By John C. Davis
The following are ten takeaways from what has been an election cycle with equal parts change and continuity.
1. Arkansas Republicans continued to make gains. Over the last decade, Arkansas has shifted from one of the nation’s most reliably Democratic states to perhaps the most Republican in the country. This trend doesn’t look to be slowing anytime soon.
2. The GOP’s control of both chambers of the Arkansas General Assembly became even stronger, as Republicans picked up seats in the Delta and southern Arkansas districts.
3. A stark urban-suburban/rural divide has firmly formed in Arkansas, with Democratic-leaning voters residing in areas with higher populations in Pulaski county and in pockets of Northwest Arkansas. Over the last few election cycles, Republicans have expanded their political dominance in all suburban and rural areas in the Natural State. Democrats in Arkansas are struggling to find a message that serves as a palatable alternative to Republicans. To put it bluntly, the Democratic Party of Arkansas is an urban party in a rural-suburban state.
The political and regional political polarization could have negative impacts on policy outcomes and hinder attempts to move the state forward in a way that benefits all Arkansans. It is true that regional rivalries have always existed in the state’s politics, but the partisan polarization is new to a state with a rich history of one-party rule. Also, it is worth noting, past regional biases in the state have not proven to be beneficial to Arkansans.
Regardless of your party affiliation, you can’t fault the GOP for winning. Democrats in Arkansas must get their act together and find a way to provide a viable alternative in the way of policy and candidates so as to avoid many of the same issues of the past linked to one-party dominance and the lack of a two-party system.
4. Trump remains popular in Arkansas. In fact, in 2020 he improved upon his impressive 2016 performance. While he will not be President of the United States after January 20, 2021, it is reasonable to assume he will remain relevant to the states’ politics as the 2022 GOP gubernatorial primary contest heats up.
5. All incumbents running for re-election to represent Arkansas in the U.S. House and U.S. Senate won, as expected. Senator Cotton didn’t face a Democratic challenger and handily defeated a Libertarian candidate. The only race garnering national attention was the one for 2nd U.S. House District between incumbent Republican French Hill and state Senator Joyce Elliot. Despite polls indicating a tight race, the results for what is typically seen as a 45-55 Republican-leaning district were in fact, approximately 45%-55%.in favor of the Republican incumbent.
6. 2020 was a referendum on President Trump and a majority of American voters rejected him with over 5 million more votes, a majority of those cast, and more than enough Electoral College votes going to Biden.
7. It appears Biden flipped five states in 2020 that Trump won in 2016. However, Democrats didn’t see significant gains outside of a few key races for U.S. Senate and saw their majority in the U.S. House shrink to a very narrow margin. In other words, many voters voted for Biden who likely then supported incumbents down ticket and many of these were Republicans. While President Trump—the highest Republican elected official lost, this election was not a repudiation of GOP policies or the party’s brand.
8. Voters turned out in high numbers, likely fueled by fear or anger, or both. A sign of the chaotic times in which we live. On a positive note, it appears that civic engagement is the highest it has been in decades.
9. Despite a pandemic, and historically high voter turnout (the highest in decades, by some calculations), voting issues were minimal and the process was secure. Election officials should be recognized as the heroes they are.
10. At the moment, it appears the majority status of the U.S. Senate for the next Congress hinges on the results of two run-off elections in Georgia. Ray Charles has a song relevant to this point, but I will leave it for you to decide which one.