2020 Election Results Prove That Density Is Destiny

2020 Election Results Prove That Density Is Destiny

Some evidence suggests that Biden lost support among other minority groups as well. In North Carolina’s Robeson County, where Native Americans account for a majority of voters and which Barack Obama won by 20 points in 2012, Biden lost by 40 points. In Detroit, where nearly 80 percent of the population is Black, Trump’s support grew from its 2016 levels—albeit by only 5,000 votes. (Exit polls also found that Black and Latino men in particular inched toward Trump in 2020, but these surveys are unreliable.)

The slight but significant depolarization of race didn’t happen out of nowhere. As the pollster David Shor told New York magazine in July, Black voters trended Republican in 2016, while Latino voters also moved right in some battleground states. “In 2018, I think it’s absolutely clear that, relative to the rest of the country, nonwhite voters trended Republican,” he said. “We’re seeing this in 2020 polling, too. I think there’s a lot of denial about this fact.” After this election, the trend may be harder to deny.

A caveat: The 2020 election data are still incomplete. Nonwhite voters still lean Democratic, and one shouldn’t overstate the degree to which their shift at the margins is responsible for Trump’s overall level of support. Finally, race is a messy and often-forced category. While it is sometimes useful to talk about a Latino electorate as distinct from, say, the Black vote, there is really no such thing as a singular Latino electorate, but rather a grab bag of Latino electorates, varying by geography, gender, generation, country of origin, and socioeconomic status.

The depolarization of race will make it harder for Democrats to count on demography as a glide path to a permanent majority. It should make them think hard about how a president they excoriate as a white supremacist somehow grew his support among nonwhite Americans. But in the long run, racial depolarization might be good for America. A lily-white Republican Party that relies on minority demonization as an engine for voter turnout is dangerous for a pluralist country. But a GOP that sees its path to victory winding through a diverse working class might be more likely to embrace worker-friendly policies that raise living standards for all Americans.

Even more than the depolarization of race, the polarization of place is a long-running trend. In the past 100 years, Democrats have gone from being the party of the farmland to a profoundly urban coalition. In 1916, Woodrow Wilson’s support in rural America was higher than his support in urban counties. Exactly one century later, Hillary Clinton won nine in 10 of the nation’s largest counties and took New York City, Boston, Denver, Atlanta, Philadelphia, and Chicago by more than 50 points. Now it looks like Biden won the election by running up the score in cities and pushing the inner suburbs left, even as Trump strengthened his grip on rural areas.

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