Amy Walter: It's politics with Amy Walter on The Takeaway, good to have you with us. What can only be described as very on-brand for the year 2020, we are producing a post-election show with an official winner of the presidential election. What we do know, however, is that the President, as he's done throughout the fall, is falsely attacking the results claiming with no evidence that there has been widespread fraud. Many of his supporters are protesting outside of state election offices echoing these false claims.
What we also know is that of the states that have been called by the AP, Biden currently leads the electoral college 264 to 214. Biden is also leading the popular vote by almost four million votes. It's also looking likely that control of the Senate will come down to Georgia, where two Senate races are headed to January 5th runoffs, and in the house, a predicted blue wave failed to materialize, leaving Democrats with a very narrow majority.
Joining me to discuss all of this and more Tim Alberta, Chief political correspondent at Politico Sahil Kapoor, national political reporter for NBC News and Clare Malone, senior politics writer at FiveThirtyEight. Hello, everyone. Thanks for joining me,
Tim Alberta: Hey, Amy,
Clare Malone: Great to be here.
Sahil Kapoor: Hi.
Amy: Hey, Tim. I'm going to start with you, and I want you to reply to this tweet that you put out. This is what you said soon after the president left the briefing room Thursday night where he made multiple false claims about the election process, you said, "Not sure how anyone can crack jokes right now. We cannot begin to fathom how much damage that speech will do to the long term health and stability of our country. I mean, if you spend all your time around people who won't believe a word of what Trump just said, good for you, but that's not the real world. 70 million people just voted for a man who insists that our elections are rigged. Many of those people believe him. It's harrowing."
Tim: Yes, it is harrowing, Amy. I don't want to be melodramatic or hysterical about any of this, but I know a lot of people who believe this. I have friends and family members who believe this. Who last night and today are texting me and writing on their Facebook walls and insisting that this election has been stolen and that their votes have been cheated, and that this whole system is rigged.
Listen, I wrote a magazine piece about this last week for Politico summarizing 12-months of talking with voters about their concerns with the electoral process. I've been really astounded to realize just how much distrust and lack of confidence there really is in the system, and how many people were already looking for a reason to believe that the ballot box is illegitimate. Trump has now used the credibility of the presidency to tell those people that they're right and to convince others that they should follow in line and that they should wake up and realize that this country they're living in is just a little more than a banana republic.
At the end of the day, we talk so much about institutional decline in this country, whether it's organized religion, or public education, or major league baseball, you name it. We've seen polling over 40 years to show that confidence in these institutions, the media, government, all of it that it's just fallen across the board. There's one institution that really matters at the end of the day in this country, and it's the ballot box. It's the one institution that separates order from chaos, and it is just under a frontal assault right now from the president.
Amy: Sahil, I want you to weigh in on this too because you spent a lot of time on Capitol Hill. Theoretically, again, talk about another institution that could stand up and protect the integrity of this process would be those elected leaders who can say, "You know what, Mr. President, this has to stop," and yet, I saw many of them. Many republicans go on Fox News the other night, continuing to echo some of these statements the President's making, what's going to happen do you think?
Sahil: It's a range of reaction, Amy from Congressional Republicans last night on Fox, you had Senator Ted Cruz and Senator Lindsey Graham, both staunch allies of the President, echo his plans as you pointed out about shadiness or illegitimacy or questions they have about the validity of what's going on. It's extremely unusual. I don't think any of us have seen this, in any of our lifetimes, the President or a presidential candidate mount this forceful attack on the validity of an election.
Even, people like Al Gore and Hillary Clinton who won the popular vote lost the electoral vote, they conceded. They conceded, they backed off and said, "This is our president, now we have to give that person a chance. The reason this resonates is that President Trump has cultivated a very loyal base of supporters who believe his team over anyone else.
I was at one of his rallies in Arizona, tight state last week in the Phoenix area. I spoke to dozens of his supporters and asked him about his claims about illegitimacy in the election to a person they all believed him that if he loses, there would be some foul play at work. This has really struck a chord and illustrates the extent to which Joe Biden, if he does become president-elect, is still going to be governing, in some ways Trump's America. Going to be governing a country where a lot of people don't accept the legitimacy of his potential election, and those are unchartered waters. We've never seen anything like that before.
Amy: Right, even after 2000, when there were a lot of Democrats who believed that the Supreme Court stole the election from Al Gore, they didn't like the fact that George Bush was in the office, but they didn't believe that the process of voting in and of itself was illegitimate. That's where it seems like we're heading into dangerous waters. Clare, speaking of legitimacy and undermining, et cetera.
