Election 2020

The Economy, Racial Inequality, and COVID-19 Topped Voter Minds

It's the world of the present, not the controversies of the past, that motivated voters.

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Despite years of verbal fireworks, charges of foreign election interference, and political warfare culminating in an impeachment trial, it's quite likely that the inconclusive outcome of the 2020 election comes down to the events of the last eight months. Pundits and political junkies may fret over Russia, immigration policy, personal temperament, and the like, but average voters say they care most about racial inequality, the economy, and the pandemic. But—after rivers of vitriol and billions of dollars spent to sway votes—it seems Americans are most concerned about what they've experienced since March of this year.

First, a caveat: pollsters across the country are currently curled in the fetal position, nuzzling booze bottles as they contemplate the failings of their industry in predicting election outcomes. But exit polls ask people about what they've done rather than what they plan to do. And if we take the precise numbers with a grain of salt, we can at least get a read for what is on American minds.

When asked by Edison Research exit pollsters which one policy was the most important in deciding their vote for president, the three top picks were the economy (picked by 35 percent), racial inequality (picked by 20 percent), and the coronavirus pandemic (picked by 17 percent).

Of those naming the economy as their top concern, 82 percent say they voted for Donald Trump and 17 percent say they voted for Joe Biden. Of those naming racial inequality, 91 percent voted for Biden and 8 percent for Trump. Pandemic voters broke 82 percent for Biden and 14 percent for Trump. That is, Americans are as divided as everybody thinks, just not in exactly the way political junkies are.

These three issues featured prominently in people's lives and in headlines since early this year and are thoroughly intertwined. The U.S. entered 2020 with a strong economy that had seen continuous growth for over 10 years. That trend came to a grinding halt with the spread of COVID-19 around the world, people isolating themselves, and governments imposing business closures and lockdowns that brought much of normal life to a halt.

"A peak in monthly economic activity occurred in the U.S. economy in February 2020," the National Bureau of Economic Research announced in June. "The peak marks the end of the expansion that began in June 2009 and the beginning of a recession. The expansion lasted 128 months, the longest in the history of U.S. business cycles dating back to 1854."

The shifting economy "was affected by special circumstances associated with the pandemic of early 2020," the NBER acknowledged.

The stresses of the pandemic and of unemployment and economic uncertainty added to preexisting tensions—many of them having to do with conflict between minority communities and the police.

"The pandemic has put the U.S. into a recession, and it's likely to worsen," wrote Brian Michael Jenkins of the RAND Corporation in August. "Millions are unemployed; soon, many of them could be destitute. COVID-19 and the economic distress it's causing could change how people behave in a (seemingly) more hostile world, how they view the legitimacy of government authority and how they value life itself."

"Adding to the radicalizing ferment of this pandemic are the widespread anguish and anger over systemic racism and police brutality unleashed by the killing of George Floyd," Jenkins added.

In response to Floyd's shooting and similar incidents, Americans across the country took to the streets against police brutality in protests that sometimes turned into riots. It was an issue of deep importance to many people.

This is the world in which those who voted on November 3 lived in the months before Election Day. For many, it's been a fraught experience of health risks, economic collapse and recovery, and uncorked outrage over historic wrongs. It makes sense that these issues would be prominent in people's minds as they decided how to cast their votes—generally along much-discussed tribal lines, but not motivated by the ongoing concerns emphasized by the chattering class.

That puts into interesting perspective the essentially never-ending campaign that the major political parties and their leaders waged from 2016 until the present day, with the rehashing of the first presidential contest blending into preparations for the second without relief. The degree to which the events of 2020 matter to voters also casts doubt on all the time, energy, and money put into allegations of corruption, sexual hijinks, and foreign meddling.

Speaking of money, an estimated $8 billion went into political advertising this election cycle, with Democrats outspending Republicans by $2 billion, according to Advertising Analytics. That's a lot of cash and TV and radio time purchased by politicians who often seem to be focused on issues that matter to them and aren't necessarily of the greatest importance to the people they're trying to reach.

