Good morning, it's Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. Election Day. Six presidential elections have been held on this date since the Civil War. The first three (1868, 1896, and 1908) went to Republicans. The next three (1936, 1964, and 1992) went to Democrats, two of them in landslides. Today is the rubber match, although it's uncertain whether we'll know by midnight which party prevailed.
No matter how long it takes to tabulate the votes, this year's election returns will address -- and hopefully answer -- a series of questions.
Long lines at many polling places, coupled with early voting estimated at nearly 100 million ballots, suggest a high turnout election -- in the middle of an unabated viral pandemic. So COVID-19 apparently hasn't inhibited voting; perhaps it's contributed to it. What does a large turnout portend? That question will be addressed tomorrow. With help from my friends at RCP, here are some others:
-- Did the coronavirus pandemic blot out voters' concerns about the economy -- and other issues? President Trump still gets good marks from voters on his handling of the economy, but not the pandemic. When it came to COVID-19, he not only didn't protect Americans from it, he got infected himself. If Trump loses, will the coronavirus that he keeps reminding Americans came from China consign him to a one-term presidency?
-- Was the 2020 election really a referendum -- or was it a choice? In other words, did Americans cast their votes on Donald Trump's performance as president or was it a choice between two competing views of America, a framework more favorable to Republicans? Another way of saying this: If Trump manages to win, the culture wars will have trumped the president's coronavirus many missteps, and all the rest.
-- Do the normal rules of political gravity apply to Trump anyway? In 2016, he outperformed his pre-election poll numbers in almost every key swing state. That's to be expected: He was an outsider facing a career politician who essentially was viewed as an incumbent. But in 2020 Trump is the actual incumbent, one presiding over a troubled economy. Typically, he'd lose ground on Election Day as late-breaking undecideds back the challenger. So, is this guy "President Trump," which would not bode well for the GOP ticket? Or is he still "Donald J. Trump," the sui generis slayer of established precedent?
-- Does acting "presidential" still matter? Joe Biden's closing argument to the American people was "Let's restore honesty and decency to the White House." Meanwhile, Trump was making fun of Biden's sunglasses, mocking him for wearing a mask, calling the Biden family "corrupt," impugning LeBron James and Lady Gaga, and saying that Biden supporter Jon Bon Jovi "kisses my ass." From his presidential announcement in June 2015 to his last rallies this week, The Donald has conducted himself more like a New York insult comic than a president. The question is whether Americans even care about temperament anymore.
-- Has confidence in the election process been undermined? For partisan advantage, each side accuses the other of conspiring to rig the election. Republicans are "suppressing" minority votes, say the Democrats. The Democrats are planning massive fraud with mail-in and absentee ballots, says Trump. What is the long-term damage caused by such tactics?
-- Is it time to tinker with the Constitution? If Biden carries the popular vote but loses in the Electoral College, that will make three of the last five presidential elections in which the candidate with the fewest votes was installed as president. Does that result diminish Americans' respect for government?
-- The two dominant political parties are becoming more polarized, but are they also realigning? If so, this raises a host of other questions: Has the Republican Party been more or less permanently recast by Trump's brand of populism? Has the Democratic Party veered too far left? Where are centrists supposed to go?
-- Can we finally stop asking, "But will young Americans vote?" Millennials and Gen Zers are poised to break turnout records for the second election in a row. So the old chestnut about how they don't vote can be laid to rest. A more salient inquiry is this: What are the long-term implications for a political party (the GOP) that is an anathema to voters under 40?
-- Did minority voters cut against type? Hispanic support for Trump surged in Florida late in the game. A few high-profile defections among prominent African Americans gave Trump supporters hope for inroads in this near-monolithic Democratic Party voting bloc. We'll know soon if this was just meaningless noise.
-- Has political campaigning been altered forever? William McKinley, one of the Republicans who won the presidency on a Nov. 3, rarely left his house during the campaign. Before Joe Biden's "Delaware basement" strategy, McKinley successfully executed his Ohio "front porch campaign." If Biden wins, will Zoom be established as the essential platform for future candidate outreach, organizing, even focus groups? (Or, if Biden loses, we will look at Trump's huge end-of-the-campaign rallies and conclude that even William McKinley would have to press the flesh in 21st century America.
-- Last question: Who will carry Florida, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Michigan, and Arizona? Look into your crystal ball -- or at the RCP polling averages -- because those states will determine the identity of the next president of the United States.
Carl M. Cannon is the Washington bureau chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.