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Sensemaker: The state of the race

Thursday 5 November 2020

What just happened

Long stories short

  • A second night of counting in swing states brought Biden to within six electoral college votes of the White House.
  • Trump’s supporters, some of them armed, demanded that counting stop where he stands to lose and continue where he could still win.
  • As England started its second national lockdown, police warned of stiff fines for those who break the rules and the chancellor announced £150 billion of new support for businesses.

Biden the uniter

That’s the new pitch. As the vote count in Arizona, Nevada, Georgia and Pennsylvania narrowed Trump’s chances of a second term, his challenger switched from pre- to post-election campaigning. Biden is saying the referendum on Trump is over. It may or may not be but his new task is to control the narrative as Trump tries to spin one of electoral fraud, rather than lose control of events as Al Gore did during the Florida recount 20 years ago. His suggestion: let’s stop treating each other as enemies.

This is a big ask, because polarisation has been such a dominant theme of the past four years:

  • Demographics. It’s tight, but Arizona still looks likely to complete a Democratic hockey stick from Washington state to Colorado via California and the still-porous Mexican border, as the desert southwest turns gradually more Hispanic. (As ever, Texas is for Democrats what controlled fusion is for physics – just over the horizon.)
  • Gen Z. The slaughter of 14 teenagers and three staff members at Parkland; the unmasking of Harvey Weinstein as a sexual predator; the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. All these have fired up the Left and especially the Young Left more powerfully than any confluence of forces since the 60s.
  • Trump. He’s been dismaying or wonderful, depending on your view, and he’s kept two promises by pushing a huge corporate tax cut through Congress and signing off on the appointment of more than 200 conservative federal judges including three on the Supreme Court. So the judiciary can resist change for a generation even as the country changes colour.
  • Social silos. Thanks to Trump’s twitter habit and to social media algorithms giving users only what they want to see and hear, the country has turned on itself: small town v suburb, pro-life v pro-choice, real news v fake news, BLM v you calling me racist?
  • Covid. America has lived and died with it. In another age the pandemic might have united the nation. In this one it’s done the opposite. Masks have become tribal insignia. Wearing them can trigger meltdowns at Walmart.

State of the race, by the numbers:

  • 17 – electoral college votes available in Nevada and Arizona, which between them would give Biden the 270 he needs without Pennsylvania
  • 68,390 – Biden’s lead in Arizona this morning, down from 93,000 at midnight
  • 600,000, approx – votes still to be counted in Arizona, mainly in evenly-balanced Maricopa County and a handful of counties with fewer voters but big Trump majorities
  • 1.3 and closing – average percentage gap between the candidates in Arizona, Pennsylvania and Georgia

State of the race; the legal challenges:

  • The Trump campaign has filed lawsuits seeking to halt the counts in Pennsylvania and Georgia, challenge the result in Michigan – which Biden won narrowly yesterday – and secure a recount in Wisconsin.
  • The campaign has presented no evidence of wrongdoing in Michigan but claims to have been denied “meaningful access” to counting locations in suburban Detroit, where activists were deployed to demand a better view of the process.
  • The campaign wants a guarantee of “meaningful transparency” in Pennsylvania, and claims 53 late ballots were illegally added to a pile in a counting station in Georgia.

Note: parallels with the 2000 Florida recount aren’t that useful. None of these complaints are about hanging chads. They’re all part of an effort to make voting innovations forced on states by Covid look like openings for electoral fraud. The problem for Republicans: they need evidence, and there isn’t much.

The Senate: there is now no prospect of a Democratic majority in the Senate, which puts paid to most hopes of an ambitious reformist Biden presidency and makes four more years of congressional gridlock the safe bet. As Dave Taylor noted at our US election ThinkIn last night, Biden’s best hope now may be to be remembered as the Trump-slayer.

The gutsy call: hours before other news organisations, Fox News called Arizona for Biden on Tuesday night. The decision was made by Arnon Mishkin, who’s run Fox’s Decision Desk since 2008 and likes to confound assumptions about his network’s natural tendencies. The AP joined Fox later in calling the state for Biden, but then the data company that tabulates Arizona’s results admitted many more votes than it had thought remained uncounted. Mishkin stands by his call.

Please share this Sensemaker with your friends and colleagues.

Wealth investment, fairness, prosperity

Ant’s hill to climb
We’re going to bring you chapter and verse next week on Jack Ma’s run-in with China over what was supposed to be the biggest IPO in history for his Ant financial services group. But as a taster, it seems that his clash with the authorities is at least partly about new Chinese capital ratio guidelines for lenders that could require him to put aside about $20 billion (£) that he would rather be investing. Maybe even China’s richest man doesn’t have that much to spare.

New things technology, science, engineering

Building peel
Deutsche Welle has an interesting short film on making construction materials from landfill. It turns out you can turn plastic bottles and potato peelings into bricks, cladding and kitchen countertops. By the look of it, if you want really tough, load-bearing recycled materials it helps to start with really tough, load-bearing materials – like bricks and concrete. But a lot of these get dumped in landfill too.

Our planet environment, natural resources, geopolitics
Photo of a mink taken 30 January 2004 inside a fur farm in Lille Rorbaek outside of Copenhagen. (Photo by JEAN-PIERRE MULLER/AFP via Getty Images)

Fur safety’s sake
Denmark will kill 17 million mink to halt the spread of a mutated coronavirus to humans and protect the odds of a successful vaccine, the Danish PM said yesterday. According to the country’s infectious diseases institute, 12 people have caught the virus from mink in some of 200 Danish farms where it’s currently running amok. At least 1.2 million mink, which are farmed for their fur, have been killed in recent months in the NetherlandsSpain and the USAafter similar outbreaks.

The 100-year life health, education, living, public policy
JHARIA, JHARKAND, INDIA – 2014/10/24: A mother washes her son who is covered by a layer of coal and dirt from the contaminated air around the mines. (Photo by Jonas Gratzer/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Covid in India
India has a sixth of the world’s population and records a sixth of the world’s Covid cases, but only one in ten Covid-related deaths. There’s a theory that the reason is its people are more immune to the virus than most. The BBC reports that two new research papers, neither of them peer reviewed, have found evidence that “low hygiene, lack of clean drinking water, and unsanitary conditions may have actually saved many lives” in India and other countries with low average incomes. The theory is familiar: childhood exposure to multiple pathogens helps fend them off in later life. But let’s wait for those peer reviews before signing off on it this time.

Belonging identity, society, beliefs, countries

Trouble in the horn
Ethiopia could slip into civil war after its Nobel Peace Prize-winning PM deployed armed forces to the country’s Tigray region. Abiy Ahmed reacted to an attack on a military base, allegedly by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which he said crossed “the last red line” after months of provocation. His 2018 election and success in striking a long-awaited peace deal with Eritrea had offered the country hope of a bright future – but hundreds of thousands of civilians are now in dangerExperts warn conflict could destabilise neighbouring Somalia and Sudan, and the entire Horn of Africa.

Thanks for reading, and do share this around.

Giles Whittell

Additional reporting by Ella Hill, Ellen Halliday and Luke Gbedemah