FIU Professor Explains 2020 Elections

Interview with FIU Professor Kathryn De Palo on this year’s national and local elections for Roaring News

Jordan Coll: The 2020 elections are over, and we saw significant strides in terms of voter turnout. More than 100 million Americans cast their votes earlier this year in person or by mail. This is more than two-thirds of the total number of votes cast did in 2016. At the state level, a majority of Florida voters favor President Trump over Democratic candidate Joe Biden.

Valentina Palm: To discuss this year’s national and state elections. We have fit professor Dr. Kathryn Dr. De Palo who teaches Politics and International Relations at FIU and has worked on several political campaigns. Welcome to our news, Dr. De Palo.

Dr. De Palo: Well, thank you for having me. I’m very excited to be here.

Valentina Palm: Thank you. We know we have experience analyzing polls leading up to the election. So how do you think the polls did this year? Were they more accurate than those of 2016?

Dr. De Palo: Well, unfortunately, the polls were not more accurate than 2016 and I think some of the problems we noticed four years ago, were actually more pronounced this year. You know, there’s lots of talk of this idea of a shy Trump voter and there’s some truth to that Republicans tend to not answer the phone, and of course, most polls are done over the phone. They tend not to answer and then there have been instances in which they won’t answer that they were voting for Trump, you know, a lot of this cancel culture idea, nervousness about saying they’re going to vote for Trump when someone on the phone has their name and address and phone number, and I think a lot of that was certainly going on, the bias towards Democratic candidates definitely continued. We saw this in places like Wisconsin, where some of these polls, I think it was the ABC Washington Post poll had by an up by 17 points in Wisconsin, and really, it was razor-thin there. So I think, really the polling industry, if they’re going to continue they have to take a serious look at how they are getting to some of these voters. Of course, Trump won’t be on the 2022 ballot for the midterm elections. But going forward, the pollsters are going to have to figure out what’s going on in their industry and if they want to continue to essentially be informing the voters.

Jordan Coll: So professor, you mentioned cancel culture as being a factor which contributed in these elections. How is this the case specifically in Florida?

Dr. De Palo: in Florida in the summer, there were a lot of polls that were out there saying Biden was going to win by double digits, and all of us that follow Florida, Republicans, Democrats, independents, everybody knew that that was not going to happen in the state of Florida. So, I think when you look at the way Floridians voted, and especially with among the Hispanic population, and in Miami-Dade, you know, Cuban Americans, Venezuelans, and others, that decided to vote for Donald Trump, that was also not being captured in the polls, until really the last month that you were starting to see Hispanic voters really move away from Joe Biden, rather and to Donald Trump.

Valentina Palm: So we’re going to dive into Florida elections in a little bit. But I wanted to ask you, what difference did you see in voter turnout this election cycle? And how did the pandemic influence it?

Dr. De Palo: Well, it is fascinating, because I think if you if you asked me six months ago, I would have said, well, turnout will probably be depressed, even though people may be asking for more and more mailing ballots and we certainly saw that happen this election cycle. It really was amazing to see the kind of turnout numbers, not only in Florida’s historic turnout but also around the country. If you think about historic turnout, you know, there, I’ve seen the comparisons to too early in the 20th century, or even, you know, back in the 19th century, you almost can’t compare that because we’ve had so much extension of suffrage since then, between women and minorities that are able to vote that it really is just a historic election for that reason, as well. So when you look at these numbers, I think the fact that this was going to be a close race, no matter what some of the polls said, people were excited about the race. I think, frankly, the fact that we’re all sitting at home actually gave us more time to think about voting, think about who we were going to vote how we were going to cast that ballot. So, I think in retrospect, we’re going to look back on 2020 and see the historic nature of it I’m not sure we’ll have it repeated in our next presidential election.

Jordan Coll: I wanted to ask what role do you think COVID had in this election as a reason for people to cast their ballot and choose a candidate?

Dr. De Palo: Sure, I think I always look to you know, it looks like Donald Trump has lost this election. Going on that assumption. I always go back and look at what happened during the campaign. You know, when was there perhaps a switch and if you can look back on the last few elections, you know, whether it was Hillary Clinton saying a basket of deplorables or in 2012, and Mitt Romney said 47% of people aren’t going to vote for it for me and for us party you can look, I think when Donald Trump said, you know, that basically nobody’s really died of the Coronavirus I think people were already questioning the way that the administration was handling the Coronavirus and when he said that was not helpful, I think when he got the virus, just, you know, led to the fact that the administration was reckless, and you started seeing all these numbers of those working administration who were contracting the virus. So, you know, I think that fed into a lot of what people already thought, and of course, in this election was so different, because we had very few undecided voters, many voters had decided which candidate they were picking well before election day well before early voting well before, requesting their mail-in ballots that there wasn’t much movement, and I don’t think the Trump administration helped themselves with the pandemic and the way that it was handled. But, I mean, you can certainly see people were going to vote. I mean, if you look at the numbers on Election Day, and early voting, and certainly the numbers of mail-in voting in Florida, we’re used to this because we usually have about a third who have absentee ballots, a third vote early third, a third on election day, thereabouts. Other states did not really know how to handle some of these mail-in ballots and that’s actually what we’re seeing right now in some of these states that are still too close to call and that have had more trouble accounting, I think Florida since the 2000 election, has put in place all kinds of measures, like being able to count the mail-in ballots up to three weeks ahead of time not releasing results. But at least on election night, we generally had a result and that hasn’t been the case in some of these other states.

