Notes on the Present Conjuncture (2): A Unity of Interests

The 2020 election cycle is on track to be twice as expensive as any previous election cycle in American history. There’s the urgency of the Supreme Court battle and control of Senate hangs in the balance. But the real driver of the great outpouring of funds from the moneyed is the desire to unseat Donald Trump.

This becomes clear when we realize that Democrats account for bulk of the blowout. They are on track to spend twice as much as the GOP on this election. Such a decisive fund-raising advantage has not obtained for any party in living memory.

It is not just the money. The professional class as a whole is united in the desire to unseat the president. Since it is in unchallenged control of the agenda-setting prestige media and social media platforms, the temptation to tilt the playing field by controlling the narrative has proven impossible to resist. The most egregious, from a free speech perspective, is not the relentless propaganda of the prestige media, that Taibbi calls the dirty secret of the past four years. More egregious is direct censorship by our Silicon Valley overlords. Facebook’s blanket ban on searching for Kyle Rittenhouse is still in effect. Twitter literally banned a historic American newspaper from its platform over the Hunter Biden influence-peddling story. From its thousand strong points, the professional class would have us believe that it is a hoax. The resort to censorship has become so blatant that the editors of the Intercept, founded by Glen Greenwald, tried to gag him. He resigned in disgust. Apparently, the corruption of the professional class knows no bounds.

Although it would be stupid to count your chickens before they hatch — Biden’s lead in battleground states is around half his lead in national polls — we should pay attention to the forces on the cusp of power in the United States. To this end, I’ve been looking at the spatial distribution of campaign funds for Biden and Trump. If this is the most expensive election in history, where is the money coming from?

It should come as no surprise that Trump and Biden have very different fund-raising footprints across the states. All data that follows is from the Federal Election Commission. Looking at campaign receipts per capita, Biden’s money is coastal:

Trump’s fund-raising footprint is much more spread out. Although Nevada and Florida stand out as a major funder of the president’s reelection campaign. Nevada money is clearly the Vegas gambling interests. Florida is much more complicated, and we shall come to it presently.

It is better to look at the difference. Looking at Biden less Trump, the coastal, Metropolitan bias of money backing Biden’s bid becomes even more manifest. Colorado, essentially an outpost of coastal culture in the middle of the country, stands out as favorable to Democrats.

One of the most peculiar facts that turned up when I parsed the data today, was an extreme outlier in Biden’s case. It turns out that the consummate insider and fifty-year career politician is heavily backed by the beltway (politicians, staffers, lobbyists, policy wonks, and others feeding off the world’s largest gravy train). Biden raised 117m from Washington, DC alone, second only to California (127m) and more than New York (63m) or Florida (31m). This is one barometer of the unity of interests behind the Harris-Biden solution.

Once we throw out DC, an interesting pattern emerges from the scatter. Contested states are in blue; the dotted line is 45º — on which Biden and Trump are equally favored. As we saw earlier, Biden’s heavily favored in the northeast and the west coast; while gambling money from Nevada is strongly behind Trump. Among the contested states, we find a sort of cultural segregation. The Middle West, Greater New England, the New South, and the Southwest cluster together.

Contested states in blue.

Money from the great Megalopolis that stretches from southern Maine to northern Virginia is in general behind Biden. Colorado is essentially a cultural outpost of this pole. The Middle West is much more competitive and is spending less money. The good news for Biden is that he is slightly favored in Pennsylvania and Minnesota. Meanwhile, Wisconsin is right on the 45º line, as are Ohio and North Carolina. What has made the latter competitive is the rise of the affluent “Research Triangle.” This is straight-up Metropolitan professional class culture. Older money, of the regional elite in this historic state, is still traditionally Republican. The situation is somewhat similar in Georgia, where the growing Metropolis of Atlanta and its affluent and educated burbs have made the state competitive. The political geometry of Arizona is only slightly different — it has two centers of gravity instead.

