From election to transition

From election to transition

UVA Institute of Democracy experts assess the latest developments in the transition from the Trump to the Biden presidency


This effort is made possible thanks to the generous support of the George and Judy Marcus Democracy Praxis Fund


Naomi Cahn tells UVA Today how partisanship and polarization are affecting social and cultural choices

December 1, 2020
Naomi Cahn headshot
Naomi Cahn is an expert in family law, feminist jurisprudence, reproductive technology, and aging and the law. She is the author of the forthcoming Shafted: The Fate of Women in a Winner-Take-All World (Simon & Shuster).

The 2020 presidential election again laid bare the divisions that separate people in the United States. While President-elect Joe Biden won 306 electoral votes to President Donald Trump’s 232, and more than 80 million popular votes, nearly 74 million Americans voted for Trump.

Since the Nov. 3 election, the University of Virginia’s nonpartisan Institute of Democracy has offered many expert opinions and analysis on its Election 2020 and Its Aftermath page, drawing from diverse experts from across Grounds.

One of those analyses comes from Naomi Cahn, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy Distinguished Professor of Law and the Nancy L. Buc ’69 Research Professor in Democracy and Equity.

Cahn, the co-author of the book “Red Families v. Blue Families,” joined the faculty of UVA’s School of Law this fall and directs its Family Law Center. She wrote a piece for the Institute of Democracy about what the election can tell us about our personal lives.

UVA Today reached out to Cahn to learn more about how politics influences people’s dating and marital patterns as well as where they chose to live.

Q. How do politics – and party affiliation – influence people’s dating behaviors?

A. OKCupid, a dating website, recently reported that more than three-quarters of people said their romantic partner’s political leanings are “very important.” In reporting its findings, OKCupid said “I voted” has become the new “I love you.” In fact, according to OKCupid, users of the site can now get a “Voter 2020 profile badge so registered voters can find the love they deserve.”

OKCupid also found a gender gap larger than revealed in the 2020 exit polls: namely, 73% of women reported they leaned Democratic, compared to 57% of men. By contrast, the preliminary election exit polls found a 56%-48% split. The dating app Bumble found politics ranked ninth out of 50 factors women considered when considering whom to date.

Q. Do political leanings and their influence on personal relationships influence one gender more than another, and how does that play out with people who identify as non-binary or are members of the LGBTQ community?

A. I have not yet seen data related to people who identify as non-binary. However, a study by the Public Religion Research Institute reported in 2019 that “Republicans (70%) are substantially more likely than independents (39%) or Democrats (33%) to say they would be unhappy if their child married someone who is transgender.”

And according to the New York Times exit poll, 64% of those who identify as “gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender” voted for Biden, while 27% voted for Trump. Fifty-one percent of those who don’t so identify voted for Biden, while 48% voted for Trump. That is, 21% more of those who do not identify [as LGBTQ] voted for Trump, while 13% less voted for Biden.

Q. What are you observing in terms of political influence when dating moves to marriage?

A. When dating relationships turn to marriage, people are more likely to choose partners who share the same political leanings. A recent study by the Institute for Family Studies found 79% of marriages are between people who identify with the same party. Only 4% are between Democrats and Republicans, and the remaining 17% are between independents and those who identify with one of the two major parties. 

Q. How have these tendencies changed over the last decade or so?

A. Think about the question of how you’d feel if your child married someone of the opposite political party. In the same study I referenced above by the Public Religion Research Institute, more Democrats – 45% – would be displeased, compared to 35% of Republicans. In a sign of just how politically polarized we have become, in 1960, only 4% of Republicans or Democrats would have been unhappy with a mixed marriage with the other political party. The number of these “inter-political marriages” appears to be decreasing.

Q. Why do you think politics plays such a large role in people’s personal relationships, and is that a good or a bad thing?

A. Republicans and Democrats increasingly think poorly of one another, so that will inevitably affect how people relate to one another in an intimate relationship. And the party labels seem to indicate something about how we think about a range of issues, like mask wearing, abortion, gun control, climate change, or even views about the president.

