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The week’s big question: Why did Trump outperform expectations?

When I picked Biden over Trump to win the election, I said that I found arguments against my position plausible but I wasn’t prepared to predict a polling failure of the requisite magnitude. It still doesn’t look like a big enough misfire to prevent Biden from becoming president, but it is awfully close and overall a worse showing for the polling industry than in 2016. Why?

Start with the possibility that the polls at least slightly overstated how unpopular Trump really was, an easy mistake to avoid second-guessing when even many of the conservatives in media and politics dislike him. The Trump campaign also did more to turn out its voters, with the perhaps fatal exception of the mail-in vote, and its data team are no dummies. Base-driven strategies evidently work in the battleground states.

Second, millions of Americans feel the left wing of the Democratic Party is as big a threat to their families and interests as many liberal voting blocs perceive Trump to be. There are also contradictions in the Democrats’ “coalition of the ascendant” that could prevent demography from bringing the party to its promised destiny. Even many black and Hispanic voters do not see themselves in the apostles of wokeness who claim to speak for them.

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Third, both political parties are increasingly trying to govern as if they have more than 60 percent of the country behind them when their coalitions can only win between 46 and 53 percent of the vote. This burned Republicans from the Tea Party to Trump’s first year in office. It is also what drives progressives’ desire to counter the “minoritarian” aspects of the Constitution. But this framework requires consensus behind sweeping changes.

Fourth, as much as conservatives complain about liberal media bias, it actually hurts Democrats too. Why? Because it shields their shortcomings from their own view.

Finally, Biden may be a nice man who has persevered through a great deal of personal suffering. But he was also a candidate with serious flaws who required a pandemic and economic downturn to conceal and overcome them. He barely did, and it is not self-evident that the other 2020 Democrats would have done better, his running mate included.

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