It is usually difficult to discern the meaning of a national election, and 2020 is no exception. It was a defeat for Donald Trump but a victory for the Republican Party, which turned back most challenges to incumbent senators, fought off Democratic efforts to flip state legislatures, and made gains in the House. The American people have voted for divided government and a less divisive tone in national politics.
What does that mean for a national policy agenda? State ballot initiatives give more insight into the kinds of policies Americans favor, and it’s a contrast to conventional depictions of a hopelessly polarized electorate.
Take Florida, where voters gave Mr. Trump the largest margin of victory for any candidate since George W. Bush in 2004. Yet 61% of voters supported moving to a $15 hourly minimum wage by 2026. The measure received about 1.5 million more votes than Mr. Biden, nearly all of which must have come from Mr. Trump’s supporters.
On the opposite coast, two-thirds of California voters chose Joe Biden. Yet the bluest electorate in the country also nixed ballot initiatives pushed by Golden State progressives. Some 52% rejected a tax increase on commercial and industrial property; 56% disapproved of allowing 17-year-olds to vote in primary elections and replacing cash bail; 57% rejected reinstating affirmative action; and 60% said no to expanding local rent control. Nearly 60% favored a measure, opposed by Bernie Sanders, to treat Uber and Lyft drivers as independent contractors, not as employees entitled to benefits and labor-law protections. In Illinois, another deeply blue state, 55% of voters rejected a measure supported by Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker that would have permitted a graduated income tax to replace the current flat tax.
Yet voters also approved some initiatives favored by progressives. Californians supported criminal-justice reforms and strongly favored allowing former felons to regain their right to vote, as voters in Florida did two years ago. States across the country voted to liberalize their drug laws, and nearly three-quarters of Mississippi voters, among the most conservative in the country, supported the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes.
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