There is a clear winner in this election: populism-- a political philosophy aimed at working-class people. While voters may have rejected Trump’s rhetoric and coronavirus policy, they did not reject populism itself. Trump did not lose in a landslide, despite a pandemic, an economic downturn, and the predictions of nearly every pollster. Trump performed significantly better with minority voters than any Republican candidate in recent history. Right-wing populism and the elevation of working-class values can unite a fractious republic across racial and economic lines.
Despite Trump’s loss, a Republican Party heavily influenced by Trump was surprisingly successful. Republicans unexpectedly picked up a significant number of seats in the House; at least seven Democratic House incumbents lost their races. Interestingly, Republicans managed to reach minority groups in comparatively high numbers and shrunk the Democratic House majority to its smallest since 1919. In this election, voters narrowly rejected Trump-- not Trump’s GOP.
According to a New York Times exit poll, Trump received 18% of the black male vote and doubled his support with black women to 8%. Trump’s gains with black voters were well advertised, and even prompted some liberals to make a distinction between being black and being “politically black.” What surprised many on the left was Trump’s appeal to Latino voters-- he received the support of 36% of Latino men and 28% of Latino women. And contrary to media portrayals of Trump as homophobic, 28% of LGBT voters backed him.
Though white Trump voters were overwhelmingly non college-educated, they also tended to be higher income. As the far-left continually encourages divisiveness based on minority status and class, the American right is appealing to an increasingly diverse array of voters.
Democrats are bifurcating into a party of the very rich and the very poor. Where is there space for the middle? Trump made the GOP the party of blue-collar Americans. Non-interventionism, a willingness to renegotiate trade deals, and a focus on the needs of ordinary people have brought new voters to the party. Clearly, many still believe in the American Dream: the promise that if given the opportunity, anyone can be economically successful.
Record numbers of black people entered the middle-class during Trump’s term. Perhaps middle-class voters know that the Democratic party no longer supports them. This is the reason why Ohio has switched from blue to red, and why Trump resonates so strongly with Latinos in Texas and Florida.
A plurality of voters named economic issues as their primary concern in this election. It is no wonder that during a time of economic hardship, a right-wing populist polity resonates with minorities. Although the pandemic may rage on, many are suffering financially.
On the other hand, the policies associated with left-wing populism are hard for the broader American public to swallow; they are mired in the same brand of identity politics which spawned cancel culture, Black Lives Matter, and Antifa. Even moderate Democrats are aware of this. Rep. Abigail Spanberger, after narrowly winning reelection, complained that the policies of her democratic socialist colleagues nearly cost her her seat in Congress.
Congresswoman Rashida Talib responded by saying, “To be real, it sounds like you are saying stop pushing for what Black folks want.” If more failed government interventions in inner cities is what Rep. Talib has in mind, then many black voters are sick of it. If the GOP’s gains are any indication, an increasing number of minority voters want economic prosperity, not the same left-wing policies that have been failing them for over 50 years.
The populist wave is by no means over. A rejection of the establishment, respect for hard work and determination, and the repudiation of far-left identity politics is not only a winning strategy for the right but also perhaps the thing that can bring the nation together. When all the left does is fragment America on racial lines, the right has acted as a correction. Populism can unite a divided America.