- - Wednesday, December 2, 2020

In the wake of every election, people try to twist what happened to fit their narrative. This year was no different.

Do voters really want compromise? All the smart people in Washington have hurried to tell us that the split results mean that the people want compromise and cooperation. That is certainly one interpretation. Here’s another: The voters voted for divided government specifically because they are distrustful of giving one party too much power and don’t really want the federal government to do too much.

Which explanation sounds more likely?

Was turnout the highest ever? Did it help mostly the Democrats? No and no.

A little bit more than 156 million people voted, which puts turnout around 65% or 66% of the voting-eligible population (compared to 2016 at 59.2% or 2012 at 54.9%). That’s a lot, the most it has been since 1908 (65.4%).



But it might be important to note that turnout isn’t necessarily the mark of a healthy democracy. In the United States, the two elections with the highest turnout were also the most troubled and led to the most suboptimal outcomes — 1860 (81.2%) and 1876 (81.8%).

The extra turnout this year didn’t seem to make a lot of difference to either side. If anything, it probably helped the Republicans slightly. Partisan identification was evenly split between Democrats (37%) and Republicans (36%). That is closer than usual, as Republicans typically trail by a few points. In 2008, the spread was plus-7 points for Democrats. In 2012, it was plus-6 points for Democrats. In 2016, it was plus-3 points for Democrats.

Did President Trump do historically well among non-Whites? Not really.

Despite what you may have read, Mr. Trump didn’t perform better than any Republican candidate in the last 60 years among non-Whites. He got 26% of that population. In 2004, then-President Bush received a higher percentage with 28%.

While Mr. Bush’s showing among non-White voters was driven primarily by Cuban-Americans in Florida and by Mexican-Americans in Texas who had previously voted for him, Mr. Trump did better among non-White voters in more areas. In places as disparate as the Rio Grande Valley and New York City, Hispanics drifted toward Mr. Trump in greater percentages.

In 2016, Mr. Trump lost the nation’s majority-Hispanic counties by a combined 20 points. In 2020, that margin narrowed to 12 points.

Are the Republicans winning elections by harvesting increasingly larger percentages of an increasingly shrinking pool of White voters? Nope.

In 2012, Republican candidate Mitt Romney got 59% of White voters. In 2016, Mr. Trump got 57%. This year, he won 58%. That’s a pretty weak trend line.

Are the smart people any smarter about women? The conversation among pundits prior to the election was all about how women, especially White, college-educated women, were abandoning Mr. Trump in droves. The facts tell a slightly different story.

Mr. Trump actually increased his percentage of the vote among women — from 41% in 2016 to 42% this year. Back in 2012, 44% of the women voted for Mr. Romney. In 2008, 43% of the women voted for Sen. John McCain. Again, the trend line is pretty weak.

How about White women? In 2016, Mr. Trump received 43% of their vote, while this year, he got 44%. White college-educated women? In 2016, Mr. Trump got 44% of the vote of White, college educated women; this year, he got 45%.

Were third parties important this year? Absolutely.

In 2016, third parties received about 6.5 million votes, and depending on how one thinks about it, cost Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton the election.

In 2020, the absence of meaningful third-party challengers may have cost Mr. Trump the election.

This election, votes for third parties dropped to just 2.4 million. While the total drop is relevant, the more salient results occurred in the five states that switched from Mr. Trump to Joseph R. Biden. In Pennsylvania, for example, there were 190,000 votes for third-party candidates in 2016. In 2020, there were about 79,000. The difference — 111,000 — was larger than Mr. Biden’s winning margin of 82,000. The story is the same in Georgia, Wisconsin, Arizona and Michigan (assuming those states all wind up certifying the expected results).

So, Mr. Trump didn’t lose because he cratered among women, or people of color, or college-educated people, or tall people, or short people.

It may have been simply because third parties failed to make a material appearance.

• Michael McKenna, a columnist for The Washington Times, is the president of MWR Strategies. He was most recently a deputy assistant to the president and deputy director of the Office of Legislative Affairs at the White House.

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