the old GOP Establishment. The huge Trump turnout indicates that there is no appetite for a Jeb Bush comeback, and no buyer’s remorse over Trump. If Trump is healthy and still not in jail in 2024, he’ll be on the ballot again. (My politically savvy nephew predicts that Don Jr. will be his VP. You heard it here first.)

In short, there is no pool of disaffected Republicans waiting for a conservative-enough Democrat to win them over. The 20th-century notion of a bell-curve electorate, which can be captured by shifting left or right to chase the peak, really seems obsolete. I don’t know what replaces it.

Just as I’m skeptical of Bernie-would-have-won-bigger articles, I’m also skeptical of articles that villainize progressives. Jill Stein and Bernie-or-Bust were just not a thing this year. Progressives came through for a candidate who wasn’t their first choice; they deserve some gratitude.

In short, the two wings of the Democratic Party both need to sit with the weirdness of these results, rather than repeat the same points they made in the primaries.

The problem with polling. The upshot of these persistent polling errors is that some segment of the population appears to be unpollable. We can’t know where they are or what they think until they show up to vote.

The assumption at the root of all polling is that you can assemble representative samples. If you ask 1500 people what they think, the differences between those people and everybody else are supposed to be random. 1500 other people might not give you exactly the same results, but the outcomes from different samples should follow the laws of statistics.

And so, if your sample doesn’t include enough Hispanics or non-college whites or people named Fred, you can adjust the weighting of that subsample. The Freds who responded, you assume, are like the Freds who didn’t; you just didn’t happen to find enough of them.

Instead, it appears that people who respond to polls are different from people who don’t. You can’t fix that with statistical weighting.

I think I know where this is going, and I don’t like it: If the issue that makes your polling sample unrepresentative is consent — consenting voters are fundamentally different than non-consenting voters — then you need to stop asking for consent. Rather than calling people up and saying, “I’m from Gallup, would you like to answer my questions?” you root through the involuntary data trove of Google or Twitter until you are confident you know how your chosen person will vote. Maybe Facebook plants stories in people’s news streams to see who likes them or comments on them, or maybe it does network analysis on Friend lists. Proprietary algorithms chug through that data until they spit out an accurate — but completely opaque — prediction of the vote.

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  • Nat Kuhn  On November 9, 2020 at 10:16 am

    Thanks, Doug! All excellent points, both analytical and hortatory. In addition to the sticky point of consenters and non-consenters being different (which I’m sure there is some truth to), the other major problem seems to be that we are bad at predicting who will actually vote.

  • danielsimonson  On November 9, 2020 at 10:28 am

    Boy, Muder nails it with this one. I like “sitting with the weirdness”.


  • LdeG  On November 9, 2020 at 10:40 am

    Good point on the polling. Response rates have been so low for several cycles now that I always worried – when I did my dissertation research in 1980, 80% response on a phone survey was barely acceptable. Now we are making projections on 10%.

    On the larger issue: “My view coming in to this election was that Trump’s 2016 win was a fluke: He faced an unpopular opponent in a low-turnout election during a news cycle that was breaking against her. He got only 46% of the vote, but it was perfectly distributed to give him an Electoral College win, despite losing the popular vote by 2.8 million.” You live in a blue state. I live in one that is probably the epitome of blue turned deep red. I was seriously worried starting in August 2016, and worried not quite as seriously this time. Trump voters care most about the economy – they have consistently said so – and the Dems have not convincingly fixed the economy nor presented a plan for doing it in a way that is believable and acceptable. The middle on down are hurting and the top believes that Democrats want to fix the economy by taking away what they have and giving it to the poor, and Democratic rhetoric, even from the center, lends itself to that interpretation.

    I can’t speak for other states, but Joe Manchin has survived because he is a DINO. I’m not sure that will save him in the next election.The party in WV has been in disarray for going on two decades, both in organization and in direction.

    • Anonymous  On November 10, 2020 at 5:53 pm

      “when I did my dissertation research in 1980, 80% response on a phone survey was barely acceptable. Now we are making projections on 10%.”

      1980 was before everyone had caller ID though, right? These days most people don’t answer the phone unless they recognize the number.

