Sex, lies and the 2020 election

Posted on November 18, 2020

Let’s clear up some misconceptions about the 2020 campaigns and see where progressives need to go from here.

First, our national elections, and maybe our local ones as well, have become almost entirely about turnout.

The reason why 2016 polls were wrong is that more white non-college-educated voters than expected turned out for Trump and the white grievance team. Our side won 2018 because our folks were enraged by Trump and turned out at a high rate while their folks turned out at a more normal pace for an off-year election. That’s why Democrats won some seats that had been gerrymandered for Republicans. And then again in 2020, their side turned out at an unexpectedly high rate. Polls were adjusted to account for education levels but, among that group, a percentage of Trump voters did not participate in polls so the remaining non-college-educated polling respondents were disproportionately for Biden and Democrats.

At this point, nobody knows what that means for Georgia in January or for the off-year elections in 2021 and 2022. Will the rarely-voting white grievance people show up when Trump himself is not on the ballot? Will our rarely-voting supporters show up when Trump himself is gone?

Second, our side did not lose seats because of progressive slogans like “defund the police” or “green new deal.”

Persuasion messages mattered very little in 2020 and facts were wholly irrelevant. Bloomberg’s $100 million got our side next to nothing. Trump voters came out to assert their social identity – white grievance against people of color and their perceived “liberal” enablers. The policies of white identity voting do not benefit its average white American supporters. Instead, they disadvantage the white team’s supposed enemies: people of color, immigrants, progressives and residents of blue cities and states. Psychology tells us that people enhance their own self-image by denigrating their out-group; in other words, they derive real pleasure from Trump’s attacks. (For more about social identity, see Chapter Four of Voicing Our Values.)

So language attacking progressives, like “socialists,” “The Squad,” “baby-killer” or “they’ll take your guns,” are just excuses – not reasons – for conservative voters. They have to say something about why they support Trump, so they swallow whatever the right-wing media feeds them. If progressive phrases don’t exist, the right wing invents others, like “Bengazi” and “her emails.” Sure, some people say they voted for Trump because of “defund the police,” but nearly all of them would have found a different excuse to support him. In fact, the progressive catch-phrases were probably a net positive, driving greater turnout among youth and left-wingers.

Third, our side’s media and social media operations are not in the same league as the right wing’s.

Generally, progressives get their information from the conventional news media and websites that provide arguments and evidence derived from legitimate news and scientific sources. When progressive organizations and campaigns want to disseminate a particular message, it’s extremely unlikely that the message will be heard by more than a tiny percentage of our activists.

But the right wing has an amazing ability to reach their people with specific messages – seemingly in the blink of an eye. Look at the polls showing that Republicans believe Biden stole the election. The incredible thing is how fast this was communicated to and adopted by average nonpolitical people. They did it in just days.

It is not possible that most average conservatives seek out this information, go to the right-wing websites, or that so many of them watch Fox News. (Besides, Fox was not at the forefront of this particular lie.) The answer must be that their social media communications system – largely built around impersonated accounts, bots, and apps like the Trump campaign app described by the Associated Press – enables them to speak almost one-on-one to their people. (Building this capability was what the Cambridge Analytica scandal was about.)

It is this system, amplified by Trump, that caused the downfall of political norms, the rise of white grievance politics, and some outright authoritarianism. Sadly, a majority of conservatives now live in a right-wing-curated fantasy world. They will support extremists and, in the places that Republicans control, extremists will become elected officials. In turn, the executive and judicial branches become extreme as well. Our side must engage, attacking right-wing fraud and organizing progressive social media communications.

Oh, and sorry for the clickbait title. Maybe we lost North Carolina because of sex. But I doubt it.