Every election has its winners and losers, not only among the candidates but also in the broader political and intellectual world. Although the results are not yet final, it is possible to tally which issues and ideas have fallen or risen in status as a result of this week’s vote in the US.
Here are some losers:
Money in politics
It is a common charge that the US campaign finance system is broken and that money can buy elections. Yet Democrats did not capture the Senate despite record fund-raising, as numerous better-funded candidates failed to win. “You wasted a lot of money,” Senator Lindsey Graham said in his victory speech Tuesday night, speaking to “all the liberal sin New York and California” who helped his opponent raise more than $100 million.
Nor did Biden’s cash advantage give him a decisive edge against Trump, even if he wins the election in the final tally. The role of money in politics is overrated, and it may be falling still. It just doesn’t cost much to use social media effectively.
Highly educated elites: If you had read and listened to only them, you would have been shocked that the race turned out to be so close. You would also have been shocked that Trump lost ground with White voters and gained ground with Black men and especially Latinos, at least accordingly to exit polls. Critical race theory, which tries to understand racism and race relations from the perspective of the progressive academic left, also takes a ding here.
Despite Americans’ willingness to incur considerable sacrifices to limit the spread of the coronavirus, voters didn’t seem bothered by Trump’s failures to adopt stricter regulations on commerce. If I were a governor making policy choices right now, I would be paying close attention.
In more technical terms, the political-science hypothesis of “retrospective voting” took a whacking. Retrospective voting suggests that the electorate evaluates incumbents by recent economic performance and votes accordingly, regardless of whether the incumbents are actually at fault. Yet Trump presided over about 220,000 excess deaths related to Covid-19, as well as huge contractions in GDP and employment. Even if he loses, as now seems likely, those failures didn’t knock him out of the race. A lot of his supporters still seem to have felt he would cope better with matters moving forward.
Alternatively, here are some winners:
As economist John Cochrane pointed out, Californians went in libertarian directions on an array of ballot initiatives, including rejecting new taxes on business, turning down a revival of affirmative action, and refusing to force Uber and Lyft to turn their independent contractors into regular employees. Maybe the “woke” orientation of the Golden State is being defused.
By one estimate the pollsters were off by about seven percentage points, and that is after a previous presidential election in which their projections were off by about five points. Part of the problem is that people do not answers their phones as much or speak to pollsters as they used to. But it is very likely a lot of Trump supporters were afraid to come out as such, even to an anonymising pollster. If you are wondering, Leo Strauss was a 20th-century political philosopher who stressed that people often are afraid to present their true opinions to others.
Maybe this one is premature, but so far the US has held a closely contested election under pandemic conditions. Turnout was much higher than usual, and so far there hasn’t been much election-related violence. Could it be that the system really works?
Tyler Cowen is an opinion columnist. He is a professor of economics at George Mason University