      1980 was also before the widespread use of mobile phone, which pollsters are not allowed to call, right?

      In 1980, were automated polls the norm, or did actual people make the calls? Even if a poll taker calls a landline and makes it past caller ID, people still have a lot fewer qualms about hanging up on a machine than they do hanging up on an real person.

  • SamuraiArtGuy  On November 9, 2020 at 10:50 am

    Instead, it appears that people who respond to polls are different from people who don’t. You can’t fix that with statistical weighting.

    The folks at 538 who are at heart, cold-hearted statisticians, not pundits – got shot up for not predicting Trumps 2016 win. But prior to the election, they were roundly criticized for giving Trump as high a shot as winning as they did. The results were within the polling margin of error. And so was this contest. But I think, that “margin of error” in polling in a time of such political division is not +/-3% but more like +/-5-6%. And pollsters should probably have to live with that going forward.

    I think I know where this is going, and I don’t like it: If the issue that makes your polling sample unrepresentative is consent — consenting voters are fundamentally different than non-consenting voters

    I’m not consenting (though went Blue) and refused to participate in ANY polling. And the overwhelming majority of the people I know wanted nothing to do with polling either. [ Even as I type this, hung up on a SPAM call… ]

    The center of the bell curve is flatting and the ends are lifting. “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,” While people are saying they are centrists, the gap continues to widen. The Nation continued to separate rural/conservative and urban/liberal.

    People who are resolutely pro-life, anti-tax, pro-police, anti-immigration are NEVER going to vote for Democrats, no matter how much Trump embarrassed and offended them. For another cohort, who resent establishment politicians – and I do to a degree – What establishment politician SAY and what they DO and how they VOTE don’t match up – one reason I left the Democratic Party and became a crusty Independent. They no longer represented me, people like me, or democratic principles in any meaningful way, and had utterly abandoned Working and Wage Class people who were once their base. So people are drawn to Trump, who is the diametrical opposite of establishment politicians, and for the most part seems to does what he says – if in the most corrupt, incompetent, self-serving way possible.

    When the sociopath is saying what you want to hear, you’re not concerned that he’s a sociopath. For some, The Big Show is the attraction, and the lying, the bluster, the swagger is all part of the entertainment and they love it – and they voted for the Reality Show Character not the actual Donald Trump. For instance, they don’t want to wear masks, he says “don’t wear masks! I don’t!” COVID-19 mitigations are inconvenient and economically destructive? “Covid-19 is a hoax!” Yay! Great! F**k all that noise!

    I have gotten some flack from my friends on the Left, by pointing out that not all Trump voters are irredeemable racists, misogynists, bigots, authoritarian proto-fascists. A lot of them are pretty regular people who have been kicked to the curb by both parties, betrayed by establishment Republicans, and abandoned by Democrats. The result of a rising tide of inequality and income transfer to the 1% that’s been going on since before the Reagan Administration – for many voters, their entire lives. I will allow that Trumpworlds seems to have hoovered up the overwhelming majority of actual racists, misogynists, bigots, authoritarians, and proto-fascists. And the Republican party has to held accountable for that.

    But healing the nation will be some of the hardest work we’ll ever have to do as a people. And will be much harder if our political class, both sides of the aisle, does not recognize and come to grips with the immiseration of a vast swath of the American people, fertile ground to plant hate, grievance, and resentment of every kind.

    • Dwight A. Ernest  On November 11, 2020 at 4:03 pm

      A worthy comment. Thank you for the perspective.

  • Anonymous  On November 9, 2020 at 10:59 am

    People are more likely to actually vote if they vote by mail than if they have to go somewhere to vote. There was a BIG expansion of vote-by-mail this year, so it probably pulled in lots of people who might otherwise not have bothered.

