So, the dust has, mostly, settled. What have we learned?
The Presidential Race
The was a close election.
This year, Biden won 306 electoral votes when he needed 270 electoral votes.
Biden's margin in the popular vote was 3.4 percentage points (5.35 million votes with 150.8 million votes counted so far). This will probably improve somewhat as California, New York and late ballots in Alaska and a few other states are counted.
Biden won the marginal state, Wisconsin, by a mere 0.6 percentage margin. Another state he needed to win, Pennsylvania, he won by a 0.7 percentage point margin. He won two states beyond the marginal state, Arizona and Georgia, by a 0.3 percentage point margin each.
Biden won Michigan with a 2.6 percentage point margin and won Nevada with a 2.5 percentage point margin. He won Minnesota with a 7.1 percentage point margin, New Hampshire with a 7.3 percentage point margin, and Maine by a 9.5 percentage point margin. All of the other states Biden won were by more than 10 percentage points.
Trump won North Carolina by 1.3 percentage points, Florida by 3.4 percentage points, Texas by 5.9 percentage points, Ohio by 8.1 percentage points, and Iowa by 8.2 percentage points. All of the other states that Trump won were by more than 10 percentage points, although Alaska had gotten much closer with 88% of the vote counted. Trump's margin in Alaska is currently 10.8 percent points and it could narrow significantly based upon the trend in late counted ballots, before the final count in Alaska (which has counted its votes more slowly than any other state) is in (although almost surely not closely enough to flip the state to Biden).
It is about as close as it could be without a serious threat of a recount or litigation or faithless electors or other subterfuge changing the outcome. The fact that Trump would have to three three separate states to change the outcome. It Trump has done better by 0.4-0.5 percentage points in the swing states, this election would have come down to a 0.1-0.2 percentage point margin of error in a single state.
Presidential polling across the board at both the state and national level, underestimated support for Trump by an average of about 4.5 percentage points (about 10%). The average error in the U.S. Senate polling was close to 7 percentage points. This was probably due to lower response rates to polls by Republicans than by Democrats.
In round numbers, Democrats need a 3 percentage point margin of victory in the popular vote to win the electoral college.
Trump's win over Hillary Clinton in 2016 was with an identical 306 electoral votes and likewise involved razor thing margins of victory in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin following deeply erroneous polling biases against him. Biden won Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Arizona and Georgia and Omaha's one electoral vote in Nebraska, which went for Trump in 2016. The District of Columbia, the four other Congressional districts with their own electoral vote, and 45 other states went the same way in the 2020 Presidential election as they did in the 2016 Presidential election.
After the 2016 election, Democrats had 194 U.S. House seats and Republicans had 241.
After the 2018 election Democrats held 235 seats, Republicans held 199 and there was one vacant seat due to a voided election in NC-9 which a Republican later won.
Going into the election there were 232 Democrats, 197 Republicans, 1 Libertarian, 1 Other, and 5 vacant.
The Washington Post has called 219 House seats for Democrats (one more than the 218 seats required for a majority) and 203 House seats for Republicans so far. Democrats who have lost at least 5 seats with Republicans gaining at least 6 seats (5 from Democrats and one from an independent or third-party candidate).
There are 13 House seats that have not been called. Two of the uncalled seats are held by Democrats with a safe lead (NY-18 and NY-19). There are two seats where the Republicans have a safe lead (NY-2 and NY-24), one safe Republican Louisiana House seat headed to a runoff because two or more Republicans split the Republican vote denying anyone a majority (LA-5).
So, as I write, the real split is really 221-206 with 8 seats still in play. There are two very close races currently held by Democrats (CA-39 and NY-3) that had been deemed "safe" Democratic seats going into the election. There are two "vulnerable Democrat" races where the Republicans have a large lead (NY-11 and NY-22), and two vulnerable Democrat races where the Republican challengers lead by a nose (CA-21 and UT-4). There is one vulnerable Democrat race that is a tie and one vulnerable Republican race that is a tie (IA-2 and CA-26) Democrats have tended to do much better in late counted votes, so these seats in California, New York, Utah and Iowa are all likely to go to the Democrats.
So the final margin in the House is likely to be 229 Democrats and 206 Republicans, a loss of six seats relative to 2018, but it could be worse.
The U.S. Senate
In the U.S. Senate races, Democrats held 47 seats to 53 Republican seats going into the election. So far, Democrats have 48 seats (picking up Arizona and Colorado while losing Arkansas) and the Republicans have 50 seats. This treats two independents, Angus King (ME) and Bernie Sanders (VT) who caucus with the Democrats as Democrats.