The other thing that's coming under attack, of course, is the polling and the prediction business that all of the data showed us that this wasn't going to be a close race, that Democrats were going to build on their lead in the house. There was this blue wave that was going to repudiate the president and his first term that didn't come to pass. What do you think happened ultimately with the polling, and is the polling industry now, as many have been doing for a while now writing their obituaries is it premature?
Clare: I think it's still a little premature, but certainly there are states like Florida that were surprised to a lot of people and that the President's support among Hispanic voters. Yes, Cubans in Florida are more conservative, but Hispanic voters all over seem to have potentially, according to early data, maybe liked him more than polls had thought. I will say the exit polls were not really touching this year because of complications from the pandemic, so we have to wait for the data. We're in a bit of a polling holding pattern. Certainly, I mean if you look at-- The President could still lose by quite a bit.
I think that the popular vote, he could potentially lose by maybe seven million, which is quite stunning. Obviously, the Republicans did much better in holding, let's say, house seats than I think a lot of people thought. I think that brings up a larger question of is America more liberal or conservative than we thought. That's the big existential question people are going to be asking, and do people actually like Trumpism, maybe without Trump attack attached to it?
Did Trump go too far with his COVID response? But people actually like the message that they're getting from down-ballot GOP candidates to go to some of that institutional distrust that Tim was talking about. The idea that people like politicians who are telling it like it is not being politically correct, whatever it is. I think there's a lot to unpack in this election and we are just starting to see results.
Amy: Yes. It seems like that's also what happens when you get a record number of people voting. I mean, we're hitting a 100 year high in terms of turnout. What's interesting to me is, theoretically, the polls could have been more predictive. The more people you have voting, the less important it is to have likely voter screens, all those things that try to get at who's not voting. It seems like we're still going to have this debate, Claire, for a while about the people, whether we want to call them "Shy Trump voters" or just the people who seem to be getting missed in the way we poll.
Clare: Yes, we talked a lot about in 2016, how his rallies were on TV, and he really turned people out. I think, in some ways, what you saw in 2020, is just a deepening of President Trump's support. I keep on going back to Lorain County in Northeast Ohio, which Hillary Clinton won in 2016, but which Donald Trump won in 2020 and everyone was talking the big game of Joe Biden is going to win back these disaffected Trump voters.
Well, in some instances, Trump only deepened his support in Trump country, that people were jazzed and excited, and maybe those people had fallen outside of what pollsters call the universe of likely voters. Maybe they didn't vote in the midterms, but they felt compelled in 2020 to turn out and vote for the president because partisanship has touched everything in American life. From mask-wearing to name a thing and it's probably partisan, maybe Dolly Parton and hating the airlines aren't partisan, but that's about it.
I think that is a huge thing to think about as we unpack this in the past couple of weeks, but yes, Ann Selzer who's an Iowa pollster got a lot of flack in the days before the election for putting out a poll that seemed to everyone to be super-duper off and it was not. Yes, the polling industry certainly has a lot of soul searching. A lot of it is just with the changing undulations of modern life. You probably don't pick up your cell phone if you don't see the number you know.
Amy: Sahil, I want to get you to quickly weigh in on this before you have to take a quick break and we can expand on it later, but I want to go again to Capitol Hill and speaking of the reckoning ahead of us after this election, that in the house, especially, there's been a lot of finger-pointing about what went wrong that Democrats were going to expand their majority. At least, the polls suggested that by a significant number now, they're barely hanging on and this week there was a very contentious call among members of the Democratic Caucus with leadership, with moderates, accusing the party of moving too far to the left and imperiling them, where do Democrats in the house go from here?
Sahil: I expect Amy, you will see a vigorous debate between those centrists who argue that Democrats on the left erred by raising issues like single-payer health care or embracing in some cases, the defund the police calls, some demographic numbers blame them for the reason that Democrats lost and you're going to see Progressive's also make the case that Democrats need to have a sharper populous message, more pocketbook message. That's the reason they lose that they don't really give people a reason to vote for them that the Republican like. I suspect there's going to be a lot of that going on in the democratic party because they did vastly under perfom expectations.
Amy: Sahil, speaking of unfinished business, the Senate control it looks like it may end up coming down to runoff elections in Georgia that they have a unique situation where there are actually two Senate races in that state this year. One to fill the seat of a member who resigned early and the other is a regular election, can you talk about what the expectations are for Georgia going forward? We know at this moment, we're speaking, Joe Biden is leading in the state by a very narrow margin. It's pretty clear that the state is incredibly close, evenly divided and what do you think this tells us if anything, about what a runoff could look like?
