The Presidential Election Confirmed How New Demographics Will Shape Politics for Many Years Ahead

Following the U.S. election, FSI experts analyze the results, explain the challenges, and discuss what we can expect between now and Inauguration Day.
People waiting to vote in South Carolina People line up to cast their in-person absentee ballots at the Berkeley County Library on October 30, 2020 in Hanahan, South Carolina. Photo: Getty Images

Before several states released their final vote tallies and either candidate had obtained the 270 electoral votes needed to win the U.S. presidential election, experts Nathaniel Persily, Hakeem Jefferson, Didi Kuo, and Bruce Cain convened on Zoom to break down what had happened so far and what Americans might expect in the many weeks before Inauguration Day.

It is “unbelievable” how successfully and professionally the U.S. election was run, Persily said. He commended the states for making unprecedented shifts to their voting infrastructure in a relatively short period of time and singled out swing states Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and North Carolina for their successes in transitioning to absentee balloting. 

Cain pointed to demographic changes in western states such as Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado as a big factor in the success of the Democratic Party in 2020. The recent movement of many white collar workers to those states, he said, is just as powerful of a demographic force as immigration or birth rates.

“Apart from immigration or changes in the birth rates between whites and non-whites, one of the most powerful demographic forces is the movement of white collar workers.”
Bruce Cain
Professor of Political Science

The Republican Party has also seen a massive shift in its demographics, Cain said. What was once considered the party of the wealthy now has a much more working-class profile, and it has become much more socially, economically, and politically conservative.

Donald Trump’s election in 2016 was no fluke, Jefferson said, adding that he “clearly has an audience in this country.” Many of Trump’s white supporters feel that they are being left behind while racial minorities make gains that they discern have come at their expense.

Looking ahead, all three speakers expressed skepticism that the next administration will be able to fully unite Americans. Jefferson said that because the issues and disagreements between liberals and conservatives run so deep, a short-term solution is not realistic.

Cain suggested that taking small steps to recreate trust on both sides of the political aisle could help unite the country. Finding a common ground from a policy standpoint — such as by passing another stimulus package — could be a good starting point, he said. 

“We have to put politics aside,” said Cain. “The Democrats are probably going to have to make some concessions to business, and Republicans are going to have to make some concessions to supporting [local] governments — that's where we have to start in terms of bringing back the country in terms of bipartisanship.”

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