  • Anonymous  On November 9, 2020 at 11:16 am

    Disappointing. You, and other commentators have ignored the runoff elections for two senators from Georgia. If the Democratic candidates are elected, tie in the Senate goes to VP Harris. We have work to do and ignoring it will guarantee what you state has already happened.
    Second, progressives make the mistake of believing that others think as they do. You know, actually think. Tribal identity among the Trump voters is strong. It has nothing to do with evidence or reason. 70+ million voted for this clown.
    Finally, it doesn’t matter if one believes that there are some Trump voters who aren’t racists but are “regular people” (whatever that means). They voted for one who is a racist, misogynist and authoritarian.

    • Anonymous  On November 9, 2020 at 11:42 am

      Registering new voters in GA will make a big difference. I think that Biden’s slim lead in GA is partly because of Republicans who voted against Trump, but still voted Republican for other candidates. Without new voters, the Senate candidates are likely to loose by a narrow margin.

    • SamuraiArtGuy  On November 9, 2020 at 12:35 pm

      Au contraire, LOTS of commentators have mentioned it. But I don’t expect us to prevail in both of those elections. There will be HUGE attention paid, and tremendous money spent, but I am not especially confident.

      On the other point. A swath of Trump voters clearly didn’t care that he’s a racist, misogynist and authoritarian, others seem to applaud it. But if our political class continues to ignore the plight of working and wage class Americans and an increasing slice of the Middle/Salary Class – the conditions that gave rise to Trumpism will always be there. Republicans seem fine with this, Democrats should not be.

      • Anonymous  On November 9, 2020 at 2:12 pm

        I specifically referred to Doug’s post in which he assumed that the Senate will remain in Republican control. Other commentators have made the same assumption without referencing the Georgia runoffs. You may, if you want, accept the “economic insecurity” argument for Trump’s support. I view it as the culmination of Republican use of the “Southern Strategy” by Nixon, the demonization of the Democrats and the “other” by Gingrich and stoking White grievance by Trump. Trump did nothing for the “working and wage class Americans” so you are essentially calling them “chumps” for supporting Trump. The Trump supporters are exemplified by a Florida farmer who was hurt by Trump’s tariffs and said: “But he is hurting the wrong people!”

  • sharonup  On November 9, 2020 at 11:45 am

    An interesting point of the weirdness:Over the final month, GOP internal polling showed voters in red states started to believe Biden was likely to win the presidency. As they did, their willingness to vote for Democratic Senate candidates down-ballot plummeted.

    • EFCL  On November 9, 2020 at 12:21 pm

      I think sharonup is onto something. I think (but of course can’t prove) that enough voters said “Enough” to Trump’s outrageous antics, but were fearful of the “socialist” smear to make sure that Congress, or at least the Senate, would obstruct anything Biden wanted to do. So Trump is gone but legislation still won’t get passed. But “Trump is gone” is good thing for the country, because it means Barr, Pompeo, DeVos, DeJoy, et al are gone, too.

  • bneibrakmom  On November 9, 2020 at 12:07 pm

    I doubt that amoreliberal democrat would have won. There are many centrastis like me that voted for Biden because we couldn’t stomach Trump, but if Bernie had run, I would have opted out. The democrats need next time a solid centrist, but young with charisma.

  • MarshallDog  On November 9, 2020 at 12:12 pm

    So on election night I very smartly stayed away from checking the incoming results. It definitely helped my stress levels. But then just before I went to bed at 1am I accidentally saw a story on my phone about Trump leading everywhere, but what really got to me was his lead in Virginia. All I’ve been told in Virginia has been turned blue during my adult life, but suddenly here it was and Virginia was about to join the Trump coalition. I went to sleep wondering if I can ever really know anything again. Then Virginia had flipped back to blue by the time I woke up and I was thinking OK, at least the polls weren’t THAT far off. Still the idea that we can watch 300,000 people die due to the administration’s incompetence and come within a whisker of the bastard being re-elected convinces me the real problem is Americans. Enough of them want this that there’s probably nothing I can do during my lifetime to fix it.

    • SamuraiArtGuy  On November 9, 2020 at 12:40 pm

      “We have met the enemy and he is us.” – Walt Kelly, Pogo.

      But I think the Republic dodged a bullet. But here comes two years (at least) of SUK. But I know I voted for “less worse”, a rear-guard action to smooth the slope of decline in the end of American Empire.