Sahil: Well, it tells us that Georgia is about to become the center of the political universe of some sort. The fact that two seats are going to be decided, the fact that those seats are going to determine which party controls the majority in the Senate is of absolutely enormous significance and consequence. You have the political fact that Georgia and the Atlanta Metro area is ground zero for the suburban shifts that have realigned the map in some ways.
It's unclear if that'll continue after post-Trump, if he is in fact defeated, or if there'll be some snap back to Republicans, I think it really depends on which direction the party goes. It moves in a Trump year direction, which I suspect is more likely than not than the trends will continue, if it pulls back from that then we'll see the opposite.
As far as the Senate goes, it's hard to overstate how big a difference it will be between a Senate led by Mitch McConnell and the Senate led by Chuck Schumer for a potential president Joe Biden's agenda, everything he has talked about in terms of legislation, the big plans he has from healthcare to immigration, to climate change, the infrastructure, all of those are dead on arrival in a Senate led by Mitch McConnell and the idea that some Democrats have that they might be able to pressure him and move him to put things on the floor that progressive's want to do, I just don't think they understand how he works.
That he is utterly immune to pressure or progressives and from Democrats. Between that, and there's also the fact that Joe Biden would have to think twice about everyone he tries to appoint to a cabinet position, knowing that McConnell will have a pocket veto on that. What does McConnell going to do about potential President Biden's judicial appointments? He's [unintelligible 00:15:09] very comfortable grinding the last democratic president's judicial appointments to a halt including one to the Supreme court.
Does he allow Joe Biden to appoint much of any judges? Does he demand that they be of a certain type? Whereas on the other hand, if you have Chuck Schumer, that is a Biden ally. He will likely support Biden's agenda on all of these fronts. Georgia voters are going to decide whether they want McConnell or whether they want Schumer from the Senate.
Amy: Oh, boy. Yes. That is the center of the political universe. Everybody I'm sure, already camping out there, not a bad place to have to spend November and December though. It's a nice place.
Sahil: If we all rent a house in Savannah.
Amy: Yes, I wouldn't mind being there. Tim, let's go to the map in general, and you are in Michigan, live in Michigan, you've been spending a lot of time through the so-called Blue Wall States, the ones that flipped from the Democrats in 2016 to Trump and now it looks as if Biden is going to win all three of those States, though, by a very narrow margin. What changed between 2016 and 2020?
Tim: Well, at the risk of being reductive, Amy, I would probably just identify three major things. I think first you have to look at the president's bleeding of suburban white support, particularly in your traditional, wealthy white conservative suburbs. Not some of the more diverse suburbs in Bucks and Montgomery or even in Oakland County necessarily. I'll give you an example in Livingston County, Michigan, which is the excerpts of Detroit bedroom communities of Ann Arbor.
This is a staunchly conservative area. President Trump won it by 30 points in 2016 and the expectation was that even while he was going to withstand some suburban losses in Oakland County, which is a different animal politically, that he would need to solidify that margin or stick pretty close to that 30 point margin in Livingston County, but he didn't. President Trump carried Livingston County by 22.5 points.
Now, losing seven and a half points in one County might not seem like the end of the world, but obviously, this is a game of margins and those margins add up and what you saw in the wild counties around Milwaukee was a similar story. The president performed so well in Walkinshaw in Washington and Ozaukee counties in 2016, but there was also a real reason to believe that he might be able to do a little bit better because the third party vote share for Gary Johnson was really high in those counties and the president for all the talk of him of his suburban support slipping, I know that his team was really focused on those three counties.
In all three of those counties, his vote share slipped and in fact, in Walkinshaw and Ozaukee specifically, it slipped by quite a bit, I think it slipped by seven or eight points in both of those counties. Again, these things add up. The president losing support in those wealthy white suburbs in the Midwest was crucially important. I think the second thing was Biden ate into Trump's margins among the white working class in certain key areas. You look at Macomb County, the home of the fabled Reagan Democrats of the '80s, Donald Trump won Macomb County by 12 points in 2016 and there was every expectation from his team on the ground here.
