In Will the Real America Please Stand Up I asked if after 244 years America was ready to step beyond its racist past. The election had been billed as the battle for the soul of America. Well, that soul is as tortured and pained as it’s ever been. Biden was declared the winner to dancing in the streets. Meanwhile, the president pouted and stormed off with his ball like a schoolyard brat. 150 million votes later the picture is very clear. There is a fundamental divide in America that’s deeper than race.
More people voted in the 2020 Presidential election than ever. Biden received the most votes in history with over 75 million. By the same token Trump garnered the second largest with over 70 million. Over seventy million people voted for a man that a lot of people characterize as the worst president ever. I repeat, seventy million people. People who can’t be pawned off as racist and white supremacist. They can’t be dismissed as rural hicks either. They showed up en masse to support or defend their candidate. This takes the conversation beyond race.
The Depolarization of Race
If it were simply a matter of race, Trump would not have seen gains in his votes among minority communities. Although Blacks were the deciding force behind Biden’s win, Trump increased his voter percentages among Blacks and Latinos. In fact, Black and Latino men voted for Trump by larger percentages in 2020 than they had in 2016. Had it not been for the overwhelming support of Blacks, women in particular, in strategic voting precincts, Biden would have easily found this third try at the presidency more devastating than his prior two campaigns. Race cannot be dismissed, but it may not account for the lion’s share of Trump’s supporters.
The night started with the Cuban-American vote in Miami-Dade County. Trump won the Latino vote by a wide margin. It was later reported that the Latino communities along the Rio Grande Valley in Texas kept The Lone Star state a solid red. The Atlantic reports in “The Most Important Divide in American Politics Isn’t Race” that “the depolarization of race and the polarization of place” may better define the 2020 election results. Derek Thompson, the Staff writer at the Atlantic, shows the gradual movement to the right among Blacks and Latinos as signs of this shift. The DC Voice reported on this trend in “If you think alt-right means alt-white, think again!.” It was evident by the bi-racial turnout that race wasn’t the sole party identifier.
The Polarization of Place
Anyone watching the county by county returns couldn’t help but notice the disparity in urban and rural voting returns. Urban, once reserved for the inner-city, is now expanding into the suburbs. This trend has been increasing over the past few voting cycles. Trump anticipated these losses so he focused heavily in turning out rural voters. It almost worked. The difference of swing voters was around 50,000 voters across 3 battleground states (Georgia, Arizona, Nevada). The voting precinct maps of Pennsylvania and Georgia highlight the polarization of place.
These maps also make it clear why Trump was accused of playing to the base. His plan was to comb all of the rural precincts for additional votes to make up for the losses in urban and suburban areas.
The third leg of the stool is education. Polling demographics often include race and education. Pew Research shows that “around two-thirds of registered voters in the U.S. (65%) do not have a college degree, while 36% do. Voters who identify with the Democratic Party or lean toward it are much more likely than their Republican counterparts to have a college degree (41% vs. 30%).” These roles have reversed over the past twenty-five years. Therefore, the anecdotal correlation is rural-no college degree; urban-college degree. Exit polls show that Biden was able to carve into Trump’s base of non-degree voters.
Thompson refers to this as the diploma divide. He reports similar voting patterns of several groups. Non-college-educated Latino, Black, and white Americans are voting more alike. They tend to live in rural and sparse suburban areas and vote Republican. On the other hand, low-income, college-educated 20-somethings and rich, college-educated people tend to live in urban and inner suburbs that are moving left.
Closing the Divide
These demographics make it easy for political parties to target various communities. It also makes it easier to divide people. Micro-targeting techniques will continue to be refined. Politicians will find new ways to exploit these differences. The tear in the American fabric will undoubtedly grow. Anyone thinking that one president can reverse this trend is naive.
MIT Technology Review states that “If a campaign is lucky, it will find its way through a wilderness of polling, voter attributes, demographics, turnout, impressions, gerrymandering, and ad buys to connect with voters in a way that moves or even inspires them. Obama, MAGA, AOC—all have had some of that special sauce.”
The bottom line is, unless we become smarter as consumers of news and information, we will continue to be divided along these political fault lines. President Trump wasn’t the first to take advantage of these differences. He won’t be the last. It’s up to us to see beyond differences and find common ground. The more these divisions pull Americans apart, the harder they will be to repair.