  • Anonymous  On November 9, 2020 at 12:16 pm

    “root through the involuntary data trove of Google or Twitter until you are confident you know how your chosen person will vote.”

    No. No. No.

    Stop collecting involuntary data. Accept that polling is flawed.

  • SamuraiArtGuy  On November 9, 2020 at 12:27 pm

    I left out that making the entire election an almost policy-free referendum on Donald Trump was enough to get Joe Biden over the line, but it was not much help to down-ballot Democrats, where voters are much more tuned to actual, and generally local issues – which was the success of Democrats in the 2018 midterms. They ran on local issues their constituents cared about. But to bring undecided or wavering Republicans over, it felt like the Dems brought very little to the table. Oh, the policies were there, but didn’t become part of the dialogue, particularly in the media. It was, as most of the last four years, all about Trump.

    Also I feel the nasty fight between centrist corporate establishment Democrats and the Progressive Left actually was rather damaging to their chances and alienated voters. “Defund the Police” alongside media images of rioting, fires and looting was a particularly polarizing and unfortunate slogan, easily turned against BLM Activists. And I’m a person of some stirred color, imagine how rural white folk felt about that?

    • Diego  On November 10, 2020 at 12:29 pm

      A lot of our hope going into this election was from the polling, but also the Blue Wave results from 2018. But i think what this election showed is that the “repudiation” takeaway from 2018 could be wrong. It might be as simple as the fact that Trump wasn’t on the ballot in 2018. His cult of personality really seems to do it for lots of people. Which could be encouraging going forward if he’s no longer on the ballot, or terrifying going forward if he is on the ballot, or if another person takes his place with a similar cult of personality, now that the formula has been shown.

  • George Washington, Jr.  On November 9, 2020 at 12:48 pm

    The problem is the Electoral College. Clinton won the popular vote in 2106, and Biden won it this year by an even greater margin. And as we all know, Clinton lost the EC thanks to around 80,000 votes in three states. Biden looks like he will win the EC by around 100,000 votes in five states. Biden didn’t “flip” anything; he benefitted from what amounts to statistical noise. It could just as easily have gone the other way again.

    We may be looking at a future where the Democratic candidate consistently wins a solid majority of the popular vote, with the presidency essentially determined by a coin toss in the EC.

  • airms  On November 9, 2020 at 1:45 pm

    This is the two-party system. From the moment Trump won, Republicans were always going to support him, and so their approval of him has only grown to match their actions. Think of the situation in 2016: one could still think of Trump as a clown and be a good Republican. Ted Cruz, the Republican’s Republican, stood up at the GOP convention and said to vote your conscience, rather than endorse Trump. Now, some of those figures have left the party altogether. Others have retired. There is no longer much space within the party for a good conservative Republican to reject Trump.

  • Dale  On November 9, 2020 at 1:50 pm

    My guess, fraud. Well not fraud in the traditional sense but fraud in the voter suppression sense

    That is, there are a lot of people who respond to polls who honestly believe that they are going to vote and that they are registered. And that these people, particularly in Republican controlled swing states, are not actually on the rolls and/or will be prevented from voting, or have to file a provisional ballot which may or may not count

    In 2016 there was a very noticable red shift in polling. And it very noticeably didn’t happen in states that had democrats in charge of elections (where polling was almost dead on). I would not be surprised to see similar shifts here.

    It’s not like Republicans don’t have a history of doing this type of thing. Or that they havent been steeping up the disenfranchisement. Or if state actors haven’t gotten into the game to potentially make things harder for people to vote.

    • George Washington, Jr.  On November 9, 2020 at 1:59 pm

      If this isn’t addressed, the Democratic Senate candidates in Georgia might as well not bother running, because they can only win in a free and fair election.

  • Neal Schaeffer  On November 9, 2020 at 2:48 pm

    I’m also greatly disappointed by the closeness of the vote, especially the Senate. (Hope springs eternal, but for Georgia of all places?)
    However, I want to remind that things aren’t very cheery in the Other camp: they’re still up against a terminal demographics problem. It’s become clear (and Lindsey Graham said as much) that without even more minority-rule manipulation, Repubs are toast.
    I expect to see a big, noisy “attempt” to resurrect their last forensic survey — how on earth did we lose to a Black? (But that doesn’t mean they won’t come back with a Trump/Trump ticket, of course.) Hell, maybe we’ll even see a push for “Republican Compassion”.

