Pennsylvania is another one of the swing states to watch this year. Long considered a safe blue state, it was a shock in 2016 when it was called for Trump—he won Pennsylvania by just 44,292 votes, or 0.72%. It was a sign of things to come, as Michigan and Wisconsin were called for Trump (with similar tiny margins) in the hours that followed.
Biden is currently leading by 6 points in Pennsylvania, but it’s still going to be a tense one to watch on election night—either the start of a real blue wave or a signal that Trump has held on to more working class voters than expected.
As is the case with several other states, registration and turnout are crucial for the Democrats in Pennsylvania. Turnout has been below 65% in every presidential election since 1968, with the lowest point at 48.9% in 1996. For the first time, voters have been allowed to request absentee mail in ballots for any reason, and early voting started in mid-September, so the state has certainly done what it can to help turnout. Now it’s up to Pennsylvanians to turnout and elect the ‘Scrappy kid from Scranton’!
Oregon is a safe blue state, consistently supporting Democratic candidates since 1988 (one of just 10 states and DC that went for Dukakis!). Biden is currently leading by 23 points. In the Senate, incumbent Democrat Jeff Merkley is 20 points ahead, so that’s a clear Democratic hold.
They’ve been voting by mail in Oregon since 1987, and for Presidential elections since 2000. As Trump tries to undermine the integrity of voting by mail with accusations of fraud, it’s been useful to look at Oregon as the state with the longest history of voting by mail. Since 2000, over 100 million ballots have been mailed out and there have been around 12 cases of proven fraud—that’s a rate of fewer than 0.00000012%. Oregon proves that voting by mail is safe, easy and effective.
Oklahoma is a very safe red state, where Republicans win by big margins. In the last four presidential elections, the Republican candidates have won by over 30 points.
Trump held his first post-lockdown indoor rally in Tulsa on June 20th. Here’s a chart of the state’s daily new covid-19 cases, with the rally date marked:
Now, I’m not saying it spiked because of the rally, but looking at that chart, Oklahoma doesn’t seem like a good place to hold a crowded, indoor event during a pandemic. (That said, the poor turnout made social distancing possible!)
The ultimate swing state and bellwether, Ohio has voted for the overall winner in every election since 1964. Elections are usually quite close—Trump’s 8 point lead in 2016 was the largest margin of victory in recent years. Turnout is pretty consistent, around 70% of registered voters. The first week of early voting saw record turnout—in many areas, twice as many as 2016’s early voting turnout.
Former Republican Governor John Kasich has endorsed Joe Biden over his 2016 primary rival. Polls are very close, with Trump just 2-3 points ahead.
Why are so many Ohio voters still behind Trump? I recently finished reading Hillbilly Elegy, by Ohio-native with Kentucky roots J.D. Vance. It explores the complicated issues facing the white working class voters in Ohio—decline in manufacturing, opioid epidemic, domestic violence, etc. For whatever reason, they felt seen by Trump in a way that they didn’t by Hillary Clinton. What puzzles me, though, is how a state can go for Obama twice and then for Trump. Even after reading the book, I still haven’t figured that out.
North Dakota is a safe red state—rural and conservative, with a population of just 762,000 (about the same as Leeds). It’s margins are way smaller than the percentages make them appear:
In 2008, McCain won by 9 points, but just 27,000 votes! That said, Trump received more than twice as many votes as Hillary Clinton did in 2016, so its safe to assume that he’s going to win North Dakota again this year. Polls currently have him 20 points ahead of Biden.
North Carolina firmly in the swing state category, with narrow margins in the past 3 Presidential elections and polls that are too close to call. Biden is currently leading by just 3 points, in a state that Trump won by 3 points in 2016.
Early voting started yesterday and nearly 230,000 ballots were cast. That’s in addition to half a million mail in ballots that have already been returned—a huge proportion for a state with under 5 million ballots total in the past few elections, and for 18 days out!
North Carolina is also one to watch for its Senate race. Incumbent Republican Senator Thom Tillis and Democratic challenger Cal Cunningham (they love alliteration in NC!) are too close in the polls to call. There were two “October surprises” in the news on October 2nd for both candidates—Tillis tested positive for covid after attending the Rose Garden superspreader event, and Cunningham was revealed to have had an affair this summer. Get the popcorn ready for this one!
New York is a solid blue state with 29 electoral votes, tied for 3rd most votes with Florida, behind Texas (38) and California (55). The 2016 election featured 2 candidates who lived in NY—Trump was born in Queens and lived in Manhattan at Trump Tower, but former NY Senator Clinton, who moved to Chappaqua after leaving the White House in 2001, won the state by 22 points (Trump has since changed his residency to Florida). Biden is currently leading by around 30 points.
It’s also home to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. If the Democrats flip enough seats, he could become Senate Majority Leader, taking over from Kentucky Republican Senator Mitch McConnell. Both Schumer and McConnell are unpopular—a recent Pew Research Center survey found that very few voters have positive views of them: 22% for McConnell and 25% for Schumer.
If Biden wins and the Democrats flip the Senate, we’ll have the same situation we saw in 2008. With a supportive legislative branch, Obama was able to pass the Affordable Care Act and recession recovery deals, among other things. When people didn’t vote in the 2010 midterms, the Republican-dominated legislative branch resisted and stalled everything Obama tried to do. McConnell joked that he was the “grim reaper”, as his desk is where bills go to die. If Biden wins but the Democrats don’t manage to flip the Senate, we’re going to see a scenario like 2010-2016, where Congressional resistance prevents Biden from accomplishing his agenda.
New Mexico has become a fairly safe blue state in recent years. Democrats have usually won by big margins, apart from 2000 and 2004–in 2000, Gore won by just 366 votes, and in 2004, Bush won by 5,988 votes—0.79%! Biden is currently 15 points ahead.
Since becoming a state in 1912, New Mexico has gone for the overall winner in all but 3 elections—and two of those were Al Gore and Hillary Clinton, so New Mexico has a nearly perfect record of picking the winner of the popular vote (in 1976 it went for Ford over Carter).
New Jersey has been consistently blue in every election since 1992, and usually by quite large, double-digit margins. Hillary Clinton beat Trump by 13 points, or half a million votes.
Registration and turnout isn’t one of New Jersey’s strong points—in the 2016 election, only 60% of voting age residents were registered to vote. According to the October report on voter registration, an additional 251,556 people have registered to vote since January. Since the 2016 election, they’ve had 546,910 more voters, so almost half of that growth in registration has happened just this year.
Another promising sign about turnout—as of today, over 920,000 ballots have already been submitted in New Jersey. That’s a 15% turnout, 3 weeks before Election Day!
Since my last post about the workbook, I’ve gone away and worked on the study. Once I started looking at my data and playing around with it, and reading through the methods lit that I’d long neglected, I realized that all of this lovely data I’ve been collecting could be used for multiple studies with different approaches. In the past that might have made me feel overwhelmed and lost, but now I see it as a good thing. I drafted a book outline and saw where everything I want to do could fit together to make a coherent larger study. The book is the ultimate goal, but for now, I’m working on turning one part of it (discourse analysis) into a journal article-length paper that I can submit to ICA at the end of the month. It’s a great opportunity to get it peer-reviewed at an early stage, whether it gets accepted or not.
Now that I know what my evidence is saying, I’m able to revisit the argument stage in Week 2. A lot of interesting things came out of my data (hence the desire to turn it all into a book–it doesn’t fit in 1 or 2 journal articles), so I narrowed my focus down to a very specific claim about just one feature of the gun debate discourse: the phrase “thoughts and prayers”.
In the initial check of my 4,824 relevant tweets, the exact phrase “thoughts and prayers” appeared 85 times. 341 were coded as “thoughts and prayers” for their topic, so it was a common theme even without the exact wording. Members of Congress often avoided using the cliche phrase (this Slate article noted that several Republicans didn’t use it), instead saying they were “heartbroken” or calling it a “tragedy,” and often still saying that they were “praying for those affected” without using the now-maligned “thoughts and prayers.” Most of my 85 exact phrase matches were actually Democrats using it in a negative sense–“thoughts and prayers aren’t enough” or “we need more than thoughts and prayers, we need real action from Congress on gun violence,” etc. There was a clear partisan difference in the ways people used “thoughts and prayers”, and a clear backlash against the phrase–you could see it in memes, cartoons, in tweets from both Democrats and Republicans.
As it stands at the moment, my argument is that there was a backlash against T&P and a discursive turn towards calls to action from both parties (Republicans called for action in terms of increasing school security and arming teachers, Democrats called for gun control–but at the end of the day, they’re both “action” instead of just passive “T&P.”)
It definitely still needs some refining, and we’ll see how it develops as I use it to structure the paper! I loved Belcher’s discussion of argument-organized vs. evidence-organized writing, and I’m trying to bear that in mind as I deal with my evidence.