Media types—yeah, I'm part of that—haven't done much better in getting a handle on what drives people to vote. They hammer at the idea that Trump voters must be motivated by racism and then goggle as his support increases among blacks and Latinos.

"When Donald Trump pulled off a stunning upset and won the presidency in 2016, few people were more shocked than the professional take-havers in the mainstream media," Reason's Robby Soave pointed out the day after the election. "Four years later—in the midst of a nail-bitingly close election—the predictions of the pundit class have proven to be no more accurate than they were in 2016."

As it turns out, it appears that most people largely ignored years of huffing, puffing, and internecine political warfare that entertain those of use with an unhealthy obsession with politics. They saved their attention for the approach of the election itself and the state of the world in which they live. Americans didn't all come to the same conclusions by any means; it's still a deeply divided country, after all. But, by all appearances, it's the world of the present, not the controversies of the past, that motivated voters.

NEXT: Georgia Will Recount Its Presidential Votes. Other States Might Too.

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  1. It will be interesting to see how history judges the pandemic and the world’s various responses to it. It almost certainly cost Trump the presidency, and the nation’s mitigation policies were driven not by the president but by national journalists and state governments (in that order).

    Were economically devastating lockdown mandates really the way to go? I don’t know, and I also don’t know if we’ll ever see an honest accounting.

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    2. Government action to the rescue. Just like FDR and the Great Depression! Huzzah!

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    3. “the world’s various responses to it”

      I think at the end of the day we’ll see that the differences were more rhetorical than real, and the outcomes driven primarily by urban density.

      Especially when we do something stupid like treating the US as a single unit. Or even California.

      And then we’ll do something worse like analyze positive test cases instead of actual illness. Or look strictly at mortality without analyzing morbidity.

      1. What I’m trying to say is that retrospective observational studies in Critical Care are a shit show.

        This is well established.

        COVID-19 will not be different.

        1. they are still debating what killed off the indians centuries ago so no we will never have a fair non political anylisis.

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        2. Retrospective studies can be very useful. You just need to ask the right question.

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    4. It almost certainly cost Trump the presidency

      Quite the contrary. Despite the Democrats and media blasting him and outright lying about the pandemic for 9 months, if he loses, it will be be by the slimmest of margins in the battlegrounds. I think the massive turnout in favor of Trump is because he didn’t shut things down. If the pandemic doesn’t happen, I think he would have done much worse.

      People are not as stupid as the media think they are. They know how the Democrats want to use the pandemic as the wedge to bailout CA/NY/IL and institute the GND as some kind of new jobs program.

      1. I see your point. AND DISAGREE WITH IT. Boom. I think an unmolested economy and no excuses for Biden to shy from public appearances has Trump cruising to reelection.

        1. I certainly understand your viewpoint because it makes sense for anybody who is not Trump.

          I will just point out that it is super easy to make Trump look like the worst possible outcome in any normal election year. In an election year as absolutely crazy as this one, Trump isn’t the worst thing anymore. In particular, the Dem and media portraying gathering to protest and riot as acceptable while calling church-goers a suicide pact. The proggies made Trump much more attractive.

          1. I have to admit, I blew off your initial statement as wrong pretty quickly. However, your followup explanation really got me thinking. I’m now not sure how I think on the matter. Cheers for making me realize I need to be more wary of making quick judgements.

      2. Great observation, ” to bail out CA, NY….” Only Trump could have limited State and Local tax deductions, Lowered Corporate tax rates and personal rates amounting to approximately $100/mo in pocket.

    5. Were economically devastating lockdown mandates really the way to go? I don’t know, and I also don’t know if we’ll ever see an honest accounting.

      Some obscure alt-right counter culture publication will have to do a study.

    6. We definitely won’t see an honest recounting of the CV response.

      Not even close.

  2. And what are the good folks at Reason going to do to fight the ridiculous “racial inequality/systemic racism/inequality of outcome” canard? How will you be educating the masses on this topic?

    1. Racial inequality is a sign of coercive government action. Racial groups would be exactly identical if it were not for racist government policies, like for forced teaching of grammar and algebra in public schools.