Two more seats, a regular Senate seat and a special vacancy filling Senate seat in Georgia, went to runoff elections between Republican incumbents and Democratic challengers that will be held on January 5, 2021, because no candidate won a majority of the vote. Democrats are the underdogs in both of GA's runoff elections because all Republican candidates combined got more votes than all Democratic candidates combined in the first round and Republicans historically have had better runoff turnout than Democrats relative to the first round general election.
It is possible, but would take a minor miracle, for the Democrats to bring the U.S. Senate to a 50-50 balance which Vice President Harris would tip in the Democrats favor. But, the more likely result is that Republicans will end up controlling the U.S. Senate unless the Democrats can flip one of the moderate Republicans to their side.
The Democrats have one fewer Governorship than they did before the election. State legislative election results and other races are still being sorted out.
The U.S. Supreme Court
The recent confirmation of Justice Barrett gives us a 6-3 conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court. Conservatives held a 5-4 majority in 2016 and the conservatives majority on the court now is farther to the right than the conservative majority was in 2016.
Bottom Line - Democrats Need To Grow Their Share Of The Population
Biden was the most moderate viable candidate in the 2020 Democratic Presidential primary.
Democratic fundraising was as good as or better than Republican fundraising this year and set record highs.
Voter turnout in 2020 as a percentage of eligible voters, was the highest the U.S. has seen in any federal election since the year 1900.
In short, given the underlying electoral system reality, Democrats did pretty much everything right in record breaking ways.
Yet, Biden won by the smallest margin that could not easily be contested in the electoral college. The Democrats lost several House seats, and the Democrats will pick up mostly likely only one and no more than three Senate seats. Democrats lost a Governorship.
Overall, Biden's coat tails were among the worst of a prevailing candidate in the U.S. history.
Democrats need a 3 percentage point lead in the popular vote to win a Presidential election. Tie votes in the electoral college in Presidential elections go to the Republicans even though the Democrats have a majority of the seats in the House.
Reapportionment will make a new shift of electoral votes from states that backed Biden to states that backed Trump in 2022, although not by enough that it would have changed the results of this year's Presidential elections. Reapportionment will also put more pressure on the Democrats' thin majority in the U.S. House.
A lack of big coattails at the state and local level in 2020 means that the Republican gerrymandering that has held back Democrats for the last decade is likely to continue to remain in place through the 2030 election at levels just as severe.
The Democrats majority in the U.S. House is much thinner than the share of the popular vote that their candidates in U.S. House races receive due to gerrymandering in Republican controlled states.
Even though the Senate seats held by Democrats represent far more people (about 20 million) than the Senate seats held by Republicans, Republicans will either control the Senate or Democrats will control it by the thinnest of margins and will have a caucus that is hostage to a very conservative Democratic U.S. Senator (Manchin of West Virginia) that will limit the extent to which it can pass a liberal agenda.
Without control of the Senate, Democrats have no realistic possibility of fixing any of the systemic biases of the federal government's status quo against them. They are stuck with a deeply conservative 6-3 majority in the U.S. Supreme Court. They can't admit the District of Columbia or Puerto Rico or any territories as new states or divide any existing states like California into multiple new states. They can't end the electoral college by approving the National Popular Vote interstate compact even if enough states approve it. They can't propose any constitutional amendments that fix the situation. They can't pass significant legislation to revive key provisions of the Voter Rights Act.
The Democrats already have a huge tent, but if they are going to gain control of the federal government to make major reforms, they need to make their tent even bigger, winning over more voters from the Republican coalition to their side than they lose from their own coalition, without the monster that is Donald Trump to force the hands of Republicans and conservative leaning independents who are reluctant to make the switch.
Moreover, the Democrats have to do that in a way that doesn't alienate its base which is fed up with the party's excessive moderation already. The drift of the Republican party into a party of the far right helps the Democrats to hold this together, but there are limits to how broad of a coalition political ideology-wise the Democrats can hold together with their status quo approach.
Some of this can be done by riding demographic, religious and cultural trends with the existing coalition.
Not all of the trends are against them.
Democrats have overwhelmingly won over the young, who will continue to be liberal as they get older and make up a larger share of the electorate, while Republicans are reliant on an older base that is slowly dying.
Democrats do better with non-white voters who are a growing share of the population, while Republicans do better with white voters who are a declining share of the population.
Democrats are very strong with secular and non-Christian voters whose share of the nation's population is growing rapidly due to religious de-conversion, while Republicans are wed almost entirely to Christian conservatism with is a shrinking share of Americans apart from the age gap.
Democrats are making great gains among the college educated who are slowly becoming a larger share of the population, while Republicans do best with people with no college education who are a declining share of the population.
