A unity candidate confronts a divided nation 📊 November 8, 2020

Joe Biden will head up a split government and more polarized public

Thanks as ever for reading my weekly data-driven newsletter on politics, polling and the news. As always, I invite you to drop me a line (or just respond to this email). Please click/tap the ❤️ under the headline if you like what you’re reading; it’s our little trick to sway Substack’s curation algorithm in our favor. If you want more content, I publish subscriber-only posts 1-2x a week. 


Dear reader,

Like many of you, I am relieved that the election is over. It is not so much that the outcome is the one I preferred — at least at the presidential level — but that I can relax a bit from the daily humdrum of entering polls into a dataset and rerunning statistical models. Election results also provides us with an exciting opportunity to analyze correlates of real political behavior, rather than relying on polls and other forms of survey research that largely assume validity in electoral contests.

And while I look forward to writing about those analyses over the next week, the main early lesson from those data are that our country is more polarized than ever. That’s what I want to write briefly about today.

A few programming notes: now that the election is over I will be changing some of the way that this newsletter looks and feels I’ll also be transitioning the domain name to my own site. This won’t affect anything on your end, I just thought it was about time that the branding evolved beyond the name of my college blog.


A unity candidate confronts a divided nation

Joe Biden will head up a split government and more polarized public

Although Joe Biden’s campaign on unity may have won over enough votes in key toss-up states to win the electoral college, the gap between rural areas and urban areas, red states and blue states has hardly been larger. According to an initial analysis of county-level results, the country is more polarized along geographic and educational lines that it was in 2016. That’s true especially for white voters.

This has all sorts of consequences for our politics and government. For one, it means that our geographic systems of representation will be more biased toward the party that wins more votes in rural areas, which happens to be the Republicans. It might also increase congressional gridlock and policy uncertainty, decreasing whatever progressive outputs that liberals (in both the American and classical sense) like me hope to extract from a Biden administration. That is all the more meaningful now that Republicans look likely to hold the Senate majority.

Geographic polarization is concerning for the future of our country. Not only is the electoral college slanted toward Republicans — Joe Biden will win the “tipping-point” state by four points less than his national vote — but the Senate is also hopelessly rigged for the right. Even if you agree with conservative politics, a counter-majoritarian government is an untenable thing. It leads to dissatisfaction with government and disaffection with our social contract.

As our country moves beyond Donald Trump’s presidency, it is necessary to remind ourselves that the forces that led to his election do not disappear with him. We are a contentiously divided country, where winner-takes-all, two-party politics have baked partisan schadenfreude into our political psyches. As we grow further apart, both politically and spatially, voters’ willingness to endorse anti-democratic government and autocratic breakthrough (and I mean particularly on the right) increases, hurting our body politic and the ability for people to get what they want from their government.

Despite Joe Biden’s victory, none of that is going away.

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What I'm Reading and Working On

For many people, the election is over — but the work has only accelerated for me. This week I will take multiple looks at increasing polarization, what that means for our electoral institutions, and give an initial look at what could have caused the larger-than-average polling errors last week. Then, on Friday, I’m starting a hiatus from work to finish my book. Thanks to the election I now get to write the entire introduction over again. What joy!

Thanks for reading!

Thanks for reading. I’ll be back in your inbox next Sunday. In the meantime, follow me online or reach out via email if you’d like to engage. I’d love to hear from you. If you want more content, I publish subscriber-only posts on Substack 1-3 times each week.

Photo contest

Adam sends in this picture of his pup Buddy, who seems to be getting a lot of sleep after a busy week. Good for you, Buddy.

For next week’s contest, send me a photo of your pet(s) to elliott[AT]gelliottmorris[DOT]com!