Election Impact: The One Thing Everyone Should Be Rooting for in November

15 Sep, 2020


Election Impact

September 2020

The One Thing Everyone Should Be Rooting for in November

By Nathan Gonzales,
Inside Elections Editor and Publisher
Public Affairs Council Senior Political Analyst

No matter whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat, no matter whether you love President Donald Trump or hate him, no matter where you sit on the ideological spectrum, there’s one thing everyone should be rooting for this fall: decisive results.

The fact is that if the presidential election or control of the Senate is decided by a few thousand votes or less in a few key states, it might rip the country apart.

Questions about the ballots that are cast (either too few or too many), how the ballots are received (or not received), and how the ballots are counted (or not counted) are inevitable, and even healthy, to a point.

But in a close race, those questions will evolve into skepticism from the losing candidate and cause the losing party to question the legality of the results. And it will be tough for the country to move forward with a set of leaders that almost half of Americans view as illegitimate. The best way to avoid that scenario is for candidates to win bigly.

Accepting the Outcome

Most of the time, the conversation about accepting the outcome of the election centers around Trump, whether he would accept the results and if he would leave office if he loses. It’s a valid question considering he has already planted seeds of doubt. “The only way we’re going to lose this election is if this election is rigged,” the president said last month in Wisconsin.

Remember, the president complained about an election that he won. After 2016, Trump talked about millions of undocumented immigrants voting in California, without evidence, in an effort to explain away Hillary Clinton receiving more votes nationwide. So it’s not hard to imagine the president complaining about the legitimacy of an election in which he loses.

But accepting the outcome of the elections is a valid question for the Democratic Party as well. If Joe Biden is leading significantly in the national polls and key battleground state surveys in the last days of October, as he is today, but comes up short when all the votes are counted in November, Democrats will have a hard time accepting the results. More specifically, they’ll question whether the Trump-led U.S. Postal Service caused a large enough number of mail-in ballots to be missed or tossed aside, disproportionately hurting Democratic candidates, and expliciting that he stole it.

To be sure, this would be a different scenario than four years ago. In 2016, virtually all Democrats didn’t like the result of the presidential election, but few questioned whether he should legally be the president or not. Most of them realized they flat out got beat at the only game that mattered (the Electoral College).

Expect More Nail Biters

So how likely are there to be very close races this fall? The short answer is very likely. It’s just a matter of whether the close races determine the White House winner or control of Congress.

In 2016, Trump won Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania by less than 1 point and Hillary Clinton won New Hampshire by less than 1 point. Those states collectively had enough electoral votes to change the outcome. In 2012, President Barack Obama won Florida by less than 1 point and in 2008, he won North Carolina by less than 1 point and John McCain won Missouri by less than 1 point. But even if those states had gone the other way, it wouldn’t have changed the overall outcome.

This year, control of the Senate could hinge on one seat. Democrats are currently projected to net between three and five seats when they need to net four for a majority. They can also control the Senate by netting three seats and winning the White House because Vice President Kamala Harris could break any 50-50 ties.

Just looking at recent history, it’s likely that there’s at least one Senate race that is extremely close.

In 2018, GOP Gov. Rick Scott won the Florida Senate race by 0.12 percent. In 2016, Democrat Maggie Hassan and Republican Sen. Pat Toomey won their races in New Hampshire and Pennsylvania by 0.14 percent and 1.43 percent, respectively. In 2014, Democratic Sen. Mark Warner won re-election by less than 1 point, but Republicans Thom Tillis of North Carolina (1.5%), Cory Gardner of Colorado (1.5%) and Dan Sullivan of Alaska (2.2%) won close races as well. They all face competitive races this year in a more challenging political environment.

And way back in the 2008 cycle, Minnesota Democrat Al Franken wasn’t sworn into the Senate until early July of 2009 after a race that saw him trailing GOP Sen. Norm Coleman in ballots counted on election night and then pull ahead by 312 votes after subsequent recounts and court challenges.

That could be reality again this cycle.

Election Litigation

While there’s been more and more attention on the likelihood of not having certainty on election night because of the days (and maybe weeks) necessary to count the tens of millions of ballots cast by mail, there hasn’t been enough attention given to the upcoming legal battles.

Election litigation (particularly in recount situations) is commonplace already, and it’s inevitable this year considering the high stakes of the election and speed with which dozens of states and localities changed their laws and procedures to accommodate voting during a pandemic.

It’s probably a good thing that control of the House is not likely to hinge on the outcome of a seat or two considering nine races were decided by less than 1 point in 2018, and 16 House races total were decided by less than 1 point over the last three election cycles. Currently, Democrats are very likely to hold their House majority and might even grow it.

While a peaceful transition of power has been one of the most enduring qualities of our country, that process is at risk this year.

That’s not to say the president won’t vacate the White House premises in January if he loses. But there’s significant risk that the party in power next year can’t govern or pass critical legislation if the elected officials are viewed as illegitimate or even illegal. And that could have a wide-ranging effect on businesses, industries, and associations.

So whether your party or your candidates win or lose, the best thing for the country is for clear and decisive results. It will be the easiest way for the country to move forward to our next chapter.

Nathan L. Gonzales is a senior political analyst for the Public Affairs Council and editor of Inside Elections, a nonpartisan newsletter with a subscription package designed to boost PACs with a regular newsletter and exclusive conference call. His email address is nathan@insideelections.com. 

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