With Election Day behind us, NC State’s School of Public and International Affairs hosted a post-election analysis event with two political scientists giving their first thoughts on Tuesday’s outcomes. Professors Steven Greene and Andrew Taylor tackled both national and local races, taking a look at the immediate effects they will have on the future of our politics.
Similar to the 2016 presidential election, the 2020 election has brought up the question of the effectiveness of the Electoral College in electing a president. Donald Trump won the Electoral College in the 2016 presidential election, while Hillary Clinton won the popular vote.
Greene said if Trump were to win the presidency, it would be the largest difference between the Electoral College and the popular vote in history. He said this differential could reopen the Electoral College conversation to mainstream debate again.
“If you win the Electoral College, you’re president, that’s the rules, fair and square,” Greene said. “But sometimes the rules are a problem, right? And we change those rules. In this case, we’re not going to, but I think it’s safe to say rules which can so easily lead to what I would call ‘perverse outcomes’ are a problem.”
Greene touched on another thing many people have talked about since the 2016 election: polling. According to FiveThirtyEight, Clinton was favored to be president for over five months leading up to the election. Similarly, Biden was favored to be president by almost all polls.
“The polls were very wrong in many ways, in many states, about Donald Trump in 2016,” Greene said. “Guess what, [polls were] just as inaccurate in many states as 2016. The seeming difference is Joe Biden had a bigger lead than Hillary Clinton did. The polling error that led to Hillary Clinton losing seems to lead to Joe Biden narrowly winning.”
This brought up questions about the effectiveness of polling. Taylor said polling was more accurate during the 2018 midterm elections, and some people believe there is some form of “Trump effect” that makes it difficult to poll Trump supporters. He said a concept known as the “shy Trump supporter,” in which some propose that it is harder to poll Trump supporters, as they are less likely to accurately disclose who they are voting for. He said this could be due to fear of social repercussions or due to the fact they believe polls are a part of the media establishment.
Greene said changes were made to polling since the 2016 election in order to increase polling of underrepresented groups. He talked specifically about an increased polling of non-college-educated white people in the 2020 cycle to account for that.
Greene said polls in the future will be further tweaked to account for the fact that in each demographic, those who are willing to talk to pollsters are different, and apparently more Democratic, than those who will not talk to pollsters.
Regardless of the faults of polling, Greene said polling would not go away. However, he said he believes we must be more vigilant in not immediately believing the results of a poll.
“Polling is not going away,” Greene said. “I think it’s fair to say we’ll be a lot more skeptical of it. ‘OK, that’s it, I’m not paying attention to polls anymore,’ until the first ones come out about the Georgia Senate runoff we’re likely to have. We’re like a trained seal, just throw us the fish and we’re going to want it.”
North Carolina Results
North Carolina’s results were a little more friendly to incumbents. As of Wednesday afternoon, Democrat Roy Cooper had clinched the governorship, while Republicans Trump and Tillis held small leads over their Democratic challengers.
According to Greene, states are much more willing to split their ticket between their vote for national offices and state offices versus splitting between president and U.S. Senate, which explains Cooper being the lone Democrat elected in the three major races.
“Cooper, who just squeaked it out in 2016, did the best [of the major North Carolina races in this cycle] by a long shot in 2020,” Greene said. “Arguably, people were pleased with his responses to COVID. I’ve argued that his election was sealed when Dan Forest was nominated as his opponent.”
According to Greene, Forest was a weak candidate to challenge Cooper given his base, which was social conservatives. Greene pointed to former Gov. Pat McCrory as an ideal Republican candidate, saying McCrory established himself primarily as a business-minded politician. McCrory eventually lost office after becoming too attached to social conservatives due to House Bill 2, the same problem Forest had.
“Once it was clear that [Forest] was really trailing, going to have a hard time, there was no money; there was no support,” Greene said. “Funders don’t like to throw good money after bad. There’s a reason why there were 10 Roy Cooper ads to every Dan Forest ad. People gave up on him.”
Republicans are in position to sweep North Carolina’s Supreme Court justice races. Challenger Paul Newby is leading by 0.08% for the seat of the chief justice, while Phil Berger Jr. and Tamara Barringer both led their races for associate seats by a little over 1%. According to Taylor, this might be due to greater trust being put in Republicans to uphold “law and order,” and could have been affected by the protests of the summer.
During the Q&A, conversation turned to the growing trend of politicians believing in conspiracy theories. Greene referenced Georgia House of Representatives member Marjorie Taylor Greene, who believes in the QAnon conspiracy theory. The problem, Greene said, was people will choose to vote with their preferred party despite those beliefs.
As a less-drastic example of party loyalty in North Carolina politics, Greene turned to the lieutenant governor race, saying, “Mark Robinson, the lieutenant governor-elect [is] fantastically unqualified for the job.” Robinson, however, defeated Democratic challenger Yvonne Lewis Holley by a 51.66-48.34 margin.
The Immediate Future
Win or lose, Donald Trump will remain in office until January 2021. Until 2021, Democrats will retain control of the House of Representatives, and Republicans will have control of the Senate. Still, there are a couple pieces of legislation which need to be tackled before a change of power, even if they will occur during a lame duck session.
“They have to do budget, at least a [continuing resolution], [because] funding runs out on Dec. 8,” Taylor said. “One question is what happens with phase four, technically phase five, of coronavirus relief?... Legislatively, it will just be a punt to enter the new year, with appropriations, and possibly a grand coronavirus deal.”
If Biden takes office, a weak Democratic performance in the Senate may hand him a split Congress. According to Greene, that could pose serious problems for Biden’s ability to implement his platform.
“This could be what I call a ‘rolling constitutional crisis,’” Greene said. “Virtually every appointment that needs the advice and consent of the Senate. I don’t know if, I don’t know if he can appoint a cabinet. I don’t know if Republicans will let Joe Biden appoint a single judge. I would not be surprised at all if they do not.”
Greene and Taylor said there are a couple of solutions to that potential problem. In order to get his cabinet appointed, Taylor said Biden may have to compromise and appoint Republicans to certain seats. As far as judges, Greene said Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski, Susan Collins and Mitt Romney are a set of three senators Biden may be able to work with. Greene nicknamed the trio the “Get Democracy Done Caucus,” saying they might be convinced down the road to confirm judges, provided they are less liberal.
In North Carolina, though, Greene was less optimistic about the government’s ability to get things done.
“In many ways we’re going to have the status quo, and the status quo is not great,” Greene said. “We don’t even have a state budget because the governor, the Democrat Roy Cooper, and the Republicans who control the legislature, could not agree on anything. That seems to be the likely case going forward.”