Update 487 — Biden Policy Possibilities
Following Fraud-Free but Fraught Election
The 2020 election is over, likely to reach the highest voter participation rate since the election of 1900. Over 160 million Americans got to the voting booth, or the mailbox, to cast their ballots. Fears of violence proved as founded as those of the voter fraud: neither occurred. After a tense four-day wait, major news outlets finally called the presidential election for Vice President Biden last Saturday.
The mandate is mixed as the votes will likely yield a divided government, as has every vote since 2008, obscuring the probability that this was another change election. Yet even with a muted mandate, a Biden White House can do much to advance a progressive agenda. Below, we analyze 2020’s massive electoral turnout, the results of the federal races, and the policy implications for the next Congress and President.
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Democracy and Turnout
With millions more ballots still to be counted, the voter participation rate is already over 62 percent, the highest since 1968. The United States Elections Project estimates that turnout may ultimately surpass 66 percent.
This year’s outstanding turnout is thanks to an almost universal expansion of the right to vote. In response to the difficulties the coronavirus pandemic posed to in-person voting, some states that did not already have universal mail-in voting broadened no-excuse absentee voting while others sent mail-in ballots or mail-in ballot applications to every eligible voter. Montana authorized its counties to conduct all-mail elections, and turnout rose by 10 percentage points. In Texas, which didn’t expand absentee voting but did extend the time period for early voting, turnout jumped nine percentage points from 50 percent in 2016 to over 59 percent.
Turnout in all-mail states was high even for demographic groups less likely to vote. In Colorado, Nevada, and Oregon, youth and non-white turnout rose compared to 2016. Once all ballots are counted, youth turnout is projected to be between 50 and 52 percent, up 4-6 percentage points from 2016. Young voters were crucial to Biden’s wins in Michigan and Pennsylvania and his leads in Georgia and Arizona where young voters broke for Biden by at least 18 points. The Democratic gains were highest for young black, Asian, and Latino voters, of whom 87 percent, 81 percent, and 73 percent broke for Biden, respectively.
But turnout wasn’t just a boon for Biden. With Trump at the top of the ticket, Republicans also showed up to vote at record rates. Because of Republican success in getting out the vote, Democrats did not flip any state legislatures, clearing the way for Republican-controlled state governments to gerrymander their congressional districts following the 2020 Census.
Most of the November 2020 election results are now in. Democrats have retaken the White House and made moderate gains in the Senate so far but suffered several losses in House races in swing districts.
- Presidential (Biden 279 EVs – Trump 217 EVs)
In a decisive win for Biden, America, and democracy, President Trump has been fired by the American people. President-Elect Biden’s popular vote lead is now over five million, with several blue states still counting votes. Biden is set to have the highest margin since 2008 and the highest percentage for a challenger since FDR in 1932. Biden has already earned more votes (76.2 million and counting) than any other candidate in U.S. history, surpassing Obama’s previous record of 69.5 million in 2008.
- Senate (48 D – 50 R)
Contrary to Democrats’ hopes, Republicans were fairly successful Tuesday, holding on to precarious seats by larger margins than expected. Three Senate races remain undecided. The North Carolina race between incumbent Sen. Thom Tillis and Cal Cunningham is still too close to call with 97 percent of votes reported and Tillis leading by 1.7 points. While Cunningham conceded the race on Tuesday, major news outlets have yet to call it. Meanwhile, both Georgia Senate races are going to runoffs in January. Should Sen. Tillis win his race, Democrats will need to win both GA seats to take the Senate majority.
A Republican-controlled Senate would likely doom many of Biden’s tax reforms and much of the progressive agenda. But until the majority is decided, the importance of the Senate in 2021 will be held in abeyance.
- House (218 D – 202 R)
Democrats entered this election hoping to expand their majority in the House, targeting 38 “red-to-blue” districts. But Democrats only flipped three districts in Georgia and North Carolina so far. With 15 seats yet to be decided, Democrats have held onto the House majority, but Republicans cut into the Democrats’ historic 2018 gains, already flipping eight seats.
The overly optimistic strategy has led to some changes in leadership. The DCCC Chairwoman Rep. Cheri Bustos recently announced her resignation from the position. With fewer moderate members in the majority, the balance of power has shifted slightly in favor of more progressive members.
The 117th Congress is set to begin January third, and the House will move quickly to advance bills already passed during the 116th Congress. Speaker Pelosi announced her intention to reintroduce the For the People Act (H.R.1) as the first bill of the session.
For progressives, the Congressional Progressive Caucus Center will host a conference starting tomorrow to discuss priorities for the upcoming Congress.
While much hinges on the January Senate runoffs in Georgia, Democrats shouldn’t discount their ability to pass substantial legislation and institute progressive policies. Biden and McConnell, should Republicans retain the majority, may reach agreements on various areas of COVID relief, such as additional funding for testing and vaccine production, aid to states and local governments, more forgivable loans through the Paycheck Protection Program, and expanded unemployment insurance. Outside of relief negotiations, Biden could pursue bipartisan bills to bolster retirement security, disincentivize corporate offshoring, promote American manufacturing, expand rural broadband access, and perhaps even raise the minimum wage.
Unilaterally, President Biden can begin to undo the damage wrought by President Trump and his notoriously corrupt cabinet. Majority Leader McConnell has stated that if he remains Majority Leader, he will cooperate with Biden’s cabinet nominations so long as they are moderates and are not controversial among conservatives. But Biden does not have to obey McConnell’s demands. He can appoint acting secretaries who can work with Biden during his first hundred days in office to reestablish non-discrimination protections, labor protections, and create strong workplace safety guidance for businesses operating during the pandemic.
Biden can also do much through executive actions. On economic policy, Biden can single-handedly eliminate student debt for the millions of low-income Americans who hold it, crack down on monopolies and businesses that violate labor laws, and require stronger workplace and safety standards for government contractors. He could also expand access to capital for women and minority business owners, eliminate work requirements for food assistance, among many other priorities outlined in the Biden-Sanders unity task force recommendations and the DNC platform.
Ultimately, personnel will define policy. Much of Biden’s ability to achieve progressive goals will depend on the choices he makes to fill his cabinet. Progressives must take the opportunity to push for bold, progressive champions for the Departments of Labor and the Treasury and the Federal Reserve board. Political appointees — not lawmakers — may need to lead the way on tighter financial regulation, equitable capital access, and worker protections.