Evan Scrimshaw: Stacey Abrams Isn't The Reason Joe Biden Won Georgia
(We're once again pleased to have Evan Scrimshaw (@EScrimshaw) write this column today for us as a guest writer. Evan has years of experience with global election forecasting and is an expert on Australian, American, British, Irish, Scottish, and Canadian electoral politics. We're excited to feature his work here.)
"It Was The Sun Wot Won It," declared The Sun after the 1992 UK Election. Shockingly, a newspaper wanted to overestimate its own influence, but for some reason everyone has actually agreed with the logic to the point where people actually genuinely believe that it was the Sun who won John Major a fourth consecutive Tory term in office.
The polls were wrong, you see, and therefore there had to have been a change at the polling booths, as opposed to the polls just having been wrong, and having been wrong for a while. The fact that British pollsters admitted to a Shy Tory Effect after 92 didn't change the narrative either, because of course it didn't.
Head down to Australia, and you see a similar pattern with regards the right wing duo of Crosby-Textor - the former being Sir Lynton, who ran Boris Johnson's two Mayoral runs and David Cameron's miracle 2015 victory. Whenever the right wins, Crosby-Textor are there to take their credit, but when the right loses, they either weren't involved in the campaign or the candidate didn't listen. Regardless of the truth, the news that Sir Lynton was coming to advise Stephen Harper in 2015 was viewed by some in the Canadian press as a GameChanger. It wasn't, and Harper got 31% of the vote, as he had polled at for 3 years. Nothing surprising.
Why did Joe Biden win Georgia? Ask around, and the name Stacey Abrams will surely pop up, with white liberals genuflecting at her altar and Black Democrats just glad that they went and did the thing. Abrams, of course, was a strong candidate in 2018, and her voting rights organization did secure major legal victories to help ensure as fair and equal right to vote for all Georgians as possible. But she isn't why Joe Biden won Georgia.
Abrams is a solid politician and should be a good Governor if she wins in 2 years, but she is absolutely not why Joe Biden won Georgia. Abrams is a whip smart operator who has done the Lord's work to fight racism and oppression, but that work isn't why Joe Biden won Georgia. It wasn't Abrams that got college educated whites in the Atlanta metro to vote for Biden, and it wasn't organizing or activism that caused it either. And anybody who just blindly credits her - or those nebulous abstractions - for the win diminish not just the work that actually won Georgia, but also give false hope to those trying to replicate the goal.
What did flip Georgia then? It's easy to say that it wasn't Abrams' plan which did it, but what's the actual case for what did flip Georgia? It's simple - the suburban war that's cost the GOP two House seats in 2 cycles in the state. In her 2016 5% loss, Hillary Clinton lost whites with a degree in Georgia by 41%. Joe Biden lost them by 20%. That swing is why Biden won the state despite a surge in rural white votes for Trump, why he won the state despite the lowest Black share of the electorate since 2006, and why Jon Ossoff is a (slight) favourite to win in just over two weeks.
It wasn't Abrams' activism or organizing that turned the white, upper middle classes blue in 4 years. It wasn't the work of Fair Fight or the plan Abrams told everybody about years ago that got the golf playing elites of Cobb and Gwinnett to trend blue. Part of the swing in the outer Atlanta Metro is those counties diversifying, but it's also the whites in those areas getting more Democratic. It isn't Stacey Abrams' great work which saw Democrats get huge swings in the Milwaukee and Philly collar counties, either, another sign that maybe this isn't about activism as it is demographics. But that isn't as fun, because the answer when it's demographics is that we aren't masters of our own domain.
Politicians and political campaigns are not smarter than outsiders. Remember when Mike Espy's Comms person lost it on Twitter because someone had the temerity to point out that Mississippi whites were too Republican for Espy to win? Remember when Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump both thought Hillary was going to win four years ago? Or, even, remember when Mike Kelly told reporters that Trump was up 9 or 10 in his Trump +20 (in 2016) district?
Remember when Mitch McConnell put $3M into Montana a week out, for a race they ended up easily winning? Remember when literally everybody on both sides thought Susan Collins was done for? Remember when Al Gross claimed he could still win - I'm pretty sure he even said he was going to win - days after the election?
The decisions made by political staff and campaigns make much less difference than anybody wants to admit. There are good campaigns and good candidates and bad ones of both too, but little of any of this is knowable until we have the result - at which point, there's little value to it.
We all allow this lie to flourish - every time we listen to Pod Save America or Ax Files, every time we imply or suggest that with a different message X or Y candidate could have won. We mostly allow it to happen by fetishizing the ones who won, and writing the history in such a way as to take fairly passive observers of history and turn them into key figures in it. As a bit on Election Twitter, it's fine - it's a bit of harmless fun, assuredly. But if you're actually trying to figure out why political events happened the way they did, the Great Man Theory of Politics fails.
The Sun didn't win it for Major, Lynton Crosby does not single-handedly change the course of every campaign he ever takes a paycheck from, and Stacey Abrams didn't win Georgia for Joe Biden. This is not meant as a slight to the great work she has - and will continue - to do, but pretending it was her - as opposed to global forces - that did it is just a fiction that will lead to a whole lot of copycats and a whole lot of losses. Democrats who want to get serious about party building would do well to get their heads out of the sand and learn the real lessons of the last decade instead of falling for the latest cult of personality that inevitably fails them to the promised land.