Joe Biden won a race another Democrat may have lost

In his first address as President-elect, Joe Biden reached out to Trump supporters and urged all Americans to "put away the harsh rhetoric" and stop treating those with opposing political views as enemies.

Posted: Nov 9, 2020 8:51 AM
Updated: Nov 9, 2020 8:51 AM

President-elect Joe Biden made the pitch that he was the most electable Democrat during the primary season. It was a big reason why primary voters ultimately nominated him.

A look at the still compiling returns demonstrates that Democrats made the right bet. Biden is projected to win an election that another Democrat, especially a more liberal one, may very well have lost.

While Biden is leading in states worth 306 electoral votes, the race for president was actually decided on a razor's edge. Biden and President Donald Trump ended up within a few points of each other in the states that made the difference.

Biden is currently ahead by less than a point in Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Without winning at least some combination of these states, Biden would not be able to reach the necessary 270 electoral votes to win the election.

Track the presidential election results

The fact that the election was closer than pre-election polls indicated might be used as an indictment of Biden. It shouldn't be.

Compare how Biden is doing to Democratic House candidates in each of these states. If Biden were a weaker candidate than average, these Democrats should, on the whole, be outrunning Biden.

The opposite happened: Biden is outrunning the House Democrats in all these pivotal states.

More to the point, Republican candidates for the House are actually getting more votes than their Democratic counterparts in all these states. As of this writing, the margin is less than 10,000 in Arizona, while it's over 90,000 in Georgia, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

(Note: Democrats and Republicans had a candidate on the ballot for each House race in these states.)

In other words, it seems quite conceivable that the baseline Democrat may not have actually won the states that he or she would have needed to win the Electoral College.

The pattern of Biden doing better than Democratic House candidates was seen in the national House and presidential popular vote, as well. This matched pre-election polling in which Biden's lead over Trump was larger than the Democratic advantage on the generic congressional ballot.

As I noted before, it is unusual for an challenger in a presidential race to run ahead of his party in the race for House control when his party controls the House. The reason being that you'd expect Trump and the House Democrats to have some sort of an incumbency advantage.

Obviously, it is difficult to disentangle why Biden was running ahead of the congressional Democrats. It could be because Biden was unusually strong or Trump was unusually weak. It's probably a bit of both.

What is clear is that Biden was liked by the electorate. Biden's favorable rating was above his unfavorable in pre-election polling. The national exit poll showed Biden with a 52% favorable rating to 46% unfavorable rating. Biden won because he took almost all of the voters (94%) who had a favorable view of him.

That was in sharp contrast to four years ago when Hillary Clinton's unfavorable rating was above her favorable rating in the exit polls. Just 43% of voters held a favorable view of Clinton. This was above Trump's (38%), but it left 18% of the electorate with an unfavorable rating of both Clinton and Trump. Trump won those voters by 17 points.

Biden, simply put, closed the door on Trump's making this a contest between the lesser of two evils.

One (of a number of reasons) that Biden was better liked than Clinton may have had to do with ideology.

Biden was seen as more moderate than Trump by voters in pre-election polling. This stood in contrast to Trump being viewed as more moderate than Clinton in 2016.

Biden, of course, ran as a mainstream Democrat.

Biden used his ideological position as an argument for his candidacy during the primary season when he ran a few points stronger than Sens. Bernie Sanders and especially Elizabeth Warren in general election polling.

Biden's belief was backed up by years of research suggestive of the fact that candidates on the ends of the ideological spectrum tend to do worse.

You could see this play out in races like that for Nebraska's 2nd Congressional District. Biden easily took the district by nearly 7 points and earned himself an extra electoral vote in a state that awards an electoral vote to the winner of each of its congressional districts.

The Democratic candidate for the House, Kara Eastman, wasn't so fortunate. She lost by 6 points to Republican Rep. Don Bacon. The fact that there was such a strong difference between the House and presidential voting patterns in an age of tremendous polarization is telling. Eastman was backed by the progressive groups Justice Democrats and stood for "Medicare for All."

That distinction between Biden and the left may have made all the difference in what ended up being a presidential race that took four days to call. Without Biden at the top of the ticket, Trump may very well have stunned the world again and earned a second term in the White House.

New York Coronavirus Cases

County data is updated nightly.

Cases: 2373659

Reported Deaths: 54904
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