  3. “Of those naming the economy as their top concern, 82 percent say they voted for Donald Trump and 17 percent say they voted for Joe Biden. Of those naming racial inequality, 91 percent voted for Biden and 8 percent for Trump.”

    You see the inherent conflict there in the polling, right?

    We’re libertarians, so we see racial inequality and the economy as two separate issues.

    Non-libertarians, especially those on the left, do not necessarily see those as separate issues.

    How many Black Lives Matter supporters do you suppose are out there who see the economy and racial inequality as two separate issues?

    1. “Non-libertarians, especially those on the left, do not necessarily see those as separate issues.”

      Maybe it’s the difference between growing the pie and sharing the pie?

      But extrapolating from your point, I think I’d see Economy and Pandemic as competing priorities of the same issue. R voters leaned toward more open economies and jobs, L voters leaned toward a shutdown.

      I think that’s probably the starkest contrast between the parties this year.

      1. As a Rabbi on welfare because I need to devote myself fully to studying the Torah, I support complete lockdowns across the entire United States until a Biden developed vaccine can be developed to stop the Trump virus.

      2. “Maybe it’s the difference between growing the pie and sharing the pie?”

        “Sharing” might not be the right word. Doesn’t sharing imply some level of mutual consent?

        I think what they want to do is “redistribute” the pie. And the rest of us are over here with our Second Amendment.

        Democracy is two wolves and a rabbit arguing about what’s for dinner.

        1. >Democracy is two wolves and a rabbi
          OY VEY!

        2. “And the rest of us are over here with our Second Amendment.”

          Exactly what good is that going to do you? Or me.

          I have said again and again here, to let the jury box work. In the face of being censored off the soap box, and watching ridiculously hamfisted fraud corrupt the ballot box. But if the jury box doesn’t work, I really don’t see Americans opening the cartridge box. They actually do more harm than good, in that they promote a cargo cult mentality among people that their mere possession conveys political power and autonomy. So people don’t bother with the hard work of organizing, lobbying, contributing to their local civic organizations and political parties: all of which actually would increase their political power, and therefore their chances of being left alone.

          At least we’re not going to have to worry about that Second Amendment for very long.

  4. “When asked by Edison Research exit pollsters which one policy was the most important in deciding their vote for president, the three top picks were the economy (picked by 35 percent), racial inequality (picked by 20 percent), and the coronavirus pandemic (picked by 17 percent).

    Of those naming the economy as their top concern, 82 percent say they voted for Donald Trump and 17 percent say they voted for Joe Biden. Of those naming racial inequality, 91 percent voted for Biden and 8 percent for Trump. Pandemic voters broke 82 percent for Biden and 14 percent for Trump. That is, Americans are as divided as everybody thinks, just not in exactly the way political junkies are.”

    It’s entirely a coincidence that this all aligns with long standing perceptions of the parties. Wall Street/Racism/SCIENCE!

    It just proves that voters are immune to data with respect to who Wall Street donates to, and which party actually gives a shit about criminal justice reform.

    1. Of those naming the economy as their top concern, 82 percent say they voted for Donald Trump and 17 percent say they voted for Joe Biden. Of those naming racial inequality, 91 percent voted for Biden and 8 percent for Trump. Pandemic voters broke 82 percent for Biden and 14 percent for Trump.

      Pollsters getting the answers they want again. To the educated, the economy and the pandemic are the same damn thing. The pants-shitting ‘SAVE ME!’ crowd are a bunch of socialists, big surprise.

    2. Don’t knock science. Scientists have proven that we are all members of the same race, the HUMAN race. Unfortunately, those evil white members of the human race have been oppressing Blacks and Jews for centuries to get the unearned privilege that they currently hold. President Kamala can change that and right those historical wrongs.

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  7. At least now we know the way to win an election is to not campaign. I mean in some places Biden got 10% more votes than Obama and some places had record breaking 90% turnout!

    1. Sorry that only works for dems in d controlled areas

    2. Biden is so breathtaking he has the most votes from the dead since JFK.

  8. “They saved their attention for the approach of the election itself and the state of the world in which they live.”