Valentina Palm: Talking about Florida, the state has predicted election results since the 2000s and has always been considered a swing state. But, this year Florida voters shifted further right in this presidential election, compared to the previous one, as you said, President Trump won by a three-point margin. So I wanted to ask, What role did the Latino vote have in Florida elections this year?

Dr. De Palo: It was extremely significant, I think the Democratic Party, even though Joe Biden himself, you know, you wouldn’t call a socialist or even a democratic socialist that Bernie Sanders embraces, the fact that the party was moving in that particular direction and there have been some, you know, a lot of allegations of disinformation campaigns and these sorts of things. But I think it largely boiled down to that particular message and the way the party was going to move and some of the loudest voices, frankly, that are pressing for these progressive ideas that scare a lot of folks down here. That was very significant because throughout the state, and we see this throughout the country to Trump really lost one or two or even three percent of the vote of white men, and that’s sort of like his base and white women as well so he had to make up some of those gains elsewhere and in Florida, in particular among the Hispanic community, and there’s been some data that also suggests he made some inroads in the Puerto Rican voting community up in Central Florida. This was a must-win state for him and I think it was very smart that really since his election, but particularly after the 2018 election, where we have governor De Santis win they have been on the ground getting out the vote from day one, they didn’t take a step back like democrats did and it really showed the connection within that particular community.

Valentina Palm: This election cities like Tallahassee, Jacksonville, Orlando, and Miami voted democrat while the rest of the state one red. What do these results say about the rural versus the urban vote in the state of Florida?

Dr. De Palo: It is interesting because even though Joe Biden, in some of these counts won where Hillary Clinton did not, it still wasn’t enough. But it does show that in these urban areas, they are getting more and more democratic, and these rural areas more and more Republican and so a lot of this is now going to be fought in the suburbs because the suburbs in between, tend to vote Republican, but we’ve seen in some of these areas like Seminole County, which is just east of Orange County in Orlando they are starting to turn blue and I think that’s a function really of some of the younger voters that are in there that tend to lean more democratic anyway. But, that meant that Trump really had to, and he did increase some of the turnouts in some of these redder areas, just like he did four years ago that that frankly surprised a lot of us who study Florida politics, because you really have to, especially in the Tri-County area down here, Palm Beach, Broward, Miami Dade, you really need to get over 60% of the vote in your favor as a Democrat to offset some of the gains that are gonna be made by a Republican candidate elsewhere. But in 2016, that was turned on its head because Hillary Clinton did that, basically but she was just overshadowed by a lot of these other some of these bedroom communities, certainly the rural areas that saw somewhere in 80% turnout that we had never seen before, and that came out again in 2020.


Jordan Coll: Switching to the local mayoral race of Miami Dade, the democrats had a huge win with Daniela Cava, becoming the first woman to hold the position as the Miami Dade Mayor-elect. What do you make of her victory given that in District 26 and 27 Republican candidates won?

De Palo: Well, it is fascinating even with all this talk about the Trump vote, if you will, in Miami Dade County, it’s still a democratic County, there are still not enough votes to really offset that and give republicans a countywide win, usually in presidential elections or otherwise and the Miami Dade mayoral race was very partisan, even though there isn’t a party label, you know, both of them took sides with each of the parties and I think you saw that reflected and in the congressional districts 26 and 27 that’s a bit different because district 26 I mean, does also encompass Monroe County, the Keys and district 27 is Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s former district, that is certainly a Hispanic district 70%. Bu,t both of them if you look at party registration, is about a third Republican, Democrat, and no party affiliation. So, if you take all of that together, these are really competitive districts. I mean, 26, which was Debbie Mucarsel-Powel, it was always designed to be kind of that swing district in the state, district 27 was thought to be more of a democratic sear I mean, that Democrats would have an edge, especially when Ileana Ros-Lehtinen retired. Bu,t that wasn’t the case. So you can definitely see the impact that Trump had on the communities down here to be able to flip those particular districts.

Jordan Coll: So clearly at the moment, we see that there’s resistance between administrations that are happening at the moment, as President Trump has not acknowledged President-Elect Joe Biden as the winner of these elections. At the same time, you have world leaders, who are acknowledging, in fact that Joe Biden is the next president, is this typical of a presidential transition? And how does this impact foreign relations?