I've spent a lot of time in Macomb this year, every expectation that they would be able to reduce that margin by four or five points, what happened? It went the opposite way. They lost four points. Trump only won Macomb County by eight this time around now. That might seem significant in the historical sweep of Macomb County elections, but again, it's at the margins. Trump was not able to grow his numbers in these areas where he thought he'd be able to grow them. Then lastly, quickly, I would just say the African-American vote that you saw in Milwaukee, in Philadelphia, in Detroit, it far outpaced what Hillary Clinton was able to get four years ago and that was another enormous factor.
Amy: Tim Alberta from Politico, Claire Malone from 538, Sahil Kapoor from NBC. Really appreciate your insights. It's politics with Amy Walter on The Takeaway. We'll be right back.
Welcome back to politics with Amy Walter, from The Takeaway, as we've been hearing President Trump is attempting to undermine the legitimacy of the election, spreading falsehoods and filing lawsuits. For more on this and what the President's endgame is, I spoke with Toluse Olorunnipa, White House reporter for The Washington Post.
Toluse Olorunnipa: The past few months have been classic Donald Trump the same personality that he had as a businessman, which is sort of, "Heads I win, tails you lose. If I win the election, it was all free and fair. If I lose, let's sow doubt in it beforehand, so that we can say it was rigged." He even said, the only way we lose this election is if it's rigged, and this was weeks before Election Day.
The end game, to the extent that there is one, is to sow doubt in the election, that he does not want to go down in history as a loser. It's not a long thought out strategy of how to actually change votes or change the trajectory. It's really about changing the narrative and having his supporters believe that he is the winner, that he ultimately was a victim of voter fraud or having the election stolen from him. He's been laying the groundwork for this for a matter of months. There's not really a broader electoral end game here that we can see that's actually effective in terms of making him have a higher likelihood of having a second term.
It's really about kind of win the day, win the media narrative, and win the narrative in the minds of his supporters through history so that they don't see him as a loser, as a one-term president who was not able to get re-elected. Instead, he wants to go down in the minds of his supporters as someone who fought the system and ultimately was a martyr to the system of corruption and election fraud, even though there's no evidence to support any of that.
Amy: Talk to me about this, too. I keep reading reports and hearing reports that within the White House, there are people telling the President basically that it's over, that it's not likely to be turned around, or at least maybe they know this and are talking about this privately, but that the President seems unable to comprehend that. I'm wondering how much of this is really about the president, not "understanding" how voting works, and how much of it is, as you pointed out, just simply putting this narrative out there to save his own reputation. He knows exactly what's going on. He knows exactly how this is going to end up, but he doesn't care.
Toluse: I think it's a little bit of both, to be honest, I think the President has surrounded himself in an atmosphere where he only gets information that backs up his preconceived notions. The people around him, his aides present him with highly skewed data and graphs to back up his preconceived notions on things like the Coronavirus crisis. He's increasingly welcomed conspiracy theories throughout the course of his administration, sometimes for political convenience, but sometimes because he actually believes them, or he believes that they are credible, no matter how outlandish they might be.
Part of it is the President has surrounded himself with people who do not provide a check on him, but it's that try to feed his ego and try to give him information to back up what he already believes. That's part of the equation here why he believes that he could have never lost a fair election, even though polls indicated that he was likely to lose the election. Then part of it is the fact that he uses some of these things, some of these conspiracy theories for political end to try to reach a goal of convincing his supporters to believe in an alternative reality. He uses that with great effect, and in many cases, by trafficking in conspiracies on a number of different issues.
As you said, it's not surprising. It should be shocking, the President would take that level of conspiracy theorizing, and use it and target it and weaponize it against our very institution of the voting process. This is something that he is willing to do when it comes to whether or not he wants to go down in history as the legitimate loser, or whether or not he wants to have many of the people in the country feel that he was a victim or someone who had the election stolen from him.
Amy: We also know that the President in his previous career, he did love litigation and suing folks or threatening to sue folks. There are a lot of legal challenges out there right now by the President's team and Republican officials. How long do you think this goes on? Is that part of the endgame as well that to try to keep things in the courts, even if they get thrown out, and even if it doesn't go their way, it drags this process out, and again, questions the integrity of all of it?
Toluse: Yes, this is really uncharted territory. We have had an election that has gone to the courts that the court ultimately decided 20 years ago with the Bush v. Gore race. Now the President and his team are trying to contest the election in multiple states and states that are much further apart than the 537 votes that separated Florida. It really would require a massive legal victory on a broad scale for the President to flip the results of an election in multiple states. The President is on track to lose the electoral college and potentially by a relatively significant margin, even as he is also behind in the popular vote.
