This Election’s Winners and Losers

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Every election has its winners and losers, not only among the candidates but also in the broader political and intellectual world. Although the results are not yet final, it is possible to tally which issues and ideas have fallen or risen in status as a result of this week’s vote in the U.S.

Here are some losers:

Secessionism: Several popular books have been published recently arguing that the U.S. was going to split up. Really? How would the allocation of different parts of the country even work? In 2016, Donald Trump did surprisingly well in some crucial Midwestern states, whereas this year Joe Biden owes his showing to some of those very same states. If the U.S. were split in two, where would Wisconsin and Michigan go? Arizona is typically quite Republican, but this year is a contested state and will possibly be won by Biden. Or consider Georgia and Florida, two states in the Deep South where the race was very close. Why would they cast their lot decisively in one secession-besotted direction or another?

I don’t think the idea was ever viable. But I think any talk of secession can be put to rest for a long time.

Money in politics: It is a common charge that the U.S. campaign finance system is broken and that money can buy elections. Yet Democrats did not capture the Senate despite record fundraising, as numerous better-funded candidates failed to win. “You wasted a lot of money,” Senator Lindsey Graham said in his victory speech Tuesday night, speaking to “all the liberal sin New York and California” who helped his opponent raise more than $100 million.

Nor did Biden’s cash advantage give him a decisive edge against Trump, even if he wins the election in the final tally. The role of money in politics is overrated, and it may be falling still. It just doesn’t cost much to use social media effectively.

Highly educated elites: If you had read and listened to only them, you would have been shocked that the race turned out to be so close. You would also have been shocked that Trump lost ground with White voters and gained ground with Black men and especially Latinos, at least accordingly to exit polls. Critical race theory, which tries to understand racism and race relations from the perspective of the progressive academic left, also takes a ding here.

Lockdowns: Despite Americans’ willingness to incur considerable sacrifices to limit the spread of the coronavirus, voters didn’t seem bothered by Trump’s failures to adopt stricter regulations on commerce. If I were a governor making policy choices right now, I would be paying close attention.

In more technical terms, the political-science hypothesis of “retrospective voting” took a whacking. Retrospective voting suggests that the electorate evaluates incumbents by recent economic performance and votes accordingly, regardless of whether the incumbents are actually at fault. Yet Trump presided over about 320,000 excess deaths related to Covid-19, as well as huge contractions in GDP and employment. Even if he loses, as now seems likely, those failures didn’t knock him out of the race. A lot of his supporters still seem to have felt he would cope better with matters moving forward.

Alternatively, here are some winners:

California libertarianism: As economist John Cochrane pointed out, Californians went in libertarian directions on an array of ballot initiatives, including rejecting new taxes on business, turning down a revival of affirmative action, and refusing to force Uber and Lyft to turn their independent contractors into regular employees. Maybe the “woke” orientation of the Golden State is being defused.

Drug decriminalization: Oregon voted to decriminalize heroin, meth and cocaine.  Washington D.C., New Jersey and Arizona legalized cannabis. Psilocybin was decriminalized in D.C., and psilocybin therapy was legalized in Oregon. This issue continues to march forward.

Leo Strauss: By one estimate the pollsters were off by about seven percentage points, and that is after a previous presidential election in which their projections were off by about five points. Part of the problem is that people do not answers their phones as much or speak to pollsters as they used to. But it is very likely a lot of Trump supporters were afraid to come out as such, even to an anonymizing pollster. If you are wondering, Leo Strauss was a 20th-century political philosopher who stressed that people often are afraid to present their true opinions to others.

American democracy: Maybe this one is premature, but so far the U.S. has held a closely contested election under pandemic conditions. Turnout was much higher than usual, and so far there hasn’t been much election-related violence. Could it be that the system really works?

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Tyler Cowen is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist. He is a professor of economics at George Mason University and writes for the blog Marginal Revolution. His books include "Big Business: A Love Letter to an American Anti-Hero."

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