Dr. De Palo: Well, I remember the 2000 election very well here in Florida, which was down to one state. So you know, every state will even New Mexico was kind of in question, which ended up going for Gore. But even that wasn’t enough for Bush or Gore who needed to win the state of Florida. And who knew it would be decided by 537 votes and numerous court challenges 36 days later, but this is a little bit different this time, we have a lot of very close states, which actually reflects a lot of 2016. If you look at some of these states that Trump was able to flip from blue to red, and now has gone back to blue and Biden has won by very, very slim margins. So what’s fascinating is after all of the votes are counted, and cast and just breaking records everywhere you’re going to go back and look at some of these states that were just that razor-thin these people who ended up deciding the President of the United States. So I think that the Trump campaign is trying to look at individual states exhausts all of their legal actions, and then the president, you know, will concede at that particular point. So it’s slightly unusual in the sense that in the past, I think a president would have conceded by this point, he has not but no one is surprised, right, that that he hasn’t, but I think, you know, the writing is on the wall. I think he’s trying to figure out his next steps. You know, what to do from this point forward because you have half the country, that that really is behind him, and he has that fighting spirit and never does anything, sort of the normal way if you will. So it’s no surprise, but I think within the next week or two, he will concede. I think what’s more troubling is that there’s no official transition in place snd particularly we talk foreign policy that Vice-President Biden should be receiving some of these security briefings,
and is not according to some reports, I think that will slowly change. But I think we’re a leader see the writing on the wall. I mean, there’s too many states for Trump to overcome, this isn’t down to one state or even two. And they want to be able to establish relations as quickly as they can.

Valentina Palm: I know you followed the election closely so is there anything else about this election? Maybe how voters cast their ballots or the campaigns themselves. Is there anything else that surprised you that we haven’t talked about?

Dr. De Palo: I think the biggest surprise is that there really was no blue wave. I may revisit that if the senate of course, surprising, perhaps, you know, we’re going to be down to the wire on January 5, waiting for Georgia, two Senate seats in Georgia, one of which was a special election, I mean, to decide who’s going to control the Senate and odds are that, you know, if one candidate say a Republican, if Purdue wins reelection, likely LaFleur will also win her’s, we don’t know and vice versa. So, I think it’s such a strange, a strange time. But if you look at the house Democrats have a very, very slim majority right now, in the statehouses, you know, this is again, record-breaking that republicans I think are going to control something like 36 of the state legislatures, then that has profound effects for redistricting, which is about to begin once census data is released and so they’re going to be able to in those particular states, where the legislators draw the districts, including Florida, to be able to control not only the State House, but also U.S. House districts for the next 10 years.

Valentina Palm: Let’s talk about redistricting. Can you expand on that? And how does it affect the election process or results?

Dr. De Palo: Well, every 10 years, we conduct the census, according to the US Constitution, we have to count everybody so we’ve been going through this process this year, of course, once that’s tabulated, the information is essentially given to Congress and they reapportion. There are 435 house seats and depending on Florida, we tend to keep growing and growing and other states like New York or Pennsylvania, for instance, tend to lose seats in the House, where places again, like Florida or Texas tend to gain. So when that happens, you have to redraw the districts. Obviously, if you have less districts or more districts, that makes sense. But, even if you don’t, you know, you have to have equal populations in these particular districts. So when you redraw these lines, they’re not these cute little neat boxes, they really are drawn to advantage, a political party, in particular, are incumbents who are already there, in some cases. If you have a legislature that controls it, which most states do, and if you have republicans in control, they’re going to be able to draw these districts just like they did 10 years ago, that are going to try to maximize their potential to win these particular seats and again, the software is amazing. I mean it’s a public record, if you’re a registered voter what your party is so you can just pull that data and then move, you know, neighborhoods around and all of a sudden, it’s either more favorable to your party or more competitive or drawn to favor the other party, because there are those situations as well. So that I think is really one of the big headlines that Biden didn’t really have any coattails and the states that he won, Democrats tended to do well, but not in all cases and I think, you know, usually in these elections when you have this sort of what appears to be an overwhelming electoral victory when the electors actually go and cast votes on December 14, that it really didn’t benefit the party down-ballot and I think that just goes to show how closely divided we really are as a country still.


Jordan Coll: I believe this is what you call gerrymandering.

Dr. De Palo: Yes. So they gerrymander these districts and draw them in these political ways. In some states like Florida, we have the fair district amendments, they’re not really supposed to do that. But, you know, you got to take them to court and some groups were successful over the last 10 years to redraw some of these districts in Florida. But you know, in essence, a lot of the states are moving towards either nonpartisan or bipartisan, independent commissions so it’s not so overtly political because certainly if you’re a political party and you hold power, you’re going to draw these districts are going to favor your party period, no matter if you’re it’s Republicans or Democrats, and so on. It’ll be interesting to see once again, how that’s really going to benefit the Republican Party.

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