By Mark Buckley
Lenin repeatedly argued that elections were extremely important as they politically ‘took the temperature’ of the mass of the population. The results of the US Presidential election reveals a society divided along the lines of race and class.
The most striking features of the 2020 race are the depth of those divisions. Exit polls showed that in 2016 Clinton had an 8% lead among US households with an annual income of less than $50,000 (50%-42%). This further increased to a lead of 12% for Biden in 2020 (55%-43%).
In contrast, at the other end of the income spectrum, among households with an income of $100,000 to $199,000 Trump had a 15% lead. Taking the trends overall, Biden had a large lead among families with an income of less than $50,000 a year (55%-44%), and those with incomes of $50,000-$99,000 (57%-42%), while Trump had a massive lead among those with incomes of over $100,000 (54%-42%). Contrary to myth Trump does not represent ‘the left behind’ but their opposite.
Women also massively favoured Biden (57%-42%) versus strong support for Trump among men (53%-45%). Young people also overwhelmingly favoured Biden, winning 60% of 18-29 year olds versus Trump’s 36%. In contrast, 65-year olds and over voted for Trump (52%-47%).
In line with these overall trends on incomes, a large majority of white voters supported Trump (58%-41%). But they were outvoted by the massive majorities for Biden among African Americans (87%-12%) and among Hispanics (65%-32%). The numerically smaller Asian American also voted for Biden and against Trump by 61% to 34%. Biden owes his victory to an overlapping set of demographic groups, with the lower-paid at its core, along with women and young voters and above all non-white populations, led by Black people.
The Trump coalition
The Trump coalition should not be ignored. His popular vote is over 73 million, 5 million behind Biden but 10 million more than voted for him in 2016. His white supremacist and fascist supporters have already been on the streets causing violence, even if Trump’s supporters hugely exaggerated their numbers.
Trump’s coalition does not include solely these dangerously vicious racist elements. Even so, 30% of his voters said they believed racism was ‘one of many important problems or the most important issue’ at the election. Many were animated by their own well-being, and were willing to accept Trump’s promoting racism. Of the 35% of voters who put the economy first, 83% were Trump’s supporters. And among the 49% of voters who said the economy’s condition was good or excellent, the big majority were Trump voters (78%). Trump’s coalition is essentially white racists and those doing well even in the current crisis.
In fact, low unemployment and labour shortages before the pandemic pushed real earnings up for all those in full-time work. Real average weekly earnings rose by 13.6%. As more disadvantaged and oppressed groups were drawn into the labour market, their percentage increase in real weekly earnings was even larger, with women’s real pay rising just under 16%. Black women, who still have the lowest average pay of all at just under 70% of white men, saw their pay rise by almost the same percentage as women in total.
Yet these were the voters that ensured Trump was dumped. This confirms Lenin’s dictum that politics comes before economics. Despite sharply rising real pay for those in full-time work, Trump was still rejected. And the bulwark of his opposition were those who had seen the sharpest percentage increases in their pay.
But this holds an important lesson for Biden. To keep his own coalition together he has to deliver on both tackling the severe racism and other inequalities that are perpetuated in the US. In addition, he has to deliver rising living standards for the bulk of the population. Yet there is nothing in Biden’s previous history that suggests he is ready or willing to address these tasks.