One way that couples can cope with their political differences is by not talking about politics at all; while that may allow them to cope with one another, it does remove a level of connection in a relationship. Candid discussion between people of different political parties can help not just in understanding, but also, perhaps, in moving toward common ground.

Q. Can you talk about how politics affects people’s residential patterns and historically, when that influence began?

A. Since 1976, when only 26% of voters lived in a place where one party won by an overwhelming majority in a presidential election, that number has steadily increased. While Biden won urban areas with 60% of voters, Trump won rural areas, with 57%. 

Politics may affect not only where people move, but also their political preferences once they get there. People are much less likely to interact with others from another political party at local civic gatherings than at work. They increasingly live where people vote in the same way.


Eric Edelman, longtime U.S. diplomat and former ambassador to Turkey and Finland, now a Miller Center senior fellow, assesses President-elect Joe Biden's national security team and other key issues in the transition with Olivier Knox of Sirius-XM

November 24, 2020


Melody Barnes, the co-director of the UVA Democracy Initiative and a Miller Center professor of practice, joined the BBC to discuss next steps for the Biden administration

November 24, 2020


Joe Biden has selected his new secretary of Homeland Security. In 2011, the Miller Center's Cristina Lopez-Gottardi Chao welcomed him to the Miller Center for a discussion of immigration policy

November 23, 2020


‘It was the assassination of John F. Kennedy 57 years ago today that transformed such paranoid thinking into more widespread distrust of government, ultimately creating openings for a demagogue like Trump,’ Miller Center senior fellow Steven Gillon writes in the Washington Post

November 23, 2020

President Trump’s bogus claim that the 2020 election was stolen from him is the latest in a long list of conspiracy theories he has promoted, which in turn have been amplified by cable television and social media. Yet, rather than being banished to the fringes of American politics, Trump has amassed a cultlike following and has now falsely managed to convince a majority of Republicans that he won despite all evidence to the contrary.

Such behavior was unimaginable for earlier presidents. And yet conspiracy theories have a long history in right-wing politics. But tempting though it may be to chalk conspiracies up as a conservative phenomenon, the truth is more complicated. In fact, it was the assassination of John F. Kennedy 57 years ago today that transformed such paranoid thinking into more widespread distrust of government, ultimately creating openings for a demagogue like Trump.

Coffin draped in U.S. flag
John F. Kennedy's funeral procession leaving the White House, November 25, 1963. Photo: John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum

In 1964, the President’s Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy, popularly known as the Warren Commission, concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald, acting alone, had fired three bullets from the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository building. It found that Oswald’s death 48 hours later at the hands of local nightclub owner Jack Ruby was an act of spontaneous revenge. Surprisingly, the report received a warm reception, and within two months after its release, 87 percent of respondents in a survey said they believed Oswald, acting alone, had shot the president.

Tempting though it may be to chalk conspiracies up as a conservative phenomenon, the truth is more complicated.

And yet, by the early 1970s, a majority of the public began to question the Warren Commission’s central conclusion that a lone gunman was responsible for Kennedy’s death. Beginning with the 1966 publication of Mark Lane’s bestseller “Rush to Judgment,” an army of investigative journalists and self-styled assassination experts refused to accept that the assassination could have been the result of a random, inexplicable act of violence, that a loser like Oswald could have single-handedly killed a man as great as Kennedy. This began as a well-intentioned search for alternative explanations of the assassination, but it ended up fueling the emergence of a conspiracy culture that now permeates every aspect of American society.

The thread that runs through most Kennedy assassination conspiracy theories is that a shadowy network of nefarious individuals, working as part of a “deep state,” conspired to kill the president because he offered a new direction for the country.



