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Archived: The Rust Belt and the Sun Belt – Fred Alldridge

Originally published on November 3rd, 2020

As of writing this, the polls have opened in Vermont, the small community of Dixville Notch has cast its all-important five votes in New Hampshire, and election day is upon us. Biden is in a more favourable position than President Trump. He has been playing attack the last 6 months, attacking Trump’s record on the economy and the pandemic, whilst the President has had to play staunch defence. Biden also has more paths to victory than the Donald, holding slight leads in many states all across the country that could put him over the line, where Trump only has one real path to victory – keeping the map as close to 2016 as possible. The polling data does not project him flipping any of the states that Hillary Clinton won in 2016, so it’s critical he hold onto the states he flipped from Barack Obama – the key three being the Rust Belt, former industrial hubs in the Midwest that have declined severely economically since the 1970s. They are Wisconsin (10 electoral votes), Michigan (16 electoral votes), and Pennsylvania (20 electoral votes) – all states won by a razor-thin margin in 2016. They were believed to be a given by the Democrats in 2016 and paid very little attention there. Famously, Hillary Clinton did not visit Wisconsin at all during the election cycle and this lack of attention paid to the Midwest lost them the election. They must try and win back former democrats who became disillusioned with them and enticed by the promise of a ‘Jobs President’. Taking the electoral map to be otherwise identical to 2016, Biden would need to flip all three states to win. According to the RCP (Real Clear Politics) Average, Biden has a healthy lead in Wisconsin, a slight lead in Michigan, and Pennsylvania is essentially a toss-up. In 2000 it was ‘Florida, Florida, Florida’; in 2004 it was ‘Ohio, Ohio, Ohio’; in 2020 it’s likely to be ‘Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania’ – a bit of a mouthful this time round. The polling aggregate website 538 believes that Pennsylvania can be the bellwether state in 2020, and just for the drama, Pennsylvania will keep counting its votes up until November 10th, because the state’s voter laws only require that mail-in ballots be postmarked by November 3rd, rather than to have arrived by November 3rd to be counted. Therefore, if it is not clear that Biden has already won on election night, it’s likely we will be waiting a couple of days to hear from the Keystone State what the final outcome is.

What if Biden can’t win back all the Rust Belt states? The Democratic party has made significant inroads in the so-called ‘Sun-Belt’, with the key states here being Arizona, Texas, Georgia, Florida and North Carolina. If anyone reading this actually stays up all night for the election – if Biden wins any of these states, you can go to bed, he will have won. 

Starting with Arizona (11 electoral votes), a former Republican stronghold, it has produced two republican presidential nominees in Barry Goldwater (1964) and John McCain (2008). Biden’s strong polling here is down to a combination of long-term trends and the political climate. Arizona has a fast-growing population, mostly compromised of Hispanic-Americans and college-educated people moving in from more liberal parts of the country, with both constituencies bolstering democratic support in the state. More recently, however, Arizona has become less enamoured with Trump because of his repeated attacks of John McCain, saying he ‘preferred people who weren’t captured’, referring to McCain being captured by North Vietnamese forces, being held as a prisoner of war and tortured for six years. The COVID-19 pandemic has also ravaged the state, at one point having the highest cases growth rate in the country.  

The same long-run trends happening in Arizona have been happening in Texas (38 electoral votes) – the Hispanic population has risen quickly as a share of the population, with college-educated people leaving places like New York and California to the rapidly expanding and cheaper suburbs of Houston and Dallas Fort Worth. In 2018, in what was then the most expensive senate race in history, Beto-O’Rourke nearly unseated Ted Cruz, cementing the state’s status as a swing state. Texas is projected to be decided by a margin of less than 1% by 538 and I believe it really has a chance of going blue for the first time since 1976.
Looking at the polling data for Georgia (16 electoral votes), it looks like a toss-up, as it’s within a polling error according to the RCP average. However, unfortunately, the governor Brian Kemp has a history of voter suppression, so I cannot just rely on the will of the people, but have to take into account the will of a few who want to suppress the views of the many. In 2018 he was Georgia’s secretary of state (the state secretary of state supervises all elections) and also running for the Governorship – he should have recused himself from supervising the election due to a conflict of interest; he didn’t, and he purged tens of thousands of African-Americans from the voter rolls and still only won by the slimmest of margins. Consequently, I don’t believe Democrats will win Georgia.
Finally, Florida (29 electoral votes) and North Carolina (15 electoral votes) are some of the quickest counting states and we will have an indication of how both states will swing sometime between 7PM-9PM ET (12AM-2AM UK). Florida is the most notorious of all swing states, having been decided in 2000 by a 5-4 Supreme Court Case ruling that halted all recounts and left the margin of victory for Bush in an election with over 100 million voters at just 537 votes. Florida can also be viewed as an upside-down microcosm of the United States, where the further south you go, the more liberal it gets. The northern panhandle is the most conservative part of the state and part of the traditional US south, whereas the southern tip of Florida is more similar to the Northern US, having many rich retirees from New England, New York, and the Rust Belt. In Florida, the state will be swung either way from the centre of the state, similar to the US and the Midwest’s importance. The ‘I4 corridor’ swings round through the suburbs from Tampa on the west coast, through Orlando, to Daytona Beach on the east coast. Trump will not win the presidency again without Florida, but in my mind, they are most likely going to win there, even though it is in a dead heat. Trump changed his state of residence to Florida, and the Republican party has a very strong ground game in the state.

North Carolina is, in my mind, the best chance for Biden to pick off one of the Sun Belt states and win the election, along with Arizona. Obama and Biden won it in 2008, it has a large African American population, and a large college-educated population with the Research Triangle bounded by Duke University, the University of North Carolina, and North Carolina State. Although the Presidential race is in a dead heat, the senate race has Democrat challenger Cal Cunningham with a substantive lead over the Republican incumbent Thom Tillis, a staunch defender of Trump, because of the general unpopularity of the President. Because of the general dislike of the president, I believe that the state will swing back towards Biden after 12 years of voting Republican.

On the back of this, my final prediction for election night is for Biden to win the popular vote by 6-7%, and a narrow victory in the electoral college of 305 to 233:

Of course, this doesn’t take in to account the unbelievable amount of litigation that is already taking place and will continue for weeks. The Republican Party believes it cannot win with the forecasted record-setting levels of voting, with some states such as Texas, to have already have surpassed its 2016 vote total before Election Day had even started, so they will litigate and contest the election with baseless allegations of voter fraud. Edward R. Murrow, the celebrated wartime journalist said that “(he could) not accept that there are, on every story, two equal and logical sides to an argument”. There is no evidence of widespread voter fraud and the US is not rounding the curve with coronavirus. Trump has lied and lied over the past 4 years in office and must be removed so that the country can recover come back together. After this election is over, the Democratic Party will have won seven out of the last eight popular votes. Bush didn’t have a true mandate in 2000, Trump did not have a true mandate in 2016 and it’s almost certain he won’t in 2020. It is plain undemocratic when an election for the president that will serve every American, will be decided by a few tens of thousands of votes in Pennsylvania or Florida. All one needs to see the toxic effects of the electoral college today is through how much national focus there has been on the fracking industry in Pennsylvania, just to court a couple thousand of voters. Coming from one of the smallest states in the US, I understand the job the Electoral College purports to do in giving greater representation to the smaller states at a federal level, but the Senate provides for that, and the College it is simply not needed and harmful to the democratic process. To put it succinctly, a government of the people, by the people, and for the people must be decided by all the people (who vote), not a small few in Florida or the Midwest.


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