  • JB  On November 9, 2020 at 3:27 pm

    You put into words some of the things I’ve been feeling, so thanks for that. I also agree with a few commenters who’ve pointed out that the split between conservative and liberal (as well as the split between upper and lower class with the vanishing middle class) is increasing, by all studies, and things are polarizing. That’s going to significantly impact who people are willing to vote for, not only in the sense that they might be more likely to vote for Trump because they agree, but in the sense that they’re less likely to vote for anyone else because they disagree — thereby voting for Trump as the lesser of two evils.

    A couple of other things I’ve been pondering as well, as relates to this election:

    I live in a conservative-for-the-San-Francisco-area city, so this first thing is strongly influenced by that, and may not apply elsewhere. Still, it’s worth mentioning: the people I know who voted for Trump are also people who would nod along with pro-Dem conversations, and even baldly lie about who they were voting for — even to strangers (and pollsters). Would it skew polls enough? Mayby not, but it’s in my head.

    The second thing that’s popped into my mind is a phenomena where a group of people who are proven wrong become MORE convicted in their beliefs, rather than less. This was most strongly noted after 2000, and then again after 2012 (when the Mayan calendar stopped counting and various people believed it meant the end of the world). At these times, as well as many, many others, “true believers” became more certain, not less, that they’d been right and disaster had been delayed, diverted, or had taken another, unseen form when their predictions didn’t come true. This same phenomena is seen in all sorts of aspects of life; greater belief when proven wrong.

    It does make me wonder: If someone voted for Trump and then was proven he was horrible, would that person become MORE, rather than less, entrenched in the idea that Trump was the answer? A thought.

  • Amy  On November 9, 2020 at 3:52 pm

    I live in a red state, Missouri, in a rural area. Seventy five percent of the people where I live voted for Trump. The Republican culture is strong here and pervasive, as is Fox News and conspiracy theories. I don’t have any idea how to change that. My friend said her son-in-law hates Trump but voted for him because he thought the economy would be better. I’m hoping the younger generation will be more progressive.

  • sooner8728  On November 9, 2020 at 7:24 pm

    I really liked your analysis here. Sit with it, X version. I think the “shy Trump voter” is a real thing.

    The most surprising thing to me was that Democrats didn’t win in a landslide. I have always assumed (rightly or wrongly) that a whole bunch of people are “sort of liberal,” but they don’t really vote. If these people voted, then Democrats would win. That’s not what happened though, at least not completely.

    I say all of this as someone who would be considered a liberal Republican. I suspect there’s more surprises to come.

  • Marvin Fretwell  On November 9, 2020 at 9:36 pm

    I’m far less interested in the polling than I am in the fact that Trump gained ground in terms of both numbers and percentage who supported him. And that I attribute to the constant propaganda machine called FOX. In your post about whether election fraud is real or not, we see that the Associated Press and the International Election Observers are saying there is no evidence to support Trump’s claims. But then we see Newt Gingrich telling Sean Hanniity that there is wholesale election fraud, and as you say, “all but calling for an armed uprising.” This is a perfect example of propaganda at its best — or worst. If this propaganda organization is allowed to continue pumping out such stuff, we will see even more supporters for Trump or his ilk in 2024. And you can take that to the bank.

    • Anonymous  On November 9, 2020 at 10:42 pm

      FOX and right-wing talk radio. Right-wing talk radio is the same way.

    • Neal Schaeffer  On November 9, 2020 at 11:43 pm

      > And that I attribute to the constant propaganda machine called FOX.

      I’m not sure that explains how Latino and Black voters increased their support.

      There are many, many stories here. For starters, I suspect Trump found support beyond the Fox audiences.