The idea that this is a disputed election or the idea that voter fraud could have changed the outcome is a really tall task for the President's legal team to try to convince judges about. It's really not clear that they have a pathway to do that, even if there is limited voter fraud in some cases, which they have not provided any evidence of that that that exists. There's no sense that there would be a massive conspiratorial voter fraud scheme, that would have flipped multiple states that President Trump lost. It's really difficult to see where they see this going.
We have heard from some allies of the president float this very dangerous idea of having state legislatures intervene and override the will of the people because this idea that this election is too fraudulent. We can't trust the process. We can't allow the people's vote to carry the day. Instead, Republican-led legislators would overtake the responsibility of assigning electors and maybe give the electoral votes to President Trump, even if the people voted a different way.
It's a fringe idea, but it has gained some steam among some of the President's supporters, and that maybe the President's end game, but that is so far out, and so fringethat it would really be constitutional crisis, and it would be very dangerous for our country. Then you may see some of the President's Republican allies actually speak out against it. That may be a bridge too far for it for a few of them.
Amy: Tolu, thank you again for all you do and for joining us and helping us to understand where we are at this point. Really appreciate it.
Toluse: Thank you.
Amy: On Thursday night, President Donald Trump took to the podium in the White House briefing room to do what he's been doing for months, attacking the legal process of voting and attempt to lay claim to a false victory.
President Donald Trump: If you count the legal votes, I easily win. If you count the illegal votes, they can try to steal the election from us.
Amy: This is not true. The votes being counted right now are legal. There's been no evidence of votes cast illegally. Period, end of story. Now, back in March, when it became clear that the pandemic was going to drastically alter the voting process in the United States, we set out to talk to as many election officials as we could. We wanted to understand what voting in this election would look like and perhaps more important how changes in the process might affect the time it would take for votes to be counted.
We also knew that the President's continued attacks on the integrity of the election process made it more important than ever, for us to report on the facts about how this works. This week, we reach back out to those officials to hear how they think it all went, and what still needs to happen before results in their states are certified.
Katie Hobbs: Katie Hobbs, Arizona Secretary of State, we were here very early in the office on election day, just prepared to respond to incidents. Obviously, there's a spotlight in Arizona. We were talking to the media. Really throughout the day, we had minor reports, we were able to respond and address things and nothing major and absolutely nothing that interfered with people's ability to cast their ballot. The counties continue to finalize all the numbers and get things in order so that they can complete their official canvases 20 days after the election and get them to our office, and then we will certify those results November 30.
Alex Padilla: This is Alex Padilla, Secretary of State for the most diverse state in the nation. In California elections, officials have 30 days following the election to complete their vote count and post-election audits. The Secretary of State's office gets one more week to aggregate and certify all results statewide. This election was overall very smooth across the state of California. We urge voters to vote early in order to prevent long lines on Election Day. By the morning of the election, more than 12 million ballots have already been returned, the vast majority by mail.
Ken Lawrence: My name is Ken Lawrence. I'm a county commissioner in Montgomery County, and I'm chairman of the Montgomery County Board of Elections.
Amy: Montgomery County is a suburb of Philadelphia.
Ken: We had a very good Election Day in Montgomery County, we had 298 polling locations. We had no issues. There were lines at some of the polling locations but people were very pleased with that. We are done counting all of our mail-in ballots that were received by 8:00 PM. On election day, it took us 41 hours to do that. We are very pleased that we were able to get that done. We counted around the clock 24/7 to make sure that we had those ballots counted as quickly and as accurately as possible. There were watchers the whole time. We had no accusations of impropriety or anything there at all.
Damon Circosta: My name is Damon Circosta. I am Chair of the North Carolina State Board of Elections. Election Day in North Carolina went extremely well. We had record-breaking turnout. Over 75% of registered voters participated in this election. Roughly 5.5 million North Carolinians showed up to make sure that their voice was heard. Everything went smoothly. Our 2,661 precincts operated with very few challenges or interruptions and windows interruptions or challenges came up. Our professional staff dealt with it very well.
Robb Pitts: Robb Pitts, Chairman, Fulton County Board of Commissioners, Fulton County, Georgia. On November 3rd, Election Day, I refer to November 3rd as the big dance. We had 255 polling locations. That was an increase of 91 from June. I visited on Election Day 30 of those 255. I can record that there were no lines whatsoever. Waiting time was from probably three minutes to 10 minutes max. I never saw a line.