Melody Barnes, the co-director of UVA's Democracy Initiative and a Miller Center professor of practice, joins Ali Velshi to assess the challenges and opportunities of Joe Biden's first 100 days as president

November 23, 2020


Margaret Riley on the pandemic plan: Operation Warp Speed

November 20, 2020
riley margaret
Margaret Riley has written and presented extensively about health care law, biomedical research, genetics, reproductive technologies, stem cell research, animal biotechnology, health disparities and chronic disease

With Covid-19 cases rising rapidly amid a stonewalled transition, president-elect Biden’s warning that many more people may die if the Trump administration fails to share information and begin a coordinated response is not hyperbole. The virus is exploding everywhere, and many states still have no coordinated response.

As hospitals fill, reluctant Republican governors are finally issuing mask mandates; but the iron laws of exponential growth may mean those mandates come too late to save thousands of people. Even so, some states steadfastly refuse to undertake any response at all.

The one piece of good news, and it is very good news, is that not just one but two vaccines have demonstrated high efficacy and may soon get emergency-use approval. Others may follow. But approvals do nothing unless there is a comprehensive and viable plan for distribution and access. Delays and missteps could mean that many more people will needlessly die. A badly botched rollout could mean that the United States will be unable to achieve herd immunity, and that could hamper recovery for years.

There is much confusion about the Trump administration’s vaccine development program “Operation Warp Speed.” Much of that confusion is baked in—by using private intermediaries, the Trump administration created an opaque process where costs and plans are either hidden or incomplete.

We do know that Operation Warp Speed provided funding for the development and purchase of Moderna’s mRNA vaccine. That no doubt has allowed Moderna, a relatively small company, to ramp up its manufacturing processes in the United States more quickly and likely helped with clinical trial costs.

Pfizer did not take U.S. funding for the research and development costs for its mRNA vaccine, but it does have a contract with the United States to provide 100 million doses. Neither Pfizer nor Moderna have exclusive contracts with the United States; both companies have significant contracts with other countries and are working to develop manufacturing capacity worldwide.

What the United States seems to have bought with its billions of dollars is earlier access: Both companies project that they could produce enough vaccine for 35 million people in 2020; with luck and money, that will expand to 1 billion people through 2021. That may mean that enough vaccine for about 20 million people is available in the United States by the end of the year.

Operation Warp Speed seems to play an important role in distribution. Both vaccines have complicated storage and transport requirements. Pfizer’s has requirements that are out of reach for many health-care facilities under current conditions. The use of military logistics power and experience will likely solve some of those issues and get the vaccines more readily to the states.

But the responsibility to get the vaccine to individuals and the choices about access and timing of access are in the hands of the states. For this aspect of the process, the Trump administration has signaled a diminished role for the federal government. The incoming Biden administration has stated a desire for a larger footprint, but it is hampered by the fact that the Trump administration has refused to share any information about the planned distribution.

The CDC has provided guidelines with three phases that move on as supplies increase. The CDC’s “playbook” recommends prioritizing health care workers in early distribution, then moving on to particularly vulnerable populations and essential workers, and only going to the general population as vaccine supplies become readily available.

The CDC approach leaves the details of those definitions to the states, whom it has asked to provide plans for distribution as well as capacity and workforce projections. One thing that does seem clear is that the initial distribution will not include children. Pfizer and Moderna got permission to add children above 12 years of age to their clinical trials in October; any emergency-use approval issued in 2020 will likely not include children.

The preliminary plans submitted by the states to CDC demonstrate a wide variation of preparedness. Many lack necessary data about provider capacity, have only begun to plan for immunization registries, and have nonexistent or poorly developed communication plans.

In particular, many states are lacking a strategy for racial/ethnic minorities or vulnerable populations. In addition, although it is clear that there is rampant incorrect data spreading about these vaccines, only about a third of the states have plans to counter misinformation.

Many states are waiting for more facts from the federal government before finalizing any plans. For example, there is evidence that the Trump administration is hoping to provide vaccines directly to some providers in the states, but the states do not have full details. In addition, it is not clear whether all of the states will have equal access to the vaccine available in 2020—and if not, how states will be prioritized.