  • Bill Dysons  On November 10, 2020 at 7:14 am

    I recently heard a Trump supporter say: “Well Mr. Trump, you got sick, lost your job, and a majority of your fellow citizens think you’re stupid and evil. Congratulations! You’re now a full fledged member of the working class.” I think a lot of Trumpism is captured in that quote. As long as we look down on them and treat them as “white trash” (which, lets admit, we do), they’ll continue to hate us with the fury of 1000 suns. I don’t think Trumpers hate liberal policies, I think they hate us – the liberal people – because they genuinely believe we think we are better than they are. Just my two cents from living in a southern state surrounded by Trump supporters.

    • Bill  On November 10, 2020 at 8:52 am

      Ok…I understand your point. But what’s a non trumper to do when faced with people that are intellectually lazy, intellectually dishonest and civically irresponsible? In addition, trumpers are often morally and ethically confused if not deliberately morally and ethically negligent. These are grown adults, (not children) that need to exercise their brains a bit more. Respect is earned.

      • Bill Dysons  On November 10, 2020 at 10:12 am

        I don’t know the answer, but honestly man, your comments are pretty horrible – and I think it’s very telling that you feel so comfortable with such broad stereotyping AND sharing it publicly without shame. Labeling any other group like that would be considered totally unacceptable. I do it too sometimes – so I don’t mean to throw stones – but we need to get to a place where this type of casual condescension isn’t acceptable among everyday, normal liberals.

        And I think it starts with radical empathy for their moral and economic concerns and taking them seriously. Treat Trumpers as you’d treat any minority group desperate for help and lashing out. (I’m definitely not trying to imply that the problems white Trumpers face are as bad or worse than those those of minorities, but the psychology of each group’s reactions can often be similar).

        Even writing this response makes me cringe because I know a Trumper reading it would just hate us more. I can hear it now: “They like to have ‘intellectual discussions’ about ways to fix us and either make us bow down to their ‘superior morality’ or else rid the country of us. F*** them.”

        Trumpers are definitely NOT ethically confused and do not see liberals as moral people at all. This is something liberals often have trouble grasping and we have to get a better handle on it if we have any hope of persuading anyone.

      • Neal Schaeffer  On November 10, 2020 at 11:53 am

        Totally agree with Bill Dysons: tribal talk is unhelpful right now.

      • Diego  On November 10, 2020 at 12:18 pm

        Bill Dysons,

        I think both of your comments here are 100% spot on. There is a lot of resentment on the other side and Trump is their middle finger. It will take an extraordinary amount of empathy to bridge that gap. We can blame the other side as much as Bill is doing in response to your original comment, but that doesn’t really address the reality of the situation. It may feel good to claim the moral high ground and flout your virtue, but that does zero to help things. In fact it makes things worse.

        If people are upset and vulnerable to propaganda that makes them more upset, demonizing them only serves to increase the division. We really need to get away from the thought that these people are evil. They don’t think they are evil, and they think we are evil.

        Assuming a moral high ground only makes everybody dig their heels in without thinking.

        Example: The left sees abortion opposition as limiting the rights of women’s bodies. The right sees abortion as baby-killing. We’re never going to convince anti-abortionists that baby-killing is ok because it should be a woman’s right to kill a baby because it’s in her body. And defending unborn babies is such an easy way for the right to assume the absolute moral high ground. The real disconnect is what we consider the difference between an embryo and a “baby”. But it never gets to that because we are fighting from two totally different positions and are absolutely convinced we have the moral high ground. We have to get off our high horses if we’re going to do any healing. And the election showed that it’s going to be tough to force the healing by just winning and imposing what we believe to be the right things, so the empathy approach is the only way forward. Anything else and you’re just making yourself feel good but not actually helping a damn thing.

    • weeklysift  On November 16, 2020 at 7:57 am

      A question that I wonder about: What do you do when pro-Trump people think you’re looking down on them because of something you never actually said, or something taken way out of context?

      I’m thinking of Obama’s “clinging to guns and religion” quote or Clinton’s “basket of deplorables”. Both come from real statements, but neither meant what right-wing media made them mean.

      Clinton, for example, never said that people are deplorable because they support Trump. She identified “racists, sexists, homophobes, xenophobes, and Islamophobes” as deplorable. Her message was to the Trump supporters who are none of those things, to put to them: Look at the people you’re siding with.