    No shit, they do this every four years. People have their lives to pay attention to, not some schmucks in DC. And that is part of the problem, the corrupt lying assholes that inhabit the beltway are doing bad things to you and you’re not paying attention. When it comes time to vote you’re taking a gut check. Ooooh Trump is nasty on Twitter, I better vote for the sleepy guy who says he won’t tweet at me every day.

    1. As long as we can keep kicking dirt in the face of inbred white trash assholes, I’ll feel happy with a President Biden!

  9. Hmmm so a 24/7, 100% media and tech company blitz for 4 years telling them they are worse off than ever before, they are eighter racists complicit in racisist or victims of racism, and a year of were all going to die unless progressives are given totalitarian power, but if it backfires its Republicans fault, had an effect.

    1. How does it feel clinging to the past? The future of America is progressive capitalism and you hicks will be replaced with a gayer, Blacker, and more anti-Christian American.

      1. Good Rev impression.

        To quote the great philosopher stevo “I am not a hick, I don’t like the rodeo horses smell like shit to me and I don’t fuck anyone in my own bloodline. By definition j am not a hick”

        1. Rabbi is becoming one of my favorite new trolls. I sometimes wonder if it’s one troll playing multiple parts, or we actually have three trolls. But Rabbi has posted some a+ material. His BIPOC affinity zone comment below is magnifique

  10. As a Koch / Reason libertarian, the economy is my #1 issue. Specifically, I demand an economy that works best for the richest people on the planet, like Reason.com’s benefactor Charles Koch.

    And as I’ve demonstrated on a daily basis, the Drumpf years were a miserable failure in that respect. Mr. Koch is down over $5,000,000,000 this year — leaving him with a mere $56,600,000,000. This pathetic figure is barely enough to qualify for the global top 20. Unacceptable!

    Things are beginning to turn around, however. President Biden will reverse the high-tariff / low-immigration policies that have caused our benefactor so much pain. I predict that by the end of 2021 Mr. Koch will be back in the top 10 where he belongs.

    #50BillionIsntEnough

  11. three top picks were the economy (picked by 35 percent),

    Flyover country

    racial inequality (picked by 20 percent),

    Antifa and the Democrats

    and the coronavirus pandemic (picked by 17 percent).

    Biden supporters.

    1. Of those naming the economy as their top concern, 82 percent say they voted for Donald Trump and 17 percent say they voted for Joe Biden. Of those naming racial inequality, 91 percent voted for Biden and 8 percent for Trump. Pandemic voters broke 82 percent for Biden and 14 percent for Trump.

      HAA! I should have read the whole article! but HAAAAAA!

      1. Are you at least wearing that puffy hat like Carson used to do?

  12. They hammer at the idea that Trump voters must be motivated by racism and then goggle as his support increases among blacks and Latinos.

    Thank you for the honesty. It’s a much-needed breath of fresh air.

    1. Uncle Tom retards have just internalized white supremacy. We will replace these Uncle Toms and white trash assholes so that the America of the future will be multi-racial, secular, pro-LGBTQ, and progressive.

      1. pro-LGBTQ

        It’s LGBTQ2I+, you phobe…

        1. Most of these letters just refer to people that suck dick. Perhaps brevity would convey clarity.

  13. Of those naming the economy as their top concern, 82 percent say they voted for Donald Trump and 17 percent say they voted for Joe Biden. Of those naming racial inequality, 91 percent voted for Biden and 8 percent for Trump. Pandemic voters broke 82 percent for Biden and 14 percent for Trump.

    I’m not sure these answers mean what we think they do. It’s unlikely these people thought “the pandemic response is important, therefore I’m voting Biden”. It’s far more likely they thought “I hate Trump, and I think the pandemic is my best justification”.

    The difference is that for the latter nothing would have changed that vote, even the pandemic never occurring in the first place.