Frank LaRose: My name is Frank LaRose. I serve as the Ohio Secretary of State. In Ohio, Election Day on November 3rd went quite smoothly. Of course, for us, we here at Secretary of State's office, we're working with each of our county boards of elections to identify and deal with problems as they came up. Close to 4,000 polling locations were open at 6:30 AM. In Ohio, those 4,000 polling locations are staffed by close to actually just over 56,000 Election Day poll workers that are effectively one day volunteers. In that environment, there are always going to be things that go wrong. There were some fun anecdotes and there were some serious things that popped up, but there was nothing systemic.
Amy: On Election Day, officials were still confronted with misinformation. Several states reported nefarious robocalls warning people about long lines at the polls and urging them to vote on Wednesday. Of course, that's the date after the election. In Arizona, a conspiracy theory dubbed SharpieGate took shape. Here's Secretary of State, Hobbs, again.
Katie: There's really no merit to this conspiracy. Every single ballot that was validly cast is going to be counted and poll workers did not give voters pens that would intentionally invalidate their ballots. Even if the tabulator isn't able to read ballots filled out with certain pens. We have a process for counting those ballots and they will be counted. I've actually spent more time the last couple of days talking about markers than I ever hope to again, but there's really no merit to this issue at all.
Amy: In Georgia, Chairman Robb Pitts was reminded that things outside of the actual administration of the election can go wrong. Like a burst water pipe?
Robb: There's been a lot of talk about the pipe, with respect to State Farm Arena and the impact that it had or could have had on voting here in Fulton County. Well, here are the facts. There was a pipe burst at 6:07 AM on the floor above where we are scanning absentee ballots. By 8:07, the pipe had been repaired. The good news is there was no damage to any absentee ballots and no damage to any equipment. Those are the facts. Now, what happened was because it took some two hours to repair the leak, there was obviously a delay in the scanning process of the absentee ballot. We had to take time to get back on schedule and we did.
Amy: There is always room for improvement.
Damon: Of course, we always want to improve upon our process. We will go back and do a continuous improvement review for absentee ballots in-person voting in the whole election in general.
Katie: We learned a lot of lessons in terms of working this election through a pandemic. A lot of it really emphasized the work that we still have to do in terms of enfranchising disenfranchised communities. It's been a priority for my administration. A lot of those inequities were highlighted with the pandemic and continue to be in. We'll continue to focus on those issues.
Ken: We invested $1.7 million in counting equipment after the primary to make sure that we could count our mail-in ballots as quickly as possible. We tripled the size of our Voter Services Office. We're going to let people rest now, but then they can look in and we'll see what we can do better for the next election.
Amy: A special thank you to all the election officials and volunteers who are working around the clock to make sure every vote is counted. In the Trump era, political polarization has reached a level not seen since the Civil War. This hyper-partisanship didn't start with President Trump. Decades before he entered politics it had already been bubbling below the surface.
Trump's 2016 candidacy and subsequent presidential administration just revealed what some in America already knew about our deepening divide. No matter the results of the election, nobody seems likely to bridge the chasm between red and blue, at least in the short term. The 2020 election itself may not have caused the polarization we're seeing, but it has become a consequence of it.
Liliana Mason: Most Americans actually have relatively overlapping policy preferences. There's plenty of room for compromise if it were just about policy. Most partisans also really hate the other side. That's really being driven by this increasingly social type of association with the parties and this new overlapping set of social identities that are connected to the parties in a new way.
Amy: Well, when we talk about this idea of identity and how much more polarized we are today, there are some though, who would argue that it's kind of a good thing because the era where we think of as in the good old days, post World War II when everybody got along and we had consensus. A lot of that was driven by the fact that it was both Democrats and Republicans ignoring race or at best or at worst, continuing to propagate systemic racism. Can you talk through that a little bit?
Liliana: Yes, that's a really good point. One of the aspects of the current polarization is that increasingly, the Democrats and Republicans are divided around the issue of whether systemic racism and sexism exists. Ultimately, by having one entire political party that's arguing that systemic racism exists and it's a bad thing and it needs to be addressed, that actually gives more power to any movement to create more equality in the US and make it a more representative democracy. At the same time, there's no way that America is going to go through this process without a massive backlash.
I think that's part of what we're seeing between the parties is this push and pull between, are we going to keep our traditional social hierarchy that we've had forever or are we going to make ourselves a more egalitarian society? I think there really is no way to get through that kind of calmly and rationally. There's going to be this type of chaos.
