The Lincoln Project (TLP) is a tribe of GOP political consultants created in advance of the November 2020 election. Its immediate objective was to convince right-leaning-independent and GOP voters in the swing states to vote for Biden and Democratic Senate candidates. Its broader aim, one that continues after this election, is to protect American democracy. Democracy for TLP is one that contains strong democratic institutions (e.g., voting by all, a Justice Department independent of politics) and fulfills the promise of our nation.
Steve Bannon (Trump’s 2016 election advisor) said that if TLP could turn 4% of GOP voters to Biden, Trump would lose in 2020. So, 4% became TLP’s key performance indicator. I would suggest a higher benchmark as 4% of GOP voters voted for Hillary in 2016, according to Pew Center research. Did TLP get more than 4% of the GOP to vote for Biden?
I listened to TLP’s November 12, 2020 Townhall to answer the question. Indeed, based on county-level data, they did. (Disclaimer: A family member is an Associate Producer on a TLP videocast.)
What percent of GOP voters voted for Biden? More than voted in 2016 for Hillary. All of the percentages below are two to six points higher than the 4 percent of GOP voters that voted for Hillary:
- 9% in Florida, which still stayed for Trump as the Latino/Hispanic vote fell short for Biden according to TLP
- 7% in Pennsylvania
- 6% in North Carolina, but the large turnout of non-college-educated whites swamped the results per TLP
- 6% in Michigan
- 7% in Wisconsin
- 10% in Arizona
TLP targeted college-educated white voters and this demographic produced the Biden victory. TLP targeted GOP men as the election neared (women had already swung towards Biden, so there were fewer to capture). The winning message was, “We will not improve the economy until the virus is under control.” The swing in college-educated voters away from Trump to Biden was stellar:
- 13-point swing in Florida
- 5-point swing in Pennsylvania
- 17-point swing in North Carolina
- 14-point swing in Michigan
- 15-point swing in Arizona
- 27-point swing in Georgia (which finally voted Blue for the first time since 1992)
A final and vital TLP target was right-leaning independents, who were about the same percentage of independents in 2020 as in 2016. Here TLP appears to have had its largest success. Trump won independent voters in 2016 by 1 point (43% to 42% for Clinton) according to Pew. In contrast, this year the percentage of independents who voted for Biden rather than Trump created double-digit gaps between the two candidates:
- 16% Biden win over Trump among independents in 2020 in Florida
- 15% in Pennsylvania
- 21% in North Carolina
- 24% in Michigan
- 24% in Wisconsin
- 14% in Arizona
- 18% in Georgia
TLP does not claim “sole” responsibility for success. Indeed, many coalitions worked to defeat Trump, including the former Bush government leaders who advocated for Biden. But the compelling ads of TLP certainly made it OK to vote for Biden as a right-leaning voter. And, as I read social media posts and look at the data, it’s clear that TLP served as an incremental and positive (for Biden) difference-maker.
TLP has a good read on how Trump emerged as an influential political figure four years ago. Record, growing, and massive inequalities in income, wealth, and opportunity exist in the US. There’s also demographic change, where the US will be majority non-white in 2045 based on the 2018 US Census. Together, these two trends create economic uncertainty, anger, and cultural fear. It’s rich soil for an authoritarian leader to emerge—one who works to erode the pillars of a real democracy, as Trump did.
TLP leaders read the election as a vote for divided government, as many GOP and independent voters for Biden voted downstream for the GOP. They voted for the parties coming together and finding solutions acceptable for both sides.
The three TLP speakers in the town hall – Ron Steslow, Mike Madrid, and Jennifer Horn – concluded in the Townhall that the pandemic offers a unique opportunity for the left and the right to come together. Wouldn’t that be refreshing? It’s undoubtedly our nation’s highest need. And, a united front would do a lot to heal wounds on both sides of the aisle.
I donated money to The Lincoln Project, as I believe in its founders’ vision of how democracy works. I feel I got a good return.