Post-Election Advocacy Outlook

This election has been historic. Possibly the highest turnout ever (148 million votes and counting). The first female vice president (who is also Black, and of South Asian descent) ever elected. Two of the oldest Presidential candidates to ever run against each other for office. And results that unfolded in slow motion over the past week.

Voters sent more women to Congress than ever before, including major gains for House Republican women. Americans also elected the first two openly gay Black representatives, the first Korean-American woman  representative, the first transgender state senator and many other candidates who broke down various barriers.

Now, as many of us turn to address what comes next for our organizations, the days ahead will also be light on precedent. The advocacy landscape in coming weeks will be new ground for many in Washington. While votes are still being counted and certified, here is how we expect the advocacy landscape to take shape.

Power Structure 

The United States is in for more divided government in the months ahead, with a power structure that is more fractured than usual. 

  • Biden. The President Elect will draw most of the media attention in the weeks ahead, but he will not be president until Jan. 20. That means another 70 days of the status quo during the lame duck session. Biden will have a mighty platform, but his ability to directly influence events during this time will be limited. How President Trump and Senate Republicans choose to use the remainder of 2020 will largely determine the legislative climate.  
  • Trump. Much will depend on what President Trump does with his remaining time in office. Having thus far declined to accept the results of the election and to concede the race, the president may focus on his electoral arguments. Alternatively, he could work with Senate Republicans to advance GOP objectives on the federal budget, pandemic relief and other bills in a lame duck session of Congress.
  • U.S. Senate. Much of the action in Washington is going to focus on the Senate in the months ahead. While Trump is a lame-duck president, Republicans retain control of the Senate, leaving Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in a position to control—and limit—the flow of federal legislation. McConnell will play a major role in what gets taken up this year, and will act as a check on the Biden administration next year—if he maintains his majority.
    Assuming that Alaska Senator Dan Sullivan and North Carolina Senator Thom Tillis both keep their seats (they are currently leading in returns in North Carolina and Alaska), Republicans will hold the Chamber 50 to 48, but there are two runoff elections for senators in Georgia in January. If Democrats could win both—a very tall order—it could give them control of the Senate, with Harris breaking the tie.     
  • U.S. House. Democrats retained control of the House but saw their majority shrink. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has been a primary voice of the Democratic opposition in recent years, will now be working with Biden to enact the Democratic agenda.
  • States. There were 11 gubernatorial races and thousands of state lawmakers on the ballot. But despite all that, the election brought about very little change in the states. Only one gubernatorial seat and one legislature changed hands (Republicans picked up Montana and New Hampshire, respectively). Generally speaking, power in the states remains largely unchanged. 

Action Outlook

Congress is starting its lame-duck session as the country experiences massive financial uncertainty and the number of coronavirus cases—and deaths—continue to set records. Here are some things to watch.

  • Pandemic Relief. Both Republicans and Democrats support a relief bill but they differ on the approach and how much to spend. Republicans have supported a more targeted bill while Democrats favor a broader approach. 
  • Budget. The current continuing resolution funds the federal government through Dec. 11. If an agreement is not reached by then, it could trigger a government shutdown.
  • New Members. New members of Congress will be attending their orientation, naming staff and preparing for the start of their session in January.  

Of course, the action will extend beyond Congress. For example:

  • Georgia. Both parties are expected to mount massive electoral operations to try to capture Georgia’s Senate seats. In a state flipping from red to blue in this very election, the outcome is far from certain.
  • Campaign Promises. Biden has a long list of policy priorities that he promised throughout the campaign. While some require congressional action, others can be done unilaterally. For example, Biden is expected to take charge of the nation’s coronavirus policy, rejoin the World Health Organization and the Paris Climate Agreement.
  • Cabinet and Staff. Biden will be naming his team, starting with white house staff and them moving to the cabinet, where the Treasury Secretary and the Secretary of Health and Human Services will likely be priorities. Biden’s cabinet is expected to be diverse (it may even contain Republicans), and all will be chosen with Senate confirmation in mind.  

Advocacy Environment

America has never seen more digital grassroots advocacy than in the first half of 2020—and that is expected to continue. 

Driven by the pandemic, racial unrest and the election, Americans took more than 14 million actions from January to June, an eight-fold gain over the same period in 2016, according to Phone2Action’s State of Advocacy report.

Activists made more than 12.6 million connections with elected officials during that time, a 952-percent increase over 2016. At its height, almost 52,000 people were taking action every day—36 people every single minute. 

With pandemic relief legislation ahead, as well as bills related to economic recovery and issues that include civil rights, healthcare, immigration, the environment, education, infrastructure and more, we expect grassroots digital advocacy to continue strong.     

Party Questions

The election left both political parties asking questions about the future.

For Democrats, who did not pull off the wave election that some anticipated and who actually lost seats in the House, a discussion has begun about party identity. Some more moderate Democrats have criticized those who self-identify as democratic socialists, saying the label hurt the party in states like Florida.

Republicans have similar conversations ahead, reconciling a strong showing nationally with a presidential loss and a tighter margin in the U.S. Senate. Trump’s own political future, and the role of his base in shaping the Republican Party, also remains to be seen.   


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