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Why exit polls suggest Trump made strides with minority voters

Ted Johnson, Senior Fellow at Brennan Center for Justice joins Yahoo Finance to break down how states voted during the presidential election.

Video Transcript

JULIE HYMAN: We continue to await election results from a number of different battleground states. And the Associated Press had already called Arizona for Joe Biden. Now the Trump campaign appears to be disputing that. I'm told that 84% of the votes have been counted there. They are still counting mail-in ballots. Now mail-in ballots, as we have seen across the nation, have in general favored Joe Biden. So we'll see what happens there. But this does sort of characterize what appears to be the Trump campaign strategy, which we saw some hints of last night and this morning, with them sort of disputing the counting that continues to go on.

Let's talk more about the election and what to make of it. Ted Johnson is joining us now. He's the Senior Fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice. Ted, I guess first of all, I would just ask simply what happened? We have been talking this morning in particular about how President Trump seems to have picked up every demographic, or picked up leads over 2016 in every demographic, except for white men, where he saw losses. And this really runs counter to sort of the conventional wisdom going into the election. So what happened?

TED JOHNSON: Yeah. So I think the first thing that happened is folks got really confident in some of the polling that was released days before the election. And they thought places like Wisconsin and Michigan were going to be easy calls for Joe Biden. They thought Pennsylvania and Florida would probably be called within the day. And then when that didn't pan out, everyone started-- the scar tissue from 2016 started to irritate folks a little bit, I think.

So look, I think here's what happened. Number one, the exit polls that we're seeing this morning don't always capture the early voting that's happened or the mail-in balloting that's happened. And because of the coronavirus pandemic, many, many more Americans voted by these means. So some of what we're seeing are the folks who chose to vote on Election Day skewed more Republican than they normally would, because a lot of Democrats voted different ways than they have previously.

So the exit polls are suggesting that Donald Trump made some significant strides, small but significant strides, with Latino men, in particular, with black voters. And I don't know that that's entirely accurate. That said, what we're seeing this morning suggests that Donald Trump didn't really need to make significant gains among those communities to remain competitive in these battleground states. They're battleground states for a reason and they're sort of proving that out this morning.

So I think now, as our hopes and dreams, or preconceived notions, or whatever our thoughts were going into election night, as we sort of settle into reality of what's happened, that the gap between the two is a sort of rubbing people the wrong way. And I think ultimately what will shake out will be less surprising than it feels right now.

BRIAN SOZZI: Ted-- and again, we're dealing in hypotheticals here. If we do see a President Biden, what would you like to see from him to help clear the racial divide that is clearly still very much going on in this country? What would you like to see from him in his first 100 days?

TED JOHNSON: Yeah, so in the first 100 days, I think the best thing a Biden-Harris administration can do for racial justice, racial equality is actually the same thing that that administration can do for improving and strengthening our systems of democracy and justice. And I think one of the first things they should do is pass House Resolution 1, which was passed in the House last year, which is a series of Democratic reforms, including campaign finance reform, restoring some voting rights that were gutted from the Shelby County decision in 2013, and giving our systems of democracy and justice more resilience. Restoring some of the integrity and the justice, the fairness of the process is the absolute best thing for the country. And you know, it follows that that's the best thing for racial justice.

I think a lot of our issues with racism stem from the fact, it's not a matter of people not liking other people, like white versus black, it's more a question of structural racism. And so when people have more faith in their government and their systems and institutions and their elected officials, then the government tends to be more responsive to the people. And it's that responsiveness that's going to lead to more racial equality, not specific targeted policy proposals sort of stacked on one another in the first 100 days. I think we need to strengthen our democracy first.

JULIE HYMAN: Ted, what if President Trump is re-elected? What then does that scenario look like?

TED JOHNSON: This is, it's hard to say. I do think that we will continue to see a sort of a pressure exerted on the Trump administration from internally and externally. And what I mean by this is we've seen a summer of racial justice protests, we've seen people really frustrated by the economy and the lack of government assistance and response to both the economy and to the coronavirus pandemic. And these protests are a way of exerting external pressures on the administration, to compel them or the Congress to do something to respond to the needs of the people.

I think we will also see that enthusiasm of external pressure translate into more civic engagement. And so we're seeing record levels of turnout right now with folks who have participated in this election. And so I think people will begin to leverage their members of Congress more to get past some of the intransigence we're seeing and the lack of will, I think, in Congress to move major policy.

So there will be folks leveraging their elected officials and those institutions, as well as continuing to protest in hopes that the public will move Congress and, hopefully, the president in a direction that's better for the country. Remains to be seen.

MYLES UDLAND: And then, Ted, I guess, related to that, I was going to ask if you think some kind of protracted, let's call it a technical battle that could be happening in the next couple of weeks around recounts, basically just trying to work the ref here for a couple of weeks before we finally get a result, does that maybe risk shaking some of the enthusiasm that we've clearly seen from voter turnout engagement across various issues through the summer?

TED JOHNSON: Yeah, absolutely. Look, we are about to find out how resilient our democracy is. If we are in a very close election, if, you know, it gets called in the next couple of days 270 to 268 for Joe Biden, with very close counts in Wisconsin, maybe Arizona, Nevada, and those recounts start happening while the president is declaring victory, accusing Democrats of cheating and wanting the election to go to the Supreme Court, then we are going to have several weeks of a contested election. And we will see whether our democracy is resilient enough to handle that.

What it will suggest, though, is if our institutions and system do not work the way they're supposed to, people will begin to lose faith in those systems and structures. Congress's approval rate is already in the floor. So it can't go much lower. The Supreme Court is actually doing quite well in people's opinions, relative to Congress. But that is now at risk of being delegitimized in the view of the people and being considered to sort of succumb to hyper-partisanship.

So we're in a test of this American experiment right now. We are going to see if people's will and the leadership of our national leaders can carry us through the moment and whether the structures of our democracy are resilient enough to withstand the crisis or the test that it's about to undergo.

JULIE HYMAN: Here's hoping. Ted Johnson, thank you so much for your time. He's a Senior Fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice.