INDIANAPOLIS — If you voted in last week’s election, you were part of the 66.4% of Americans who turned out, the most since 1900. But with President-elect Joe Biden currently at a record 77.55 million votes and President Trump’s 72.34 million votes giving the former a 5.2 million lead at this writing (and 279 to 217 in the Electoral College), America remains a sharply divided nation.
Gov. Eric Holcomb and President Trump won landslide victories in Indiana. But Holcomb appears to have missed Gov. Evan Bayh’s 25.1% plurality record set back in 1992, winning 56.6%-32% over Democrat Woody Myers, with Libertarian Donald Rainwater picking up 11.4%. Holcomb’s 1,702,902 votes, with 99% of the vote reporting, did set a record while winning 89 of Indiana’s 92 counties.
President Trump defeated Joe Biden in Indiana, 57% to 40.9% in winning 88 counties, compared to his 56.5% to 37.5% win over Hillary Clinton in 2016 (Libertarian Gary Johnson picked up 4.9%). Trump’s 1.727 million votes eclipsed his 1.557 million votes four years ago, meaning that he was able to find more of his base.
If there were a silver lining for the moribund Indiana Democrats, it’s that Joe Biden carried Carmel (51%) and Fishers (48.9%), while Trump carried Hamilton County with 52.2%, compared to 56% in 2016. This continues a long trend of Hamilton County turning “purple” after Mitt Romney carried the county with 66.2% in 2012, John McCain won it with 60.6% in 2008 in a year when Barack Obama actively sought Indiana’s 11 Electoral College votes, and President George W. Bush won it in 2000 and 2004 with 74%.
Going into this election, Democrats were counting on the suburban female vote to turn the tide in the 5th Congressional District and a handful of Indiana House races. But in other suburban counties, Trump easily won with 57.9% in Boone County, 65.8% in Johnson, 67.6% in Hancock, 58% in Clark, 56% in Floyd, and 52% in Porter. His warnings of “socialism” and against “defunding the police” were persuasive.
Nationally, Trump confounded the purple suburban vote that had been expected to propel Democrat Christina Hale in the 5th CD and set up Democratic House gains nationally. Republicans actually picked up seats. Exit polling by Edison Research revealed that Trump lost women by 13% in 2016, and by 15% this year. Trump lost white, college-education women by 9% this year, compared to 7% in 2016. Trump actually lost more ground with college-educated men, winning that demographic by 3% this year, compared to his 14% edge in 2016.
COVID rises didn't sway
Trump was expected to be punished for his handling of the pandemic, but an Associated Press analysis revealed that in 376 counties with the highest number of new cases per capita, the overwhelming majority – 93% of those counties – went for Trump. Personal freedom trumped personal responsibility for the greater public good in many areas. In pandemic hard-hit Cass County, Trump polled 69.5%; he won Fountain County with 77.1%; Warren County with 76%; Elkhart with 63.3%; Noble with 73.9%; and Wayne County with 65.5%. All of these counties had seen a spike in COVID cases heading into the election.
While the pandemic didn’t hurt President Trump with his GOP base, it cost him the election with independents. According to Mehlman Castagnetti Group, exit polling showed 55% disapproved of President Trump’s handling of the pandemic (47% strongly) while 83% said the federal government’s response was an important factor, with 39% saying it was the single most important factor.
Trump and Biden were able to emphatically carry the bases of their parties. The difference came with independent voters, which Trump carried by 4% over Hillary Clinton in 2016, but lost by 13% to Biden. That 17% swing is why Biden is poised to be the 46th president.
In poll after poll throughout 2020, Americans trusted Trump over Biden in handling the economy. In September, a Gallup Poll found that despite the pandemic, shutdown and economic crisis, 56% of Americans said they were better off than they were four years ago, which has become the standard wallet axiom coined by Ronald Reagan in 1980.
But Trump made two costly mistakes. He consistently stepped on his own messaging on the economy while failing to control the pandemic by urging face masking; and he demonized absentee balloting during an unprecedented pandemic. U.S. Rep. Jim Banks told me, “His rhetoric about mail-in ballots was extremely damaging. Think about that. If he had encouraged his supporters to mail in their ballots, he would have won this race in a landslide.”
While the pandemic didn’t cost Trump support among his base, Gov. Holcomb was deprived of a record landslide (by plurality, not total vote) over conservative critics of his mask mandate.
In Fulton County, Holcomb defeated second-place finisher Rainwater 59.5%-22.9%; in Cass County he won with 58%, with Rainwater polling 19.4%; in Owen County, Holcomb defeated Rainwater 59.5% to 21.7%; Martin County, Holcomb 63.1% to 23% for Rainwater; Rush County, Holcomb 62.8% to 21.8% for Rainwater; Montgomery County, Holcomb 61.6% to 22.4% for Rainwater; Kosciusko County, Holcomb 64.9% to 19.2% for Rainwater; Fountain County, 65.3% for Holcomb and 20.3% for Rainwater.
The Holcomb campaign will argue that Rainwater’s support — including a dozen or so second-place finishes for the Libertarian — cut into Myers’ totals. But with Myers running the worst gubernatorial campaign in modern Hoosier history, without the pandemic and mask mandate, Holcomb would have easily broken Evan Bayh’s plurality record.
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