The Democrats on Capitol Hill had three objectives in their dramatic, at times chilling, prosecution of Donald Trump in his impeachment trial before the U.S. Senate last week.
Two of the three objectives were obvious. First, alert the American people to the fragility of their democracy and warn them that another rogue president might well bring their system of government crashing down. Second, disqualify Trump from ever again seeking high office. Historians will judge whether first objective was achieved; the second was not.
The third, unstated objective of the Democrats was, plainly put, to shame and to cripple the Republican party by exploiting the failure of its spineless congressional leadership to stand for principle in the face of perfidy – and to do it before the GOP can wrest control of the Senate or the House, or both, from the Democrats’ tenuous grasp in the 2022 midterm elections.
Following last November’s election, the Republican polling firm Fabrizio, Lee & Associates (FLA) prepared an analysis of the vote in 10 battleground states. (To my surprise, the firm’s report to its GOP client is accessible on the internet.) In 2016, all 10 states were won by Trump. In 2020, five flipped to Joe Biden – Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin – and Trump held onto Florida, Iowa, North Carolina, Ohio and Texas. What looked like a breakthrough for the Democrats looks, through the FLA lens, like an aberration, one that could readily be reversed, with or without Trump in the picture.
Data for the analysis were drawn from the National Election Pool’s exit polls and the Associated Press tally of votes cast.
Here are some broad conclusions. A majority of voters in all 10 states disliked both presidential candidates and did not trust either of them. A majority of those who identified as Republican voted that way despite Trump, not because of him. Yet Republicans voted more massively for him in 2020 than they had in 2016. Contrary to a common perception, Trump did not lose support among Black voters, and he made double-digit gains among Hispanics.
He lost some ground – about three percentage points – among white women voters. But what really hurt him were white men. Their support dropped by 12 points in the five states that flipped from 2016 and by six points in the five states that Trump held.
Trump lost the election because Biden flipped the five states. The Democrat did it primarily by making major inroads among Independent voters. In 2016, Trump took 50 per cent of that group to Hillary Clinton’s 40 per cent. This time it was Biden 53-Trump 44, for a net shift of 19 points. Even in the five states Trump held, there was a 17-point net shift to Biden among Independents.
The various groups obviously overlap to a considerable degree. Trump lost among white males, Independents, voters with college degrees, voters over 65 and people who did not vote last time (young people coming of voting age and 2016 stay-at-homes). COVID-19 was ranked the most important issue, ahead of the economy, by pluralities of voters in both the flipped and held states, and they rated Biden as the more capable candidate to deal with the pandemic it. But among those who made the economy their highest priority, Trump (however much they disliked him) was by far the preferred choice.
The FLA analysts postulate that as the coronavirus abates, the economy (jobs, wages and company profits) will move to the forefront of voter concerns, just in time for the midterms. That, they maintain, will give the Republicans the advantage they need to take Congressional seats in the five flipped states next year.
There’s one other finding worth noting. Kamala Harris did not sell well in the battleground states. More voters in both the Trump-held and Biden-flipped states gave her an unfavourable rating than gave her a favourable one. Vice-President Harris has work to do on her image if she is to help the Democrats keep control of Congress – and if she is to position herself as the number one candidate for the Democratic party’s presidential nomination, possibly as early as 2024.
Cambridge resident Geoffrey Stevens, an author and former Ottawa columnist and managing editor of the Globe and Mail, retired last month from teaching political science at the University of Guelph. His column appears Mondays. He welcomes comments at [email protected].