Processing the Results of the 2020 Election: The Knowns and the Known Unknowns

by Mary Ellen Daneels, Civics Instructional Specialist
Election Day 2020 has passed, but instead of closure, there are still outstanding questions about the presidency and control of the Senate and close races within the Land of Lincoln. Predictions of an “Election Week” have come true, and pending litigation around the election points to an even longer election season. 

This is a teachable moment for #CivicsInTheMiddle classrooms. The latest webinar unpacked both the “knowns and known unknowns” post-election day with an analysis of exit polls with important information about the electorate and predictions of what 2021 may hold for state and federal government. If you missed the webinar, you can access a recording to watch at your convenience.

Dr. Shawn Healy, Director of the Democracy Program at the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, began the webinar with analysis and reflection on what is known. In a post-webinar tweet, Dr. Healy summarized his findings.
  • Partisanship remains the best predictor of voting patterns. It was especially activated in battleground states. For example, Biden won decisively in Chicago’s collar counties, but by a narrow margin in suburban areas nationally.
  • Polling post-mortems will surely follow and we must await the final count for an accurate assessment, but Trump/GOP support was clearly underestimated. Pollsters largely controlled for educational attainment in 2020, but did the pandemic impact the conversion of likely voters’ at unequal rates by party given different get-out-the-vote tactics?
  • Early signs that Biden was underperforming among Latino voters played out on Election Day, most pointedly in Florida. Latinos aren’t a monolithic voting bloc and the media/pundits should press to better understand this demographic group as they did working-class whites post-2016.
Dr. Healy was joined by Catherine Hawke of the Division of Public Education at the American Bar Association and Dr. Steven D. Schwinn, Professor of Law at the University of Illinois at Chicago John Marshall Law School, to briefly unpack the “known unknowns” in regard to litigation and the role state and federal courts might play in settling the election results. Ms. Hawke went further to share her wonderings around litigation around the Electoral College and the role of federalism in elections in years to come. Participants interested in more information about the involvement of the courts to this point in election 2020, pending cases, and possible future court involvement, should register for next week's webinar featuring Dr. Schwinn, where he will provide his post-election analysis for one hour on November 11 from 3:30-4:30 CST. Ms. Hawke and Dr.Schwinn also provide timely videos addressing issues in the court system on the ABA Public Education Division YouTube channel. curated Post Election Resources to address some of the common questions students are asking post-election:
  • How are ballots counted?
  • Did the youth vote make a difference?
  • What happened before, during, and after votes are cast to ensure free and fair elections?
  • What is the timeline for each state to count their ballots?
  • What are the deadlines for election results to be finalized?
  • How do news outlets determine when to project a winner?
Two of our Illinois Civics Instructional Coaches closed the webinar with resources and strategies they are using to address the uncertainty of the election in the classroom. Many of the materials shared are located in our recent blog, Where Do We Go from Here? Resources to Help Students Process the Election.
  • Corie Yow from Chatham recommends using Circle of Viewpoints from Project Zero. “This activity asks students to explore different perspectives and to ask a question about that perspective. This can open dialogue allowing students to seek first to understand before being understood. A discussion could follow explaining the importance of respecting different perspectives.”
  • Corie also recommends the Compass Point Reflection from Project Zero. “Students identify something that is worrisome, exciting, a “need to know”, and a suggestion for moving forward post-election.
  • The Election is Over, Now What? From the ADL is also a recommendation from Corie. This activity helps students process the results and their feelings by writing a letter or email to an elected official to express their support, thoughts, hopes, disagreements, or fears for what they do in the days ahead and during their time in office."
  • Matthew Wood from West Chicago likes to use the Facing History and Ourselves, Fostering Civil Discourse: How Do We Talk About Issues That Matter? “Students develop knowledge, skills, and informed civic responsibility when they are invited into conversations that are emotionally engaging, intellectually challenging, and relevant to their own lives.”
  • Matthew Wood is also a fan of the Blob Tree from the Guardians of Democracy Microcrocredential Program. “Have students identify where they are post-election on this Blob Tree, explain their placement, and the questions they have from their position on the tree. This tool is especially user-friendly for younger students.”
What are you doing to explore both the “knowns and known unknowns” in your classroom? Please comment below. Together we can prepare ALL students for college, career, and civic life in traditional, remote, and hybrid classrooms.


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