All states report funding issues. To date, only about $200 million has been provided to states for vaccine preparedness. It is estimated that $6 to $8 billion is needed.

Unfortunately, there is significant evidence that the current distribution preparedness ignores lessons learned from past vaccination efforts. Covid-19 strikes minority, ethnic, and socio-economically vulnerable populations disproportionately. But there are only limited plans to focus outreach to those populations.

We learned the cost of that failure to focus in 2009 with the H1N1 epidemic. Not providing equitable distribution was not only unjust, it hampered economic recovery. In fighting this virus, we are only as strong as the help we provide to the poorest among us.

Margaret Riley, professor of Law, UVA School of Law; professor of Public Health Sciences, UVA School of Medicine


Miller Center senior fellow Kathryn Dunn Tenpas talks to CBS News about the Biden transition

November 20, 2020


Miller Center senior fellow Chris Lu tells the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that this is "not a partisan food fight"

November 20, 2020

President Trump's post-election behaviour "abnormal"

Posted November 18, 2020 18:53:57 Chris Lu was Director of President Barack Obama's transition after the 2008 election. He tells Planet America "what should be happening isn't happening" and describes President Trump's post-election actions as "historically abnormal" Source: ABC News | Duration: 9min 51sec


The Trump administration's response to the pandemic may have changed our understanding of how the state and the private sector can interact in the pursuit of national goals

November 20, 2020
Guian McKee headshot
Guian McKee studies how federal policy, plays out at the local level. An expert on the presidency of Lyndon Johnson, he is currently working on a book that examines the rise of the health care economy in American cities after World War II.

Yesterday, NPR reported that a Connecticut-based company, ApiJect Systems America, would receive a $590 million loan from the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) to produce a new type of disposable injection device that could be used in the mass distribution of Covid-19 vaccines. 

The device comes prefilled with a vaccine dose and incorporates a needle for the actual injection. The federal investment in the promising but unproven technology is intended as a backstop in the event of shortages of the glass vials and ordinary syringes that are traditionally used to deliver vaccines. Production has already begun at the company’s plants in Illinois and South Carolina.

This was not the first federal support that ApiJect has received. In May, the Department of Defense and the Department of Health and Human Services gave the company a $138 million contract for the production of 100 million units of the prefilled syringes by the end of the year (and up to 500 million in 2021).

All this is, of course, part of Operation Warp Speed, the Trump administration’s effort to mobilize the federal government and the private sector in the development and distribution of an effective Covid-19 vaccine in record time. With the news in recent weeks that at least two vaccines have shown remarkable success in phase III trials, Operation Warp Speed (along with wider global initiatives) suddenly seems to be offering a path out of the pandemic nightmare.

These are issues of immense importance for the incoming Biden administration to consider as it weighs policy strategies for reviving the economy, addressing economic dislocation in American communities, and engaging global geopolitical rivals.

Crucial public health implications aside, the investment in companies such as ApiJect, not to mention in pharmaceutical start-ups like Moderna (maker of one of the apparently successful vaccines), raises other vital questions about the future of U.S. economic policy: Has Warp Speed, in its quest to address the national and global emergency of the pandemic, changed our understanding of how the state and the private sector can interact in the pursuit of national goals? If it succeeds in delivering a vaccine over the next 6 to 18 months, will it have provided an effective demonstration of the potential of a 21st-century version of industrial policy?

These are issues of immense importance for the incoming Biden administration to consider as it weighs policy strategies for reviving the economy, addressing economic dislocation in American communities, and engaging global geopolitical rivals.

“Industrial policy” refers to direct government involvement in the economy—or more precisely in specific, targeted sectors of the economy—in support of national goals such as ending a pandemic, winning a war, or developing (or sustaining) economic competitiveness against global rivals. It can take a range of forms: tariffs, direct subsidies, construction of infrastructure, facilitation of capital investment, support for research and development, and securing access to labor.