Amy: I think that's exactly right. I also want to go to this question too about how we "fix this polarization" I know a lot of folks point to politics in particular and say, we need to get rid of gerrymandering, we need to fix the campaign finance system, and we need to have easier access to voting and things like that. At its core, just to me I keep coming back to the fact that we live in a world right now with this fractured media environment with social media. That if we don't get a hold of that, none of the changes we make to our political system are going to matter?
Liliana: Right. I think some of the results we're seeing even just coming out of this election, demonstrate that Trump had a very, very active and enthusiastic group of voters. It's not that increasing turnout for everybody increased just progressive voters. We do have a system that's obviously tilted in the direction of giving power to people who live in rural areas, for instance. At the same time, yes, ultimately, there's no way for us to address this type of polarization without actually saying, "Americans need to start talking to each other about the legacy of racial oppression and violence and understanding that as a central argument in question."
Amy: When we talk about bridging this divide though, it seems like there has to be an incentive where's the incentive for political leaders to bridge it when ultimately, they aren't rewarded for that? They don't get reelected. They're not raising tons of money off of online, donors. They get kind of lost.
Lilliana: Well, that's the main conundrum for the Republican Party right now is that their policies actually aren't on average very popular in the electorate. They're forced into this white identity-based politics. That is something that they're going to have to deal with going forward if we're ever to have more peaceful discourse.
Amy: Lilian, do you have any hopes that a new divided Washington might produce something more of a bridge that because you have potentially a Democratic White House, Republican Senate, Democratic House, that could be the formula where things get fixed as probably one party in control?
Liliana: On my most optimistic day? Okay, yes. I think [crosstalk]
Liliana: From what we've seen in the past, I think a divided government right now is it's probably going to impede a lot of this progress. It would be great to be surprised otherwise.
Amy: What I hear over and over again from people is, "Well, I watch all kinds of television shows. I flip back and forth between the different cable channels." Or "I have all kinds of people in my life. They have all kinds of political views." That doesn't seem to be doing anything to help. Can we dig into what this is really about? How it is possible that so many people say that they think that someone who identifies as a Republican or a Democrat, someone who is different from them in their party identification is dangerous? Is not interested in protecting America or our democracy or that they are morally corrupt? How does that happen?
Liliana: For people who are strongly identified with their party, reading media from the other side actually polarizes them more. Because they argue against it in their head. What we found is that people who have a lot of political information and pay a lot of attention to politics, when they're exposed to messages that benefit the other side or that harm their side, they have so much information already stored in their memory to counter-argue against those messages. They can actually create their own counter-narrative, which answers the question in a way that makes the other side look even worse.
Amy: I want to go dig into this question about the ways in which we have been able to not see the other people who have different opinions than we do and the ways in which our polarization in some ways is driven by the fact that we are not interacting with people who have different social or political identities than we do. What I hear over and over again from people is, "Well, I watch all kinds of television shows. I flip back and forth between the different cable channels." Or "I have all kinds of people in my life. They have all kinds of political views," and yet that doesn't seem to be doing anything to help.
Can we dig into what this is really about? How it is possible that so many people say that they think that someone who identifies as a Republican or Democrat, someone who is different from them and their party identification is dangerous? Is not interested in protecting America or our democracy or that they are morally corrupt? How does that happen?
Liliana: What social media did to some extent is allow people to curate their own sources of information. Also, to be exposed to a lot more misinformation. That's an issue that social media companies are trying to deal with to differing degrees. When you can allow yourself to be exposed to false information, that satisfies your need for your party to be the best, then that kind of information is something you might seek out because it feels really good to hear good things about your party and to hear bad things about the other party.
Amy: Liliana, how much of that is people doing that consciously, curating consciously? What you do when you friend someone or unfriend someone, say on Facebook? How much of it is the actual business of these platforms, the algorithms, et cetera, which keep people in this permanent bubble? You click on these certain kinds of stories, you're going to get fed those stories. You're going to get fed those videos and it just keeps going?
Liliana: Exactly. I don't think that people do this intentionally and you're right. The way the algorithm works is that if you really like a story that says your party's great and the other party's awful, you're probably going to get another story that says that. It's this sort of self-reinforcing cycle. The algorithms are relying on human nature. They know. The people who program these algorithms know what a person is hungry for after they consume one thing. They better understand what they're hungry for next time, and they give it to them.
For some platforms like YouTube, we've seen that it's that every next thing they give them is slightly more extreme. You can go from watching a video about a recipe to watching a white supremacist video in not very many links. Just because the algorithm is pushing you to more and more extreme types of content.