      When a large chunk of people are waiting for you to insult them, and then a propaganda network tells them you did insult them, what can you do? No one can speak so carefully that they never give fodder to this pattern.

      • Neal Schaeffer  On November 16, 2020 at 9:19 am

        Yep, we’re all keyed up to be crossed by the Other Side. You don’t even have to Tribal Talk on purpose, for the other side to hear you that way.
        Rather than get all Fact Check on it, I think your examples can be classified as regrettable gaffes. Healthy dialogue makes room for that.
        Oh, for a return to healthy dialogue!.

  • Bill  On November 10, 2020 at 11:58 am

    Bill D…a little context. My comments are indeed harsh but I believe accurate. The trump supporters I know and have attempted to have conversations with (not arguments or debates) are all college graduates, several with advanced degrees. In fact, at least six of them are multi millionaires. This probably explains my frustration and impatience with them. The trumpers I know have zero economic concerns and few if any moral concerns, at least none that they’ve openly expressed. Indeed, there are many different kinds of people who supported trump for a number of reasons and painting all with the same broad brush is admittedly not entirely fair. However, I believe there are some common denominators whether you’re a multi millionaire or on the other end of the economic scale.
    A sense of personal grievance, poor or lazy critical thinking skills and not being particularly well informed seem to be a few of the common denominators.
    I also don’t know what the solutions may be, but I’m skeptical persuasion is one of them.
    As I was told by several of my trumper acquaintances,…direct quotes…”I don’t know why you want to talk about this stuff, you’re not going to change my mind so don’t bother” And …”I just don’t have the bandwidth to think about this stuff, I just know what I know”
    Trump supporters like any other group, are not monolithic. But there are plenty of them that have the capacity to do better without our radical empathy.

    • Bill Dysons  On November 11, 2020 at 1:54 pm

      I generally agree with you – and I’ve had similar experiences to what you’re describing so I know how frustrating it can be. I feel like a good place to start is (where possible) to try to divorce issues from explicit references to politics. For example, I’ve talked with veteran Trumpers who really like their VA health care, and lots of Trumper hunters who like the outdoors, camping, and nature. They’d recoil at the labels, but these are people who literally like socialized medicine and support environmentalism. I don’t know how to strategize the framing game, but I’m convinced that if you renamed a lot of the progressive issues and somehow presented the ideas to conservatives in a way made them not think of politics or equate them with progressive policies, you could persuade them. Heh, if you tried to sell a progressive policy on its merits and then threw into the sales pitch “and oh by the way, AOC and Biden strongly oppose this,” it might work!

  • Bill  On November 10, 2020 at 4:25 pm


    For my part, I’m not claiming any moral high ground or flouting virtue. Nor am I demonizing and calling the trump supporters evil. Those are your projections and hyperbole,…not mine. What I have done, is a month ago, I reached out to a couple dozen family, friends and acquaintances a good portion of which are trump supporters. Many have college degrees, some advanced. Most are financially very well off. With empathy and humility, and at great risk and expense to personal relationships, I tried to initiate conversations to understand their positions and thinking. I suspect that’s more than most people have done….from either side. Most people called me crazy and just laughed.
    Many ignored my inquiry and refused to talk about it. I can only guess why.
    However, the responses and comments I did get were breathtaking to say the least. My comments in previous posts were my deductions from my small 30 person survey. Facts matter to me. Not so much the people I talked to. At times , I thought I was talking to Alex Jones. ….and these are family, old co workers, and friends. I was stunned. Thus my comments regarding intellectual laziness and dishonesty. I stand by those observations.
    I’ve known these people a long time, and I know they have the capacity to think and be rational. Best I can tell though, they’re not fully utilizing that capacity. Why, I don’t know.
    As I’ve said before, I’m not sure what the answer is, but empathy alone won’t bridge these gaps. We need to understand the root causes if we’re ever going to effectively address the divide. My empathetic outreach was simply an attempt to understand root causes.
    The truth can sometimes be unpleasant, but we still need to find ways to deal with it.
    I’d be interested in what you think should be done.