In its broadest form, industrial policy has deep roots in American economic history, beginning with Alexander Hamilton’s 1791 Report on Manufacturers, continuing directly through the tariff policies of the 19th century, and emerging perhaps most successfully during the tripartite (government, business, labor) economic mobilization during World War II.

Our most recent engagement with the concept came during the period of intense deindustrialization during the 1970s and ’80s, when liberals, including Walter Mondale and future Labor Secretary Robert Reich, advocated policies such as targeted capital investment, support for declining communities, and worker retraining. Japan’s reliance on a form of industrial policy, as it developed into a seemingly fearsome economic competitor to the United States, furthered interest in the approach. 

In the face of rapid, fiscal policy–oriented economic growth in the second half of the 1980s and the ’90s, however, industrial lost out to more market-oriented forms of policy—and ideology—among both Republicans and Democrats. 

In recent years, however, the growing inequality and social dislocations that have plagued the United States (even before the pandemic), as well as the rise of China and its state-supported industries, have generated new attention for the idea.

The shocks of the last dozen years, including the global financial crisis, the rise of populism, and the Covid-19 pandemic, have shattered many of our core assumptions about economic policy and about democracy itself.

Commentators on the Left who remain concerned with the consequences of deindustrialization have embraced it as a possible way to meet the material needs of those left behind by decades of bipartisan neoliberalism. 

On the Right, the belief that Donald Trump’s 2016 victory reflected economic dislocation and populist alienation from Reaganite market-orthodoxies prompted a wave of arguments that key national goals (including challenging China) required more active state engagement with and support for vital industries. The new conservative journal American Affairs, self-conceived as an organ for the development of an intellectual and policy framework for Trumpist economic policy, embraced industrial policy as one of its key principles. It has since turned against Trump over his failure as president to engage seriously with its project of state-centered, national revitalization. 

The shocks of the last dozen years, including the global financial crisis, the rise of populism, and the Covid-19 pandemic, have shattered many of our core assumptions about economic policy and about democracy itself. If Operation Warp Speed succeeds—and that is still an unknown—it will have done so, in part, as an emergency form of industrial policy.

In doing so, it may reopen debate over the necessary relationship between the federal government and private industry in the pursuit of national economic, strategic, and social goals, both in the new Biden administration and beyond.

Guian McKee, associate professor in Presidential Studies, Miller Center


UVA Democracy Initiative co-director Melody Barnes discusses the effects of President Trump's failure to accept the election result 

November 19, 2020


Miller Center experts Guian McKee and Eric Edelman look at several issues facing the president elect

November 19, 2020

Guian McKee joined BBC Radio Berkshire's Bill Buckley to discuss what Joe Biden learned from his time in the Obama administration and the political dynamic he faces entering the White House.

Eric Edelman was a guest on The Bullwark Podcast with Charlie Sykes to discuss how President Trump is stifling the Biden transition and what that means, the purge at the Pentagon, and what President-elect Biden will inherit when he takes office.

Edelman also joined host Mona Charen and regulars Bill Galston, Damon Linker, and Linda Chavez to discuss the effects on democracy of Republican reluctance to accept the 2020 election results; the purge at DOD; and the messages voters sent in 2020.

Finally, Edelman looks at the Trump administration's recent foreign policy decisions with Olivier Knox on Sirius XM's P.O.T.U.S. channel.


Cristina Lopez-Gottardi Chao speaks to Univision about the record-setting Latino turnout

November 18, 2020

univision logo"It is now widely known that COVID-19 infections have disproportionately affected the Hispanic community—a cohort also affected by lower rates of insurance coverage — so this was likely top of mind and a motivating factor on Election Day," said Cristina Lopez-Gottardi Chao, assistant professor and research director for Public and Policy Programs. At least 14 million Hispanics cast votes in 2020.



Melody Barnes assesses the transition for the CBC

November 17, 2020

Melody Barnes, co-director of UVA's Democracy Initiative and a Miller Center professor of practice, joins CBC to discuss the latest on the transition to a Biden administration.