Amy: I want to get to this idea that you hear all the time, both sides are doing it, if both sides agreed to stop doing all these things that we don't like, we're all going to come together to find solution to the problem. What are people really saying there when they're talking about that? What evidence is there that there is this both sides doing this terrible stuff, so if they both agree to disarm, we can bridge this divide?
Liliana: Well, one thing I can tell you that both sides are doing to an equal extent, is believing that the other side is evil and believing that the other side is a threat to the United States. Those both parties believe that to the same extent. Both parties doing misinformation and identity threat-based messaging, that's not exactly both sides. We have this norm of bipartisanship in academia, in journalism across the way that we are supposed to be talking about politics, that really encourages us to give a lot of credit to both sides for trying their best to be pro-democracy and engage in responsible governing and compromise.
That's not what we've seen from the Republican party at all. Certainly, during the Obama administration. Certainly, during the Trump administration. The idea that both parties are equally committed to democracy, I think that's the major issue. Both parties are not equally committed to democracy.
Amy: Can we go back and look at this historically because as you said, there's this sort of romanticization of the good old days and the post World War II era, where everybody got along. That's what politics is supposed to look like and that's how Washington is supposed to work. It seems like that was more of an aberration in our history than something that is "normal."
Liliana: Most of our theories are actually created out of this really peaceful time in terms of American partisanship. One of the issues that-- And we talked about this a little bit earlier. One of the issues that is really crucial in understanding the way the parties have interacted across American history is really the issue of race. I don't think that it can be overstated. The last time the parties were really truly divided along the lines of racial policy, if you can call slavery racial policy was before the Civil War. That's a rift that could not be covered up. In fact, it was a contested election that was the beginning of the Civil War.
Then in the 1960s, we also had a lot of social unrest. We had a big push for civil rights. At that time, the civil rights legislation wasn't entirely partisan. There were Republicans who were pro-civil rights legislation and there were a lot of Democrats who were anti-civil rights legislation, particularly Southern white Democrats and so we didn't have this ability for every election to be a competition over whether we're going to have an egalitarian democracy. The elections were about a lot of different things.
Some of them were just boring policies. You can have a peaceful election over boring policies, but once our elections start to be about who gets to be the highest status people in the country? Is it always going to be white men? Have we gone far enough in creating a more egalitarian society? Do we have a representative democracy right now based on what America looks like? Those are the types of questions that you put them into a conflicts like an election, and that becomes really, really fraught.
Amy: Well, Liliana Mason, I really appreciate you taking all this time to talk with me about this.
Liliana: It's my pleasure. This is a great conversation. Thanks.
Amy: Here's one more thing for me. The political profession, no other career as per se has been glamorized more. In movies and on TV everyone who works for or as a politician is beautiful and smart and ambitious, all are doing super important work that's changing the world, even the interns are drafting amendments. In real life, of course, politics is messy, and more important, it's pretty boring.
For every election night balloon drop victory party, there are a million days filled with crushingly tedious work, like voter contact and fundraising, and townhall meetings filled with cranky and angry constituents. As we learned this week, it's the people who do the non-glamorous work, those who spend almost every single day of their entire career in relative ambiguity, who helped keep our democratic institutions steady.
I'm talking about the elected officials, poll workers, volunteers, and office staff who ensured that this election and election taking place in the middle of a pandemic and with record turnout, was conducted as fairly smoothly and judiciously as possible. They are doing this work under great duress and stress. They continue to do their job even as the President of the United States without any evidence takes to the White House briefing room to question their integrity. When this election is over, these folks aren't going to get a suite cable TV gig or their own podcast.
Instead, they're going to go back to their offices and prepare for the next election. For all of you who are cynical or anxious about the sturdiness of the guardrails, protecting our democratic institutions, look no further than the local officials in charge of voting. They are not bowing to pressure from the president. They are not abandoning their posts for fear of political reprisal. They're doing their jobs and doing them well. At the end of the day, it's regular people who are responsible for our democracy, and the regular people are saving it. That's all for us today.
A quick shout out to the amazing team that makes the show Amber Hall, Patricia Yacob, Meg Dalton, Jake Howard, Vince Fairchild, Polly Irungu, David Gable, and our boss Lee Hill. Also, you can send us a tweet on @AmyEWalter. The show is at The Takeaway. Thanks so much for listening. It's Politics with Amy Walter on The Takeaway.
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