Welcome to Election Week! We learned a lot last night, changing some pre-Election Day assumptions and reinforcing others. As of this writing, Joe Biden has more paths to victory; however, Donald Trump has again defied expectations and is within striking distance of reelection. For both candidates, Pennsylvania could be decisive. The Keystone state has had a number of issues grappling with the absentee ballot process in the lead up to Election Day and has been a target for litigation even before Election Day.
For whomever ultimately wins, neither candidate is likely to enter the White House with a perceived national mandate to lead. A long, contentious process (if that occurs) is likely to further sour the opening days of the next administration. That concern is the luxury of the victor however, and we can expect a bitter fight to the end from both sides.
Republicans over performance down ticket overturned the prospect of a “blue wave.” Republicans prevented Democrats from making big gains in the U.S. House (in fact, Republicans made notable gains) and appear poised to deny Democrats a majority in the U.S. Senate. Democrats also failed to make major gains at the state level. As noted above, not only does this outcome deny a President-elect Biden (should he ultimately win) a decisive mandate but it also potentially leads to a hostile Republican-controlled Senate which could handicap the first two years of a Biden Administration.
The one certainty from last night is that the deep partisan divide in this country is unlikely to be healed in the near term and only may be exacerbated in the coming days
States are continuing to count the votes. Hopefully, the country has a definitive outcome in the coming days. Much will depend on how the process is concluded – how quickly and how void of controversy.
Businesses, particularly retailers in major metro areas, have been preparing for this eventuality, boarding up storefronts ahead of expected protests and disruption. Unfortunately, their investment in plywood may not have been a waste – protests started last night in Washington, D.C. and quickly spread to Los Angeles, Raleigh and Portland. Actions will likely continue to spread in the coming days and the tone and tenor of the candidates (particularly President Trump) is likely to greatly impact the mood “in the streets.”
Dozens of groups, many organizing under the Protect Our Results banner, are organizing and are likely to mobilize soon. National unions for their part are considering a national strike, which the country hasn’t seen in earnest in nearly a century. Employers should expect continued disruptions until the situation stabilizes.
The key dates moving forward are the convening of the Electoral College in early Dec. and the beginning of the new U.S. Congress on Jan. 3. Without U.S. Supreme Court intervention, those dates are likely to serve as a backstop forcing states to certify results. And, the results could be clear with the next day or two as canvassers work around the clock counting votes.
The 2021 policy agenda in Washington, D.C. is in the hands of vote canvassers in a few key battleground states but, as of this writing, the state policy making environment will remain largely (and remarkably) unchanged in 2021. Partisan control of the gubernatorial map didn’t change at all with the exception of Montana.
A number of states were on the watchlist for potential legislative chamber flips. At the moment, Republican overperformance up and down the ticket appears to have prevented many of those flips. In fact, Republicans actually expanded on their majorities in some states, particularly in the Southeast. We’ll have to hold final judgement on the state scorecard until partisan control of state legislative chambers is clear in Arizona, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Minnesota and Iowa where votes are still being counted. Regional differences could emerge as counts are finalized.
THE ROAD AHEAD
In the coming days and weeks, there will be much discussion of “what it all means.” Each partisan camp (and every interest group) is likely to see their own biases confirmed in the results. There’s unlikely to be a “reset.” There’s no doubt that hyper-partisanship isn’t vanishing. Time will tell but “Election Week” may only heighten those divides.
Exit polls seem to indicate that voters viewed the election (and the world) through a very binary lens. That gulf presents a significant, and growing, challenge for brands. While this isn’t a new dynamic, the ever-widening gap makes it increasingly difficult for brands to straddle the divide – from mask wearing to racial justice.
The policymaking environment hangs in the balance as the final votes are tallied. The results will be significant. Sharp differences exist between the parties on issues directly impacting the entry-level business model, as our issues have been pushed to the forefront over the past few years. That dynamic also pushes brands into the increasingly contentious political fray.
While the final outcome(s) is yet-to-be-determined, we do know that the public affairs environment will present significant challenges moving forward. Brands need to continue to center themselves on their culture, standing by their employees, customers and other key stakeholders.