Typically, presidents who are voted out of office ask, "What went wrong?" Donald Trump didn't ask that question after losing the 2020 election, and he instead peddled bogus and totally debunked voter fraud conspiracy theories. But other Republicans are asking that question, and two post-election analyses — one by consultant Tony Fabrizio and published in Politico this week, the other by GOP pollster John McLaughlin and published by the right-wing Newsmax in November — delve into some reasons why Trump lost.
Journalist William Saletan, in Slate, explains, "Neither pollster blames the former president, but their numbers tell the story: Trump destroyed himself. The autopsies identified two reasons why Trump should have won."
Saletan adds, "First, based on self-identification, the 2020 electorate was significantly more Republican than the 2016 electorate. Second, public satisfaction with the economy favored the incumbent. Both pollsters found that people who voted in 2020 thought Trump would handle the economy better than Joe Biden would. McLaughlin's analysis, based on his post-election survey of people who voted in 2020, noted that 61% of these voters said they were better off than they had been four years earlier. Despite this, Trump managed to lose one-third of the 61%."
Although Democratic nominee Joe Biden was disappointed that he lost Florida, Ohio, North Carolina and Iowa to Trump, he was pleasantly surprised by his victories in Arizona and Georgia — both of which were deep red states in the past. Ultimately, Biden won 306 electoral votes and defeated Trump by more than 7 million in the popular vote. And Fabrizio and McLaughlin wanted to know why Biden outperformed Trump in so many swing states.
"Fabrizio analyzed exit polls from 10 battleground states Trump had won in 2016," Saletan notes. "Florida, Iowa, North Carolina, Ohio and Texas stayed with Trump in 2020; Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin flipped to Biden. Collectively, in the ten states, Fabrizio computed a 'massive swing' against Trump among independents by 17 to 19 percentage points and a similar shift among college-educated White voters by 14 to 18 points. Likewise, in his national sample, McLaughlin found that Biden won moderates, 62% to 36%."
Saletan continues, "Trump repelled these voters, even those who were happy with the economy. In McLaughlin's national sample, Biden was viewed more favorably than Trump. Among voters who disliked both candidates, the pollster noted, 'dislike of Trump was more dominant.' Three-quarters of Biden voters cited character or personality traits as reasons for their voting decisions, and the reasons they gave were 'mostly anti-Trump,' McLaughlin wrote."
Fabrizio, Saletan observes, found that in battleground states, voters gave Biden a 4% deficit when it came to being "honest and trustworthy" — whereas with Trump, it was a 14-18% deficit.
"The exit polls also indicated that Trump inspired millions of new voters to turn out, either in person or by mail, to get rid of him," Saletan reports. "Fabrizio noted that collectively, in the five states that flipped to Biden, Trump outpolled Biden among people who had voted in 2016. What killed Trump were the new voters. Biden won them by 14 points in the five decisive states."
Last year, conservative pundit Bill Kristol, a blistering Trump critic, wondered if the COVID-19 pandemic would give Trump a "rally-around-the-president" advantage — in other words, voters rallying around Trump because of a national crisis. But Kristol also slammed Trump for mishandling the pandemic so badly. And Trump, Saletan writes, "misjudged the politics of COVID-19."
"Throughout the campaign, he focused on rapidly reopening the economy, often at the risk of rekindling the pandemic," Saletan recalls. "That turned out to be disastrous for the country, but also, for his candidacy. Fabrizio found that in the 10 battleground states, 'majorities of voters…. prioritized stopping the spread of (the virus) over reopening the economy.' The virus 'was the top issue' in these states, the pollster observed, 'and Biden carried those voters nearly 3 to 1.' In the exit polls and in McLaughlin's survey, voters said by significant margins that Biden would handle the virus better than Trump."