    1. “…It’s far more likely they thought “I hate Trump, and I think the pandemic is my best justification”…”

      Funny how polls can obscure rather than reveal…

    2. Oh, and as evidence, slobbering Joe’s only wu-flu proposal was mandatory, nationwide masks, which was promptly abandoned once some one pointed out the POTUS did have authority to require that.
      Other than that, it seems the assumption was his policies ‘will be different’ than Trump’s.

  14. Of those naming racial inequality, 91 percent voted for Biden…

    Racial Inequality a top concern??? WTF! The USA has far too many media parrots and brain-dead Sheeple in it.

    But maybe; someone should listen.
    ABOLISH Black University Funds (it’s racist)
    ABOLISH Black TV (it’s racist)
    ABOLISH Black Voices on my Amazon Prime (it’s racist)

    How about a —
    White’s Only University Fund
    White’s Only TV
    White’s Voice’s on Amazon Prime
    Ya….. Sounds a whole lot different doesn’t it????

    How can left-leaning people be so stupid?

    1. Black people will never feel safe in America until they have their own BIPOC affinity zones for schools, diners, bathrooms, and water fountains.

      1. As VP, that will be Kamala’s first priority.

      2. Ironically; 40% of Black people will vote Republican. It’s more Lefty Racism than anything.

        1st – It was a Civil War to keep black people enslaved
        2nd – It’ll be a Civil War to keep X,Y,Z skin color or X,Y,Z sex entitled.

        ….It’s always about identity ‘gangs’ with Democrats…..
        of course ‘gang’-power is the vital substance of the ‘democracy’ the Democrats champion —-

        ——- Inside the mind of every Democrat Voter ————–

        Sell your individual souls to the [WE] gang-foundation; because you don’t own you [WE] own you.

        P.S. forget about the USA foundation for Individual Liberty and Justice….

        1. “….It’s always about identity ‘gangs’ with Democrats…..”

          Easier to buy votes wholesale, right?
          Appeal to personal responsibility? Are you crazy?

    2. Tucille is a liar or a shill, maybe both. The article is full of distortions, misdirection and outright lies. Race issues are not even a top 5 issue for average Americans. Look it up.

      1. I don’t think he’s lying, he’s merely passing on what was reported.

        And remember, there can be a gap between average American and “voter”.

        And also, there’s some recursive stuff going on here. It’s a post that talks about the failure and inaccuracies of polls, then cites polls.

        I don’t wanna get all Jacques Derrida on everyone here… buuut we’ve got layers of polls being used to describe other polls which are inaccurate.

  15. “In response to Floyd’s shooting and similar incidents…”

    JD, George Floyd was suffocated, not shot.

    It is hard to keep all the killings by police straight, though.

    1. I was going to post the same comment. This oversight needs to be corrected or the analysis (article) loses all credibility.

    2. Pretty sure he was also found to have OD’d, but keeping him there rather than getting help didn’t make things better.

  16. At the end of the day it was all about Trump. He generated a historic amount of enthusiasm and hate. The total amount of votes is a testament to that. Obama’s record turnout is now but a distant memory. Ultimately the hate side won out and some whites abandoned Trump.

    According to this exit poll 67% of democrats said that the vote for Biden was actually against Trump, not for Biden. Given that Biden’s record setting votes somehow did NOTHING to stop the GOP from gaining in the house, that’s not great news for him.

    Sure, people care about the economy and equality. But most of that is business as usual and views differ by different camps. Racial quotas and defunding cops isn’t universally popular, and prolonged locked down and mask mandates will be DOA even as voters fault Trump for his virus response.

    If the economy was generally the top issue, Gretchen Whitmer and Cuomo would be at the end of their careers by now. But they’re getting huge approval rating from their states.

  17. “…political junkies may fret over Russia, IMMIGRATION POLICY, personal temperament, and the like, but average voters say they care most about racial inequality, the economy, and the pandemic.” – EMPHASIS added.

    Voters care about immigration policy. Only a few years back, the House Majority Leader, Eric Cantor, lost his seat in a PRIMARY election over immigration. Nothing has changed since then and libertarians, if they ever want to get elected, are going to have stop promising to protect the rights of illegal immigrants (who can’t vote) over Americans (who can).

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