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Suburban turnout pushed Joe Biden to victory

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Surging Democratic turnout in swing-state suburbs carried Joe Biden to the US presidency, according to a Financial Times analysis of detailed election results from thousands of voting precincts.

In a contest defined by record turnout for both candidates, the outcome of the race hinged on who was able to attract the most new votes — and where.

A blue wave in the majority-white suburbs of Pennsylvania and Georgia was pivotal to Mr Biden’s win in the electoral college. In Arizona, both majority-white and majority-Latino areas in Phoenix and Tucson contributed tens of thousands of net votes to Mr Biden, overturning a swing towards Mr Trump in majority-white rural areas.

Line charts showing voter turnout in US presidential and midterm elections. The 2020 turnout rate is projected to be the highest in over a century

This year has also underscored the diminishing utility of umbrella terms such as “Black”, “Latino” and “Asian” for voting groups, as race has played an increasingly nuanced role.

“You can’t overgeneralise our community,” said Lorella Praeli, president of Community Change Action, during a recent panel on Latino voter trends. “You need to understand that we are different in New Mexico, and we are different in Nevada, and different in the state of Florida.”

Detailed data on turnout by demographic group will not be publicly available until next year, so the FT has analysed turnout by looking at shifts in voting patterns at the local level. Our analysis compared tallies in majority-minority neighbourhoods to those in majority-white areas between 2016 and 2020.

A poll worker helps a voter get ready to cast a ballot in Atlanta, Georgia © Megan Varner/Getty

While large cities remained Democratic strongholds, it was the suburbs that accounted for Mr Biden’s biggest swings in many states, including key battlegrounds in the rust-belt and the south.

In 2016, Mr Trump saw a surge in both turnout and support among white voters, while turnout and support rates for Hillary Clinton among black voters, particularly in battleground states, declined.

Trump-Pence and Joe Biden campaign signs outside a polling location in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania © Hannah Joon/Bloomberg

Mr Biden underperformed Mrs Clinton in Philadelphia’s majority-black neighbourhoods while making gains in its majority-white areas. Further south in Atlanta, both majority-black and majority-white precincts added more new votes to the Democrats than the Republicans, but the blue shifts were much larger in majority-white areas.

Suburban swing in crucial states

Across the country, Mr Biden made his biggest gains in city centres as urban America turned even deeper blue.

But in key swing states Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Georgia, he gained a net 355,210 votes in suburban areas, more than double his gains in large metro areas. This shift allowed him to win the suburbs in these states outright after Mrs Clinton lost them by more than 200,000 votes in 2016.

Chart showing that nationally, the Democrats gained more new votes in urban areas, but it was big gains in the suburbs that flipped key swing states

By contrast in the biggest cities in all of these states, Mr Biden either lost ground or remained stagnant compared with 2016.

Mr Biden flipped Wisconsin, the “tipping point” state that pushed Mr Trump over the 270 electoral vote threshold in 2016. This year, record turnout topped 3.2m statewide, but in the city of Milwaukee the number of votes cast stayed flat. Instead, it was Milwaukee’s inner suburbs that delivered the “blue wave” for Mr Biden.

Maps showing a decades-long Democratic shift in the suburbs of Milwaukee, Wisconsin

It was a similar story in Pennsylvania and Georgia, where the suburbs drove Mr Biden to victory.

The suburban swing was opposed by a red rural wave. The Democrats lost ground to the Republicans in the rural portions of 37 of the 40 states for which sufficient data exist, continuing the country’s steady geographical polarisation.

Chart showing that a deep rural-urban divide has opened up in US politics in recent decades, leaving the suburbs as the key battleground

In Arizona, the dense cities of Phoenix and Tucson prevailed against a red rural surge, propelling the Democrats to victory for the first time since Bill Clinton’s 1996 win.

A suburban swing for Mr Biden is consistent with a previous FT analysis showing the president-elect gained ground with college-educated white voters. At the same time, America’s suburbs are becoming increasingly racially diverse, and the higher numbers of non-white voters in these areas appear to be contributing to the shift towards Democrats.

Non-white areas were critical for Biden in some places, but key for Republicans in others

Race and place are tightly interlinked in the US, meaning different demographics were key to the outcomes in different regions.

In Georgia, Stacey Abrams and other Democratic party organisers have been credited with a drive to register 800,000 new voters across the state, more than half of whom are non-white. The data show that these additional votes — which skewed heavily Democrat — played an important role in Mr Biden’s victory there, though perhaps not the pivotal one.

