8 November 2020

Weekly briefing: A vote of confidence?


What a week that was.

Yet again, it certainly didn’t go the way many had confidently predicted. Without a UK-style exit poll on Tuesday night, we ended up waiting forever for some inkling of who was actually likely to win. One thing was certain though, the ‘Blue Wave’ some saw coming for Joe Biden was a mirage.

Will this result ‘blow up’ the polling industry, as some have suggested? Our resident polling expert Matt Singh says yes…and no. There were clearly some big problems, but the more serious one is the Faustian pact between polling companies and the media, who inflate the importance of polls and make them out to be predictions – something no serious pollster ever claims themselves. Nor, as Matt writes, has Western polling suddenly gone completely awry, ‘it’s just that there has been a relatively high frequency of close, high-stakes contests, where even a normal-sized polling error is sufficient to change the story significantly’.

Far more important than who called it right is where this leaves American politics. And while Biden’s supporters are understandably crowing at the moment, they will soon wake up to smell some pretty pungent coffee. US political expert Mark Gettleson pointed out that without control of both Houses of Congress, the Democrats’ agenda – ‘a public option in healthcare, measures to tackle climate change, court reform and a new voting rights act’ – is dead in the water. Nor, for all Biden’s inclusive rhetoric, is there much chance of reaching across the aisle in an age of hyper-partisanship.

If Democrats should probably temper their triumphalism, nor need Republicans despair. Our man in DC, Oliver Wiseman, noted that this is not a party ‘reduced to an angry rump of left-behind white voters’. Indeed, for all the highly charged racial politics of the last four years, Trump actually picked up more votes from black and Hispanic voters than in 2016. The question now is whether the Republicans build on that and make the right choices. If they do – and avoid wasting time claiming this election was ‘stolen –  ‘a pro-growth, pro-worker patriotic message…stands to win big in the future’.

For Matthew Lesh of the Adam Smith Institute, the ‘pro-growth’ element is particularly crucial. Trump may have been a Republican, but he was still ‘a big-spending, debt-increasing, trade protectionist who rejected core free market principles’. Biden is no economic liberal, but in electing the archetypal centrist voters have repudiated the extreme left of the Democratic Party and blown apart ludicrous claims that only a Bernie Sanders-style leftwinger could bring the party success.

Of course, the presidency is about much more than US domestic politics, and people on all sides have been appalled with the way Trump has undermined his country’s international reputation. Whatever his other faults, Biden will not be a president who trashes Nato or cuddles up to some of the world’s grimmest dictators.

For Britain, the end of Trump is good news too – and the idea Boris Johnson has lost a kindred spirit is the purest of hogwash. For, as former Foreign Secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind argued, the Prime Minister was never remotely in tune with Trump’s instincts on foreign policy and ‘will have little problem working in harmony’ with Biden on global issues – as his message of support yesterday indicated.

If there is a sticking point it’s on the terms of Brexit. ‘Biden,’  Sir Malcolm, writes, ‘is an Irish-American and means it when he says that any attempt by Johnson to dismantle the Irish aspects of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement would torpedo any prospect of a UK-US Trade Deal.’

All in all, though, this was a good result for Britain. And while Biden would not have been many free marketeers’ ideal choice, if he can restore some faith in the world’s greatest capitalist country, that will surely be something to cheer.

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John Ashmore is Editor of CapX.