Democrats do better with unmarried people who are a growing share of the population, while Republicans do better with married people who are a declining share of the population.
Democrats do better in places with higher population density which are a growing share of the population, while Republicans do better with rural people who are a declining share of the population.
The rise of younger voters and demise of older ones alone shifts 1-2 percentage points of the electorate from the Republicans to the Democrats with their current coalitions, every four years. Lots of the other factors above are partially captured by the rise of younger voters and the demise of older voters.
But this doesn't capture all of the effects below as they pertain to existing voters who marry interracially and identify less strongly with white voters based upon a spouse or children, who become less religious, who get college educations as adults, or who move to more densely populated places, for example, and experience a change in political inclinations as a result.
Add those factors and perhaps the electorate is shifting across the red to blue divide at a rate of 2-3 percentage points per four years.
Democrats do better in more affluent places which have more economic power in lobbying and campaign finance, while Republicans are seeing their strength slip among big businesses and more affluent people.
On the other hand, the demise of private sector unions in blue collar occupations and industries has been steadily shrinking the Democratic Party coalition among non-college educated voters, especially in Rust Belt states that previously had lots of union members who were a core source of volunteer resources and voters for the Democratic Party. Some of this has been replaced by public sector union members outside law enforcement (who more often have at least some college and have white or pink collar jobs), but public sector union members are not as concentrated in states where Democrats are losing private sector union members as the manufacturing union members of old were and Republicans have effectively added these often ex-union members to their coalition pushing a protectionist, anti-immigrant agenda and distrust of higher education, science and the government.
Taken together with the reapportionment trends, the logical conclusion is that Democrats have a real shot at flipping some marginal red states due to demographic change. Georgia, North Carolina, Florida, Texas and maybe even Alaska and South Carolina, are ripe to flip from red to blue in demography driven shifts to the left in the coming years, just as Arizona, Colorado and Virginia have already in recent years.
But, holding onto Rust Belt states like Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania may get harder. They may follow in the footsteps of Iowa and Ohio that have already turned red. Fortunately, these prizes are losing electoral votes. But loses of those states still have to be made up elsewhere unless the Democratic coalition is reworked in a way that can bring them in again.
The shift of stated trending blue toward becoming more blue, and of states trending red towards becoming more red, is also driven by immigration and internal migration. Places that are growing economically see Democrats migrate to them from places that are declining economically, at least in relative terms. Rust Belt Democrats and Democrats from rural areas are tending to migrate to Sun Belt cities, leaving the Rust Belt that they left more Republican and making the Sun Belt cities to which they migrated more Democratic. These shifts are almost immediate.
Immigrant migration from abroad also tends to make places that are receiving those populations, some of which are already blue states, but others of which are economically healthy Sun Belt cities more liberal, in part by exposing the local population to more diversity and in part at a significant delay of a decade or so, by becoming citizens and voters themselves and at a generational delay by having children who become voters (with the second effect already captured by the rising young liberal voter trend).
Thus, Sun Belt cities should move left without intervention or action somewhat faster than the nation as a whole simply through natural drift, but at the cost of making rural and rust belt states more conservative.
Perhaps Sun Belt states are drifting left at a rate of as much as 3-4 percentage points a year, while internal migration depresses the overall leftward shift in Rust Belt and rural states to a mere 1-2 percentage points a year.
Changing The Party and Movement Politics
Everything so far in this post has basically reviewed where we stand now and the status quo trends whose inertia is already firmly established.
In the status quo, Democrats still risk losing Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, or at least having to struggle to hold onto them each year. Ohio and Iowa are lost causes in this analysis.
Democrats have a good chance of holding onto Arizona, Georgia and Nevada going forward as they shift even more in a blue direction. North Carolina will be a likely Democratic pick up in 2024, and Democrats will have a real shot in Florida, even though it will be challenging.
Texas, Alaska (yeah, definitely not a Sun Belt state, but influenced by its Pacific State neighbors) and South Carolina, on the other hand are prizes that Democrats will only be able to seize if they change up the mix somehow.
To outperform mere drift, Democrats need to do one of two kinds of things.
One is to adopt policies and make tactical decisions that bring more people into their coalition than they lose relative to the status quo. This is a pure case of changing the party's coalition. It isn't easy, because every change risks alienating some part of the existing party in a big tent party that is already very challenging to hold together.
The other is to adopt policies and engage in grass roots movement politics that cause people to change their attitudes in ways that make them more attracted to what the Democratic party already is or is becoming and to feel less favorable about what the Republican party already is or is becoming.
I'll save brainstorming about those two options for pro-active change to accelerate a natural demographic and cultural drift towards the Democrats for a future post.