Majority-black precincts in the state capital Atlanta actually swung very narrowly towards Mr Trump compared with 2016, but still backed Mr Biden by 93 per cent to 6 per cent. Combined with a 7 per cent rise in turnout, these neighbourhoods added 14,490 more votes to the blue column than the red compared with 2016, and without them the Republicans would have won the state.

Maps showing that in Atlanta, majority-black areas swung slightly towards Trump, but a combination of increased turnout and their enduringstrong pro-Democrat lean meant they still added more new votes for the Democrats than the Republicans

Even more critical in Atlanta, however, were the majority-white suburbs, where a 20 per cent jump in turnout was matched by an 11 point swing towards Mr Biden.

Charts showing that majority-white areas provided the bulk of Democratic gains in Atlanta, but voting patterns show how a relative swing towards Trump in majority-black areas still translated into net gains for Biden

In Wisconsin and Pennsylvania — states that helped bring Mr Trump victory in 2016 — many saw black turnout as the key to the election outcome. In the biggest cities in these two states, Milwaukee and Philadelphia, majority-black precincts were where Mr Biden had the highest victory margins.

However, Mr Biden underperformed Mrs Clinton in these areas, which, despite being overwhelmingly Democratic, turned out less and shifted slightly Republican since 2016. 

Many factors could be at play, including the closure of colleges and universities due to the pandemic, which could have depressed turnout. Several majority-black areas have also seen population declines or changes over the past four years, such as more white voters moving in.

Maps showing that despite its continued status as Democratic stronghold, Philadelphia's Democratic turnout and victory margins have gone down compared to 2016, particularly in the city's majority-black and majority-Latino areas

In Arizona, majority Latino precincts swung 2.6 percentage points towards the Republicans while majority-white ones swung 4.3 points towards the Democrats. But as in Atlanta, existing partisan skews meant that both added more votes to Mr Biden’s column than Mr Trump’s.

Although Mr Trump’s support in Latino precincts increased on 2016, 72 per cent still backed Mr Biden, meaning that their increased turnout added 26,725 more votes to the Democrats than the Republicans in the state’s five most populous counties for which the FT obtained data.

Maps showing that in Arizona, majority-Latino areas swung slightly towards Trump, but a combination of a sharp rise in turnout and their pre-existingpro-Democrat lean meant they still added more new votes for the Democrats than the Republicans

Away from the battleground states, precinct-level data in California suggest portions of the Asian community have shifted slightly towards Donald Trump since 2016.

Orange County, where Republicans won back two House seats, as a whole swung narrowly towards Mr Biden, but in the diverse cities of Westminster and Garden Grove there was a sharp swing towards Mr Trump. While majority-white precincts swung for Mr Biden, the large Vietnamese American community increased its vote for the Republican by 35 percentage points, suggesting a similar dynamic to Miami, where Cuban Americans voted Republican as an anti-socialist move.

Maps showing that in Orange County, CA, the Vietnamese American communityswung sharply to Trump

Methodology and sources

Demographic data in this article came from the US Census Bureau’s 2014-18 American Community Survey. We aggregated this data from the block group level to precincts by calculating the fraction of the population in a block group that fell into each precinct, then using these fractions to apportion the census counts. We used the National Center for Health Statistics’s urban-rural classification for counties.

Election results by precinct were obtained from state and local election offices where possible. For some states, we used geographical boundaries and historical results data compiled by the MGGG Redistricting Lab and the Open Elections Project.

Many places have changed their precinct boundaries over time. For Milwaukee, we used a data set compiled by John D. Johnson of Marquette Law School derived from the Milwaukee County Election Commission and the Wisconsin Legislative Technology Services Bureau. For Philadelphia and other cities that have changed their boundaries since 2016, we reapportioned historical data into 2020 boundaries using a similar method to the one described on the Philadelphia elections blog Sixty-Six Wards.

Using group data — such as precinct- or county-level results — to infer individual behaviour is a rough way to estimate voting patterns; a clearer picture will emerge in the months ahead, as vote tallies are finalised, states update their voter lists and the US Census Bureau publishes its survey estimates.



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Analysis

Iranian TV action thriller delivers warning to Zarif

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It is hardly surprising that Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister and nuclear negotiator, is not a fan of Gando, a popular television drama that depicts an incompetent minister who scuppers nuclear talks with world powers by hiring dual nationals who turn out to be spies for MI6.

The series — made by an institute believed to be affiliated to the elite and hardline Revolutionary Guards — “is a lie from the beginning to the end” that “damages foreign policy more than me” by fuelling public mistrust, Zarif said.

By focusing on the nuclear talks, the Guards’ motive goes beyond creating compelling drama, reformist analysts say. Iran is in discussion with western powers about reviving the nuclear deal, a key reformist achievement, and hardliners want to deter the popular foreign minister from declaring his interest in the presidency in what is a crucial election year.