  • George Washington, Jr.  On November 10, 2020 at 4:35 pm

    Regarding how we can reach out to Trump supporters in our circle, I’m not sure that will be an option for a while. Speaking just from my own personal Facebook group, the Trump supporters I know are all moving to Parler, an unmoderated alternative to Twitter that seems to be patronized almost exclusively by right-wingers. Their justification is that Facebook and Twitter are “censoring” them and other conservative voices, so they want a platform where this won’t happen and they can hear the “truth” without interference. From what I can tell, Parler is, at least at the moment, little more than unsubstantiated claims of election fraud.

    Ironically, I was blocked by the Three Percenters (a right wing militia) after one post on their page, so their commitment to “free speech” only applies to them.

    • Anonymous  On November 15, 2020 at 7:05 am

      Try this idea on for size:
      When people complain that Facebook and Twitter censor conservatives, they don’t mean that Facebook THE COMPANY or Twitter THE COMPANY don’t let them say what they want. They mean that OTHER PEOPLE on Facebook and Twitter make fun of them and tell them that what they posted is bullshit.

      In which case, “there’s no evidence that Facebook and Twitter censor conservatives” misses the point, because it’s talking about company policy and they’re talking about the people using the site.

      That’s also why you got blocked on Parler, because for them the whole point of moving to a different site was to get away from the annoying people who disagree with them.

  • Donnel Miller-Mutia  On November 10, 2020 at 11:53 pm

    I too had this wishful thinking of a blue tsunami while standing on the same premise you had, ie, that the covid deaths, the incompetence, the incoherence, and speech of hatred/racism must increase the number of people who dislike Trump significantly go up. But this “weirdness” (which to me means “I didn’t see this coming” hence it’s “weird” or “odd”) is only true if the focus of your historical lens is narrow – say from the “normal years” of Obama (which is the heyday of idealized normalcy adored by centrist democrats) in contrast to the years of Trumpian hell. I recommend Umair Haque’s piece “(Why) There Was no Biden Landslide” and his other articles which read the election results through the scope of a wide historical lens (from slavery, civil rights, to mass incarceration) which looks at the problem of the white American voter.

  • Corey Fisher  On November 11, 2020 at 10:42 am

    This link made its way around to me today, and made me think back to this post:

    The link talks about progressive candidates performed this election, using Green New Deal co-sponsorship as a proxy, and found that they did fairly well even in swing districts. While I haven’t done any statistical analysis, so these might be cherry-picked examples, I did follow up on some of the examples they mentioned and it looks legitimate. (Unfortunately, Tom Suozzi did not end up winning his election after the ballots were counted.)

    I’m not sure I’m ready to follow the article all the way to “progressive policy wins swing districts”, but that data does at least suggest that candidates weren’t punished for progressive policy views. Which suggests something different is going on – that swing districts care about other things… even if it’s pretty unclear what that is right now. Trying to identify the trends there might be a big deal going forward.

    It might even be that, as fractured politics focuses increasingly on the horse race, the actual policies of the candidates are becoming more and more irrelevant – in which case pushing for more progressives would be a good idea from the standpoint of those who actually want progressive change, but necessarily coupled with figuring out what they can do to actually win if the policies don’t matter.

  • songerk  On November 13, 2020 at 12:17 pm

    Thanks as always for your thoughtful and thorough analysis! I’ve been mulling over the polling errors too, and I’m wondering if they relate to the likely left-leaning bias of many of the pollsters. Jonathan Haidt has in recent years sounded the alarm about the decreasing percentage of conservatives in academia–it’s decreased from something like 1/4 to 1/15th since the 1990s, I think. He says this relates to an academic culture that’s increasingly hostile to conservatism. The danger is that without a diversity of thought, experts’ and academics’ blind spots won’t be exposed as easily, since it’s people who think differently who are best equipped to expose them. My guess is that pollsters, being wonky, are usually left-leaning, and I wonder if they’re asking the wrong questions but unequipped to know what the right questions are. Maybe if 538 consulted with some conservatives on their poll designs, it would help them capture more accurate data?


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