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A deeply divided electorate has spoken, but it’s not entirely clear what they were trying to say. That’s the biggest outcome from Tuesday’s election.
As of this writing, former Vice President Joe Biden is the projected winner of the 2020 election, putting him on track to become the nation’s 46th President in January. It is important to note that President Trump has not conceded the race, and the results will not be official until each state certifies the winner prior to Dec. 14, when the electors meet in every state capitol. But Biden’s lead in states totaling more than 270 electoral votes appears to be large enough to withstand any recounts or other challenges.
The news was not all good for Democrats. Their hopes of re-taking the Senate have all but evaporated as numerous vulnerable Republican incumbents kept their seats. A runoff in Georgia for both seats in early January could determine which party controls the upper chamber, but the best Democrats can get is a 50-50 split. In the House, Republicans managed to knock off several Democratic incumbents, shrinking Speaker Pelosi’s majority by approximately six seats. The most likely outcome for 2021 is divided government, with Democrats controlling the White House and the House and the GOP still in charge of the Senate.
The election was even better for Republicans at the state level, where Democrats’ hopes of winning majorities in several state legislatures were dashed. This matters for more than just the implications for state policymaking: following the 2020 census, states will need to redraw their Congressional district maps before the 2022 midterm elections. With Republicans controlling more state legislatures than Democrats, they will be able to draw maps that are more favorable to their party.
Although it’s too early to assess what the vote meant, we know a few things: first, turnout was the highest it has been since 1900. Coming in the midst of a pandemic, with record numbers of Americans voting by mail, this is a significant achievement.
Second, for the first time in U.S. history, it appears we will have a female Vice President, as Kamala Harris becomes the first African-American woman and first South Asian American to stand a heartbeat away from the presidency. What’s more, voters elected the first two openly gay African-American men to Congress (both from New York), Delaware elected the country’s first transgender state Senator, and New Mexico elected all women of color to the U.S. House. The halls of power are slowly but surely becoming more diverse.
Third, the election demonstrated that the Latino population in America is far from monolithic. While the Biden-Harris ticket won Arizona and New Mexico on the strengths of Hispanic votes, the Trump-Pence ticket held onto Florida with a strong showing among Cuban-American voters in Miami, and did better than expected among Latino in the Rio Grande valley, helping the President win Texas.
And last but not least, the election results suggest that another major realignment of the pollical map is underway. Despite winning the “blue wall” states of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, Biden’s narrow wins there show that the industrial Midwest is no longer safe territory for Democrats. And Biden’s wins in Arizona and Nevada, not to mention his surprise win in Georgia, indicate that the rapid urbanization of the Sun Belt makes it less reliably Republican.
Change is happening, but the election did not change everything. Even as the votes were being counted, the country tallied its largest single-day COVID-19 infection rates since the start of the pandemic. And despite a fairly strong jobs report last Friday, the economy remains a long way from recovery.
These facts, along with the likelihood that January will see a Democrat in the White House, probably explain why Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced shortly after the polls closed that passing an economic stimulus package would be a top priority for Congress when it reconvenes for a lame duck session next week. Prior to the election, the parties were at odds over the size of the package, with Democrats calling for $2.2 trillion in economic relief and Republicans wanting to keep the package below $1.8 trillion.
The outcome of the election, particularly the fact that Republicans managed to maintain control of the Senate (for the time being, at least), suggests that the GOP will remain firm in its position. House Democrats will be torn between the desire to enact a package as quickly as possible, even if it’s smaller than they’d like, and the hope that they could hold out for a better deal once Joe Biden takes office.
The fate of the economic recovery package matters to the CRM industry as much as for anyone else. In recent weeks, ACRA has been talking to numerous Capitol Hill offices urging Congress to put partisanship aside and pass a relief package that helps communities get back on their feet. Of particular importance is relief for small businesses like the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) Congress passed in the spring, which has helped many CRM firms avoid layoffs. Democrats want to see the package renewed, while Republicans are pushing to make sure that already-authorized funds that have yet to be spend can get out the door. Either way, ACRA’s discussions on the Hill suggest there is some bipartisan consensus that small businesses need help.
ACRA also is making the case that states and local governments need help. As states face significant budget crunches, vital programs like the State Historic Preservation Offices face possible funding cuts that would slow cultural resource activities. Ironically, such slowdowns would end up costing jobs, which will make the budget crises worse. Federal support is vital for ending this vicious cycle.
Even if the parties can agree on an economic relief package, the mixed election results mean that gridlock could very well persist into 2021 and beyond. At the very least, the election shows we are a country deeply divided. There are no silver bullets to cure this, but the CRM industry certainly has an important role to play: by preserving and protecting our nation’s history (both the good and not-so-good), cultural resource professionals can help Americans understand our shared heritage, and remind us that our nation is at its best when we come together.