Florida is a true battleground. Here the geometry is very interesting. The Panhandle is Trump country. Paradoxically, northern Florida is culturally southern, southern Florida is not. The South extends to the I-4 corridor — all Trump land. Culturally, southern Florida is part, indeed, the center of gravity, of the circum-Caribbean region. The I-4 corridor itself is predominantly Puerto Rican. COVID-19 has complicated turnout for Dems here because many have taken off for the islands. In South Florida, the Cubans spoil the otherwise strong Democrat affinity of the region, although not enough to make it unreliably blue. Whereas in South Florida, retirees from the northern Megalopolis mingle with other communities of color to yield a deep blue, the Gulf Coast is populated by migrants from the Middle West and is quite conservative.

Source: Damore, Lang and Danielsen (2020), Blue Metros, Red States.

We can see how the phylogenetic and cultural geography conditions the political geometry of a large swing state like Florida, now the third most populous state of the union, having recently overtaken New York (the Sunshine State is less populous than California and Texas). In 2016, Trump won Florida by around a hundred thousand votes. On the eve of the election, Joe Biden leads by the slimmest of margins. This will be a nail-biter to watch tomorrow and however long the counting lasts.

2016 electoral map of Florida (Source: NYTimes).

The broader picture, the moral of Blue Metros, Red States, is that the battlefront runs through the suburbs and exurbs of the Metropolis. Although the authors do not tackle the class confrontation, it is clear that the cosmopolitan culture of the metros is the culture of the hegemonic class. This resurgent culture is invading deeper and deeper, not into the working class rural heartland so to speak (Trump country proper) but into the world of the suburban middle class. Part of this is simply population replacement — as the suburbs have diversified they have become more like metros. But a more alarming development from the president’s perspective is that the suburban middle class itself is turning on the populist it had backed in 2016. More precisely, white suburban women have moved decisively to Biden. The gender gap has been widening as the culture wars have escalated since the late-1960s. No one knows why.

By now, it has become a chasm. Biden and Trump are running even among men, with both polling at 45 percent. Among women on the other hand, Biden’s share is around 55 to Trump’s 35. It is hard to see how the president can win reelection with such a decisive disadvantage among half the electorate.

Trump’s likeliest path back to the White House runs through courtrooms. The tens of millions of ballots already mailed-in will take some time to be counted. It is also clear that many will be disqualified on technical grounds. There will be ample opportunity for legal contests. We may not know the outcome for weeks.

Much more worrying, although not unrelated, is the potential for political violence at scale. There are enough Hub City Riot Ninjas unafraid to contest the streets against right wing militias. Unfortunately, the balance of firepower is decided against them. I fear a whole bunch of them, perhaps dozens, perhaps hundreds, are going to get themselves shot. On the eve of the election, I feel a very deep sense of foreboding.

Although this November is threatening to become catastrophic, we must pay attention to the contours of the emerging order. The unity of interests behind Harris-Biden will surely fragment into competing factions trying to control the direction of the administration. But what is coming into view is a restoration of adult authority with a vengeance — the unchallenged domination of the professional class. Whether or not Biden delivers, there is nowhere to hide from the power of this class. In the Trump years, an unprecedented alliance has emerged between surveillance capital, eastern finance, the prestige media, the intelligence community, the foreign policy Blob, and the national security deep state more generally. This alliance is now on the cusp of unchecked power. It would be a return to normalcy, like 1896, when, as now, the populist threat from below was outmaneuvered and contained.

Postscript. Lee Harris III pointed me to some very revealing graphs from the FT’s analysis of FEC data. Democrats are really outspending the GOP.

Most of this money is from the professional class proper; not simply tech and finance. And blue state money is making its way into contested states, even down ballot.

I am reminded of Braudel’s memorable quip: “… as if money could fail to create both social discipline and an extraordinary capacity for action.”

One thought on “Notes on the Present Conjuncture (2): A Unity of Interests

  1. Interesting and useful detail on the finance, thanks.

    FWIW, I think FL is supposed to be one of the eariler states to provide a result, since it tallies the mail-in ballots as they arrive, rather than waiting until election day to begin counting them.

    The above is true of NC as well, which will be the benchmark I plan to use to judge the quality of the swing state polling — PA and FL are a little odd in that they are closed-primary states, and thus the state voter-registration data misrepresents many independents (perhaps a majority of them) as R/D, creating an additional estimation task that pollsters must correctly handle.

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