It is currently seven days after Election Day, 2020, and it has been four days since Joe Biden reached a point where there were no reasonable doubts of his victory. At this point, incumbent president Donald Trump has not conceded, with most of his party refusing to concede that Biden has won. However, most impartial observers recognize Biden's victory.
First, a note, for people reading this from the future: I don't know everything that you know. I don't know all the intended and unintended consequences of the election, I don't know the final margins in a few states, and I don't know what narrative has formed around this election, over the years. All I know is some facts, after a very long week.
Although there is always room for further interpretation (see note above), the election was about two things: the personality of Donald Trump, and the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, which on the eve of the election had killed just short of a quarter million people in the United States. Not to say there was not a lot more going on this year: the Black Lives Matter movement, the threat of climate change demonstrated by wildfire and a record setting hurricane season, and the continuing cultural change from the #metoo movement were all important factors. But, to me, Trump himself, and the impacts of the pandemic, are the two main stories.
I will try to be truthful and impartial, but in this case, I can't do both at once. Trump is a bad person, and was a bad president. His rude and selfish attitude was apparent from the start of his presidency, and indeed, was apparent from his first rise to the fame in the 1980s. Over his presidency, he "broke norms", insulted and alienated his allies, let alone his detractors, confused his personal fortunes with those of his office, appeared confused about basic facts about the United States government, and committed acts, that to any one with any type of impartiality, were somewhere between very inappropriate and outright criminal. But until the beginning of this year, his acts didn't impact the "average voter", and the economy buzzed along. Then, the pandemic hit, and all aspects of American life were upended. On the other hand, Joseph Biden, the former vice-president of Barack Obama, was seen by his supporters as a non-offensive, safe and consensus candidate. Despite an early primary campaign that was fractitious, Biden quickly gained a good lead, and the other candidates, including Democratic Socialist Bernie Sanders, quickly endorsed him.
The campaign season was different from normal, due to the presence of Covid-19, that made regular campaign activities more difficult. Over the summer, as Covid-19 went under control and then peaked again, the issue of wearing masks and basic hygiene became politicized, with Trump supporters standing against it. This resulted in, for example, a rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma where maskless Trump supporter Herman Cain (presumably) caught Covid-19 and died a few weeks later. The presence of Covid-19 also meant that most states changed their voting rules to encourage voting by mail, something that, while normal for many of us, was controversial in many Eastern states. This was exacerbated by Trump and company's attacks on mail-in voting, part of a campaign of fear, uncertainty and doubt that they would use to attack the legitimacy of the election.
Throughout the summer, opinion polling, both in the nation as a whole, and in many critical swing states, showed Biden with a comfortable lead over Trump. Along with showing a high probability of Biden winning Eastern "rust belt" states such as Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, the polling also showed Biden as either a leader, or at least competitive, in North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Texas, and Arizona. Which would make sense: unemployment had peaked to its highest post-Great Depression levels in April, and was still at historically high levels, and Trump had lost the popular vote in 2016. But Biden's campaign, remembering the unpleasant surprise of 2016, didn't take anything for granted. Nate Silver, on fivethirtyeight, gave Biden an 89% chance of victory, but said that the election could be "either a landslide or a nailbiter".
It turns out, while not exactly a landslide, it was a solid victory for Biden and his running mate Kamala Harris. It was also a nailbiter, because of the way states reported their votes. With mail voting being politicized, the mail vote was heavily Democratic. Some states, including the key Eastern state of Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, reported their in-person votes first, which were skewed heavily Republican. If, on election night, Florida or even Texas had gone for Biden, the election would have been over. Instead, the election was decided as votes came in slowly, and by Friday, Biden held leads over Trump in five states that Clinton had lost in 2016: Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Arizona, and Georgia. Arizona and Georgia were somewhat surprising pick-ups, last having voted for a Democratic candidate in 1996 and 1992, respectively. As I write this, the final margins in these states is not clear. Georgia, for example, is separated by around 5,000 votes, and is headed for a recount. However, while there are "theoretical" ways that the outcome of the election could change, they are improbable to the point where they don't seem practically possible. These "theoretical" scenarios involving recounts only exist as much as they bolster Trump and companies continued attempts to attack the legitimacy of the election.
What will be the outcome of all of this? I don't know. It has only been a week. Will Trump refuse to accept the results of the election, either through legal chicanery, or through a coup d'etat? Will we have a civil war? Or, more prosaically, will the nation drag on with hyperpolarization? Will any of us even be alove by inauguration day? What cutely named demographics will spin out of this election? (Tennis aunts? Yoga bros? Padres de seguridad? Rural rebels? The muffled plurality?) I don't know. All I can say is that, by the normal standards of United States presidential elections, Joseph Biden won, with a comfortable majority in the electoral college and in the popular vote. I encourage others, now and later, to add their observations to describe what I am sure will be a historical election.