Analysis: Where Was the Biden Wave?

As results run close across Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, how open was Biden’s party to wavering Trump supporters, really?

Former Vice President of the United States Joe Biden speaking with attendees at the 2019 Iowa Democratic Wing Ding at Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa
Former Vice President of the United States Joe Biden speaking with attendees at the 2019 Iowa Democratic Wing Ding at Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa (photo: Pix_Arena / Shutterstock)

WASHINGTON — The Tuesday night election result, or lack thereof, confounded the many confident predictions of a “Blue Wave” that was expected to sweep Joe Biden into the White House. It also suggests his pitch to Catholics and other conservative values voters failed to convince. 

While either side will take a win in any form, the end result of this race will not resemble predictions that put Joe Biden on course to win comfortably more than 300 electoral college seats.

So, what happened?

Many have noted Trump’s focus on repeating a narrow win in the Electoral College, and making little if any attempt to secure a popular mandate. Analysts said that Trump focused on base turnout and spoke to “his” side of the country exclusively. They contrasted that approach with Biden’s strategy, which framed itself as an ecumenical bid for votes, aimed at capturing much of the working class, Midwestern, and religious vote that delivered for Trump four years ago.

But as results run close across Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, how open was Biden’s party to wavering Trump supporters, really?

During the Democratic primary race, the former vice president tried to pitch himself as a moderate candidate, a moderating voice in a party associated with ever-more stridently progressive positions, especially on abortion and religious freedom.

But despite campaign efforts to portray Biden as an anchor of centrism for the Democrats, it seems many voters in key states saw him as more captive than captain of his party’s agenda — an agenda for which far fewer voters than expected agreed to come aboard, especially in key states.

The last four years have seen the Democratic Party move to an extreme edge of pro-abortion politics, adopting radical laws in New York which – though celebrated by party leaders – were well outside the spectrum of public opinion, even among self-described pro-choice Democrats.

After Virginia governor Ralph Northam suggested that he favored laws permitting abortion even until labor, and even extending to neonatal infanticide, several states passed fetal heartbeat laws that set an early limit on when abortions could take place. 

Meanwhile, House Democrats moved repeatedly to block passage of the Born Alive Abortion Survivor Protection bill, and primary candidates insisted that support for abortion is a non-negotiable condition for leading the Democratic Party.

Rather than drag his party closer to where most voters actually are on abortion, Biden moved to the left during the Democratic primary and stayed there, embracing calls to repeal the Hyde amendment and to carve the full extent of Roe v. Wade into federal law.

While many Democrats, including some Catholics like Biden, urged pro-life voters to look beyond abortion as a single issue, the message seemed to be that fundamental concerns about life and the rights of the unborn were not up for discussion at all. Pro-life Democrats were told, more than once this election cycle, there was no room for them at the table. 

Similarly, while a majority of Americans, even American Catholics, indicate their acceptance of same-sex unions in civil law, Biden embraced the far more radical — and far less popular — agenda of the Equality Act, which would place so-called gender identity in the same protected class as race and sex and above established religious freedom protections.

Moderate voters looking for a party offering a live-and-let-live cultural agenda seem to have found little enthusiasm for Biden’s promise to support a law which would force Catholic schools to allow male students into female bathrooms and sports teams.

Biden often traded on his Catholicism during the election campaign, citing the “inspiration” of nuns on his idea of public service, and selectively quoting Pope Francis when the opportunity presented itself. Yet he would not, or could not, risk appearing to his own party to be soft on nuns when it counted. He vowed to reverse religious freedom protections for the Little Sisters of the poor against the HHS contraceptive mandate, which would force them to provide abortifacient drugs and sterilizations through their healthcare coverage.

As he tried to woo Trump’s reluctant religious supporters, the disconnect between Biden’s soft music and harsh lyrics seems likely to have cost him more than many expected.

Much has been made of the “shy Republican” phenomenon, in which polls seem unable to divine the true intentions of voters willing to turn out for Trump. Whatever the eventual electoral college result, it now seems unlikely Biden captured many more of these voters than did Hilary Clinton four years ago, despite widespread predictions to the contrary.

Among Catholics, too, voters seem to have upended pollsters’ expectations. Several polls leading up to the election said that Catholics favored Biden by more than 10 points and that even weekly Massgoers preferred him. But early NBC exit polls show Catholic 2020 voters split nearly evenly on Trump and Biden. 

Professional pollsters will, no doubt, discuss the disparity between forecast and reality in technical terms: pointing to the limits of sampling models and hinting darkly at the mendacity of respondents. 

But in an age when the doxing and targeting of ordinary people who do not support the progressive agenda is increasingly commonplace, social conditions appear geared towards the creation of a “silent plurality,” neither willing to vote to accept, for example, that men can get pregnant, nor so free with their politics as to risk offering that view out loud.

While there may be a true landslide-scale majority who would prefer someone “like” Joe Biden (affable, friendly, relatable) to someone “like” Donald Trump (aggressive, divisive, alienating), the real lesson of the 2020 election may yet prove to be that personality does not trump policy, at least for a great many voters.

This story was updated regarding the NBC exit polls on Nov. 5.

His Eminence Giovanni Angelo Becciu, Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, June 27, 2019.

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