“I’ll be grateful to Gando-makers to let us continue our current job,” Zarif said this month, and commented that he would not run for the presidency.

The possibility of nuclear talks with the US and other powers has complicated an already fraught Iranian political scene ahead of the June election. Many reformists are pinning their hopes on Iran’s top diplomat to reinvigorate the nuclear deal and boost support at the ballot box. Hardliners might prefer to negotiate the deal themselves after the election. The polls are also seen as particularly crucial in case supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, 81, dies during the next president’s term.

Pendar Akbari, left, and Ashkan Delavari, right, in a scene from ‘Gando’
Pendar Akbari, left, and Ashkan Delavari, right, in a scene from an episode of ‘Gando’. The series title refers to an Iranian crocodile able to distinguish its friends from its enemies © Bahar Asgari/Shahid Avini Cultural and Artistic Institute via AP

The purpose of Gando, which refers to an Iranian crocodile able to distinguish its friends from its enemies, “is to tell Zarif that should he dare to announce his candidacy, he will be destroyed immediately,” said one reformist analyst. “When the intelligence service of the Guards truly believes in the Gando plot lines, it means even if Zarif decides to defy such warnings, he will not be allowed to run.”

Centrist president Hassan Rouhani is due to step down this year after two terms and it is not yet clear who the presidential candidates will be. Politicians register as late as May and then have to be vetted by the Guardian Council, the hardline constitutional watchdog, which can disqualify nominees. Potential hardline candidates include Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, the parliament speaker and a former guards commander; Ebrahim Raisi, the judiciary chief; and Ali Larijani, a former speaker of parliament. On the reformist side, speculation has centred on Es’haq Jahangiri, first vice-president, Hassan Khomeini, a grandson of the founder of the Islamic republic, and Zarif.

A US-educated career diplomat widely respected in the west for his pragmatism, Zarif was instrumental in the historic deal in 2015, under which Iran curbed its nuclear activity in exchange for the lifting of sanctions. But Donald Trump abandoned the accord in 2018, imposed sanctions, including on Zarif, and said he would pursue a new accord to contain Iran’s regional and military policies. The US move emboldened hardliners, confirming to them the untrustworthiness of the US.

Zarif’s background in the US both as a university student and as Iran’s head of mission at the UN — during which he met US politicians including then senator Joe Biden — has long made him a source of suspicion for hardliners.

This wariness of both Zarif and the west is evident to viewers of Gando, as is the heroism of the Revolutionary Guards. Mohammad, the action hero protagonist, warns that western negotiators may sabotage refineries as part of nuclear talks. Mohammad works out of elaborate facilities akin to those in a James Bond film. The fictional foreign minister is advised by a media adviser, the main culprit, “to enter into direct talks with the US and accept the conditions of the leader of the global village”.

Vahid Rahbani in a scene from an episode of ‘Gando’
Vahid Rahbani in a scene from an episode of ‘Gando’. State TV abruptly stopped broadcasting the series that was less than halfway through its 30-episode run © Hassan Hendi/Shahid Avini Cultural and Artistic Institute via AP

The dramatic scenes reflect, in part, the worldview of some of Zarif’s critics. “Reformists, Mr Zarif and his lobby group in Washington [Iranian dual nationals] should be wiped out from Iran’s politics,” said an aide to a senior hardline politician who is a potential presidential candidate. “We have to get rid of this cancerous tumour once for good.”

Gholamali Jafarzadeh, a former conservative member of parliament, said Zarif “is not a good statesman and should not run for president” while “reformists should know that their choices have no chance to be allowed to run”. 

This month, state TV abruptly stopped broadcasting the series that was less than halfway through its 30-episode run. Local media said broadcasts would resume when the presidential race was over. Iran’s centrist president Hassan Rouhani, whose signature achievement is the nuclear deal — alluded to the show on Wednesday and said “people’s money” should not be spent on “fabrication of the truth” and “distortion of facts”.

After three years of sanctions, many voters are disillusioned by the infighting and the prospect of real change, whatever the outcome of the election. “Whether Zarif or a figure more senior than him runs or not, I’m not going to vote,” said Hamid, a 40-year-old engineer. “Let the Guards win the election as they are the ones who are running the country anyway. Why shall I make a fool of myself?” 



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Rising inflation complicates Brazil’s Covid-19 crisis

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After seven months in lockdown, Michele Marques received some unwelcome news when she returned to work: while she was away the prices of almost all the products she uses as a hairdresser had soared.

