IDEAS: Early lessons from this election in red and blue

Christopher J. Devine is an assistant professor of Political Science at the University of Dayton.
Christopher J. Devine is an assistant professor of Political Science at the University of Dayton.

Credit: Larry Burgess

Credit: Larry Burgess

Note from Community Impact Editor Amelia Robinson: This guest opinion column by University of Dayton Professor Christopher J. Devine appeared on the Ideas and Voices page Sunday, Nov. 8. Local columns printed alongside it are linked below.

What, exactly, did we learn from the 2020 election? To borrow a phrase, I’d say that’s just “too early to call.”

As I write, there may be complex legal battles ahead. The ultimate outcome is not totally clear so let’s then hold off on explaining why that candidate won or what it means.

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Election workers process ballots in Omaha, Neb., Nov. 3, 2020. The lone Electoral College vote awarded by Nebraska’s Second Congressional District has gone to Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. It could be the vote that gets him to 270. (Calla Kessler/The New York Times)
Election workers process ballots in Omaha, Neb., Nov. 3, 2020. The lone Electoral College vote awarded by Nebraska’s Second Congressional District has gone to Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. It could be the vote that gets him to 270. (Calla Kessler/The New York Times)

There are still lessons to be learned from the electoral map, even without coloring all the states red or blue yet. Here’s one that stands out to me: the more things change, the more they stay the same.

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Think about all that has happened over the past four years, or even the past year — from economic highs and lows to a presidential impeachment, and from the coronavirus pandemic to the Black Lives Matter protests.

And think of the endless controversies surrounding President Trump, from his tweets and public rhetoric to his policies and performance as the nation’s leader. How many times did it seem like this was the moment that the American people would break decisively for or against Trump, and rally to or reject him?

Yet, in the end, so little changed from 2016 to 2020.

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It’s true, we’ve seen some flips from red to blue, or vice versa. Arizona, for one, seems to have switched from Trump in 2016 to Biden in 2020.

Pending final vote counts and possible litigation, other states such as Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania might do the same.

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Even here in Ohio, we saw changes. Trump flipped two counties in northeastern Ohio that he lost in 2016. And in Montgomery County, Trump lost narrowly to Biden after becoming the first Republican in nearly 30 years to win the county in 2016.

But the fundamental dynamics of this election nationwide were much more similar than different. Again, the popular vote only narrowly favors the Democratic candidate. Again, the Electoral College apparently comes down to razor-thin margins in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.

Again, Democrats couldn’t close the gap in Florida and North Carolina, or expand their electoral map into Texas. And once again, Ohio — formerly the nation’s bellwether state — voted for Trump.

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Electoral changes were exceptional in 2020. Stability was the rule.

In that case, did the news of the past four years really change many people’s minds? And should we expect the events of the next four years, whatever they may be, to change many people’s minds, either?

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No matter who wins the election, this is still a politically divided nation — not solidly red or solidly blue. And it will probably stay that way until the next election. It’s not too early to call that.

Christopher J. Devine is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Dayton.

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