Last time I checked other political offices require candidates to actually win the popular vote to be elected. Thus, Trump's narrow electoral college finishes, while badly losing the popular vote, doesn't seem to provide a roadmap for other GOP candidates. In fact, a review of the 2016 and 2020 election results, show Trump consistently ran behind Republican candidates. Trump was a drag on the GOP ticket.
But what about that infamous Trump turnout? Indeed, Trump was an expert at driving infrequent GOP-leaning voters to the polls. But he also succeeded in motivating infrequent Democratic voters to cast ballots. I have documented that what ultimately killed Trump's chances was the small, but extremely significant, percentage of frequent Republican-leaning voters who crossed over to support Biden. Exit polls showed that Biden had a higher percentage of Republicans voting for him than Democrats who cast votes for Trump. That GOP crossover vote handed the election to Democrat Biden while allowing Republicans to make gains in the House and state legislative chambers.
But while I had an idea what was going on electorally, I longed for better data to analyze. Thus, I was quite pleased to find a January 21, 2021, article by Nathan L. Gonzalez, an elections analyst with CQ Roll Call. Gonzalez crunches the numbers using a statistic that should be familiar with modern baseball fans:
Vote Above Replacement, or VAR, measures the strength of political candidates relative to a typical candidate from their party within the same state. That initial benchmark is derived using Inside Elections’ Baseline, which captures a state’s political performance by combining all federal and state election results over the past four cycles into a single average.For example, in Arizona after the 2020 elections, the Republican Baseline was 51.1 percent compared to 47.6 percent for Democrats. That means we would expect a typical — or “replacement level” — Republican to receive 51.1 percent of the vote and a typical Democrat to win 47.6 percent. We can then compare individual candidate results to those benchmarks.In the 12 presidential battlegrounds, Trump posted a positive VAR in just four states. That means he did better than an average GOP candidate in Iowa (+1.7), Michigan (+0.3), Minnesota (+1.6) and Pennsylvania (+2), but worse than an average GOP statewide candidate in Arizona (-2), Florida (-0.7), Georgia (-3.8), Nevada (-0.8), North Carolina (-0.7), Ohio (-1.4), Texas (-3.2) and Wisconsin (-0.1). Of course, Trump still won four of those states, but his superhero electoral status has some flaws.Biden was a more valuable asset for his party. He had a positive VAR in 10 of 12 battleground states including Arizona (+1.8), Florida (+1.5), Georgia (+3.5), Michigan (+1.3), Minnesota (+1.3), Nevada (+4.1), North Carolina (+0.3), Ohio (+2.1), Texas (+4.9) and Wisconsin (+0.9). Of course, Biden didn’t win all of those states, but it’s clear why Democratic candidates for the House and Senate weren’t afraid to be endorsed by or seen with their presidential nominee before the election. Biden underperformed an average statewide Democratic candidate in Iowa (-0.8) and Pennsylvania (-0.5).
Although the most high profile Republican in the country, Trump was never a popular general election candidate. Tying one's political fortunes to Trump might get a Republican through a primary, but Trump then becomes an albatross around one's neck in the general election. Ask former Senators Martha McSally, David Perdue, Kelly Loeffler, and Cory Gardner if that isn't the case.
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