Joe Biden succeeded in bridging his party’s past and future coalitions—but the challenges of future elections are daunting.
Joe Biden often describes himself as a bridge between the Democratic Party’s past and future generation of leaders. But the 2020 election results signal that he may play an even more indispensable role, as a bridge between the party’s past and future electoral coalitions.
Biden won the White House by holding just enough ground in the Rust Belt states that have been trending away from the Democrats, while gaining just enough new terrain in the Sun Belt battlegrounds. However, across both fronts, he carried almost all of the decisive states by narrow margins, even though he’s likely to win a greater share of the total national popular vote than any other challenger against an incumbent president since Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932.
That stark contrast—between Biden’s resounding popular-vote victory and his narrow win in crucial swing states—encapsulates the challenge Democrats will likely face in the coming decade. Biden’s victory underscores how Democrats now represent a larger coalition than Republicans do: It marks the seventh time in the past eight presidential elections that Democrats have won the popular vote, an unprecedented feat since the formation of the modern party system in 1828. But combined with Republican gains in the House of Representatives and Democrats’ inability to win any Senate seats in the states that backed Donald Trump, the close swing-state results illustrate why it may be extremely difficult for that majority coalition to consistently exercise its power in the years ahead.