“A box of gloves rose 200 per cent. Colouring products increased at least 100 per cent,” said the 37-year-old from São Paulo, underlining how costs were rising while her revenue had collapsed. “I had to raise the price of my services, too.”

It is a dynamic that is playing out across Brazil, adding an extra layer of complexity to the country’s coronavirus crisis, which has already claimed the lives of almost 350,000 individuals and pushed hospital services to the brink.

With much of Latin America’s largest economy being shuttered, inflation is surging to its highest level in years, fuelling a silent scourge of hunger among poorer citizens that has run in parallel to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The high price of staple foods — rice and beans, for example — has led to the disappearance of these items from the table of millions of Brazilians,” said Ana Maria Segall, a researcher at the Brazilian Research Network on Food and Nutritional Sovereignty and Security. In the 12 months to the end of March, the price of rice increased 64 per cent and black beans 51 per cent.

“In Brazil currently food inflation has penalised the very poorest, preventing them from having adequate access to food and in many situations leading to hunger,” she said, adding that rising unemployment and the curtailment of social programmes were also contributing factors.

Volunteers hand out food in São Paulo © Alexandre Schneider/Getty Images

Less than half of Brazil’s population of 212m now has access to adequate food all the time, with 19m people, or 9 per cent of its inhabitants, facing hunger, according to a recent report by Segall’s group.

“I’m doing some odd jobs, but it’s not enough to keep us going,” said Jonathan, a 28-year-old who lost his job in the kitchen of a Chinese restaurant in São Paulo when the pandemic began. He said he now struggles to provide enough food for his three young children and pregnant wife.

On a 12-month basis, inflation in June is expected to surpass 8 per cent, far above earlier estimates. In the 12 months to March, food prices jumped 18.5 per cent, while the price of agricultural commodities in local currency surged 55 per cent and the cost of fuel increased almost 92 per cent.

Line chart of Percentage increase over past 12 months showing The price of rice in Brazil is soaring

The developments pose a fresh challenge to President Jair Bolsonaro, who is already under fire for his handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. Across Brazil’s biggest cities, graffiti has sprung up labelling the populist leader “Bolsocaro” — a portmanteau of his name and the Portuguese word for expensive.

The rising prices are also likely to provide useful ammunition to leftist former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who returned to the political fray last month and may challenge Bolsonaro in elections next year.

“Bolsonaro is to blame for the increase in food prices, he is to blame for everything. They have to remove this guy,” said Maria Izabel de Jesus, a retiree from São Paulo.

Armando Castelar, a researcher at the Brazilian Institute of Economics, said the government had underestimated inflation both in terms of the numbers and also “how much a concern it should be”.

He attributed the rising prices to the devaluation of the Brazilian currency, triggered in part by the stimulus packages passed by the US government — which helped to bolster the dollar and led to higher Treasury yields — and the brighter economic outlook outside Latin America.

“You have a situation where commodity prices are going up because the global economy is going to grow a lot this year. With the growth in the US, interest rates are going up and the dollar is strengthening. This puts a lot of pressure on the exchange rate in Brazil and emerging markets in general,” he said.

As the spectre of inflation loomed last month, the Brazilian central bank raised its key interest rate by 75 basis points, higher than the half-percentage point many economists had expected. A further rate rise is expected next month.

“The central bank acted correctly, but it cannot stop there. It is important not to be too lenient in dealing with this,” said Castelar.

Silvia Matos, a co-ordinator at the Brazilian Economy Institute, also pointed to Brazil’s weakening currency as a contributing factor to inflation. But she said the slide in the real was triggered by investor concerns over Brazil’s deteriorating public finances.

Following the creation of two separate stimulus packages to mitigate the impact of Covid-19, government debt has risen to about 90 per cent of gross domestic product, a high level for an emerging market economy.

The rollout of the second of these packages began this month, with 45m Brazilians set to receive $50 a month for four months.

Critics said, however, these stipends were not nearly enough to keep people both fed and at home in lockdown.

“It is essential that the emergency aid is of a greater value, so that people do not leave the house but no one also stays at home starving,” said Marcelo Freixo, a federal lawmaker with the leftwing PSOL party.

“We need to reduce the circulation of the disease. Brazil is already experiencing 4,000 deaths per day. We will reach 500,000 total deaths by the middle of the year.”

Matos says that inflation had hit poorer citizens much harder than middle-class and rich Brazilians because a larger portion of their income was dedicated to food, the price of which has increased substantially.

“The only thing that could help right now is to get out of this pandemic,” she said.

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Can CVC pull off a $20bn ‘deal of the century’ at Toshiba?

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Proposed management buyout looks like an improbable win for the Japanese conglomerate’s embattled CEO



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