The Great Divide-Voting Out Of Fear

Where is the great divide and what is this fear?  Democracy has been rejuvenated in America.  When tallied Americans will have cast around 150 million votes in person, absentee and mail in.  This turnout despite major efforts to limit minority voting, reduced times for early voting including a most blatant attack on voting by physically removing mailboxes, was spectacular.   Regardless of political affiliation these were and are underhanded tactics utilized primarily by elected conservative groups.  Despite the ongoing efforts to deny or to change our election results, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will become President and Vice President at noon on January 20th, 2021.  Although the President-Elect, a Democrat, won, he did not have long coattails as is said.  The Congress remained a mixed bag without significant political party  change.

The basics are 80 million people voted for Mr. Biden and 74 million for President Trump.   These numbers are among the highest ever yet the policies each person promotes are very different.  This has been a complicated election and some time must lapse before definitive conclusions can be ascertained. Does this mean our voters are relatively evenly split between two candidates who who maintain polar opposite views?   Although the election analysis is still ongoing, a preliminary review of the “who were the voters” might provide some insight into why they voted.  If there is a great divide then we should review the voting process of various groups that our pollsters generally create for a beginning point.    Let’s begin with what we do know.

President Trump was estimated to have won about 57% of white voters. The numbers actually varied from state to state but were linked to education and age. 

It is estimated that African-American, Latino Americans and Asian Americans voted strongly for Mr. Biden.  

Are the claims by some of racism validated by this vote?  The minority vote and white vote  seem to lend some credence  to this assumption.  Is it a valid assumption?

Perhaps the current  Populist movement is on the rise as claimed by some but is it based on Racism?  Richard Hofstadter in his book, The Age Of Reform, depicted the 20th century populists as irrational people seeking to maintain their rural lives and declining status against modernization.  Rural life and its values were being supplanted by urban, industrialized society.   Hofstadter was contradicted by his friend, C. Vann Woodward, who viewed the Populists as quite rational and comprised of college educated, wealthy, old families.  Who was correct and does either analysis depict our current day so called Populists?

Our 2020 election results provided more information. 

Young people between 18-29 with college degrees voted substantially for Mr. Biden.  

Voters ages 30 to 65 and over were evenly divided between Trump/Biden. 

The gender gap showed women voting for Biden by 56-43% with men evenly split.

Mr. Trump lost some support with low income voters but gained among families earning over $100,000 annually. 

Mr. Trump did better with white rural voters while Mr. Biden performed better in urban areas with significant African-American  voters and suburban areas.

College educated swung toward Biden while those without college tended toward Trump implying an education polarization may exist.

This election saw the largest voter turn out in 100 years.  Although it is difficult to predict it is

anticipated that some of the increased voter turnout was due to young people and Latino-Americans.  These are both generally underrepresented groups in the electorate.  Keep in mind that despite this high turn out roughly 80 million eligible voters failed to make the effort to vote.

Should we generalize that white urban/suburban college educated joined by African-American/Latino-American voters are pitted against rural/small town less educated white people?   This assumption as well as that of racism overlooks the complexity of our society.  A more in-depth  review is needed.

As mentioned earlier Richard Hofstadter’s description of the earlier populists may have been incorrect but could it be more correct today?  It was said that the rise of George Bush marked the return of “status” politics.  Republican majorities depended on Evangelical. Protestant “values voters” of the Midwest and South which were Populist areas.  These areas have confronted economic decline and projected their loss in status on the liberal elites predominantly in urban areas and resorted to voting for prayer in schools and guns  everywhere.  When we review the 2020 Presidential election we clearly see Republican domination in what were populist areas.  These do tend to be more rural and agrarian.  This situation creates a vision by some of a lifestyle which may be of a largely imagined past which can not be recaptured.

The Progressive movement of the last century sought order in their lives as explained by Robert Weibe in his book, The Search for Order.  Instead of a world of small cohesive communities, progressives focused on national solutions to local problems.   Cultural  obsolescence was butting heads with  economic obsolescence.  This concept may have been of greater relevance in 2016 when Mr. Trump carried states like Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.  These large impersonal forces due to some people’s views, industrialization, job loss, urbanization, immigration created a sense of alienation or loss of status.  “Progressivism was, in virtually all such accounts, not an effort to recapture the past but an adaptive, modernizing movement with its aim firmly fixed on the future.”

Today we may not be following traditional populist or progressive paths.   Today’s voters were

not populists per se nor progressives although Hofstadter may have more closely described a major component of the contemporary electorate, white people, proportionally more males.  Are  voters now closer to the group Hofstadter described, voters who  fear  loss of status and economic decline?

As time passes and more detailed information and analyses  evolves some may reach different conclusions and more expansive conclusions.  With the data and knowledge we currently possess on the election and about President Trump some valid observations can be made.  Many expected a larger vote for Mr. Biden.  Some believed an emphatic rejection of Trump and his presidency was mandated.  He mismanaged the pandemic resulting in deaths, an economic downturn, he alienated our allies, seemed to favor dictators, discredited our public agencies and embraced white supremacy.  Surely he would be soundly defeated after all this is America.  Yet nearly half the voters continue to support him but why?

Mr. Trump was not a deep thinker.  He came from an industry where instinct and “gut feelings” have validity.  His message to the voters followed this logic.  His message was directed to his base  and was intended to appeal directly to them.  His message revolved around telling people that a combination of liberal elites and dangerous minorities were unfairly taking away “our country.”  For those who view their world through such a partisan lens voting

otherwise would be difficult.  It seems a fair assessment to conclude loss of status for much of his supporters was reality to them.  Reinforcing their view was the fact that an African-American was elected President, a woman was nominated and ran for president, for the religious oriented was the added insult that marriage was more than a man and a women.  Despite this the Trump voters were not simply racists, xenophobes, homophobes, religious zealots,  etc.  Some probably do possess these attitudes to varying degrees but that should not define them.  Mr. Trump’s supporters are fearful of their perceived declining status essentially as white people.  I fear there is another ingredient as well and that is “me first” rather than we grow together as a one people.

In the final analysis we Americans chose decency over dysfunction, fact over fiction, truth over lies and empathy over cruelty. The Trump years brought divisiveness, racism and attacks on our constitutional government. Now we must narrow that divide. This narrowing mandates that we must accept the world we are creating without fear. Our country is changing from both a social and economic perspective. Overlooking our differences while accepting who we all are will lower the political temperature and allow us to deal with our economic uncertainties and to weather this storm without becoming lost at sea.


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