The year 2020 was a tumultuous time in American politics. It brought a global pandemic, protests for racial justice, and a razor-thin presidential election outcome. It culminated in an attack on the U.S. Capitol that attempted to deny Joe Biden’s victory. The Bitter End explores the long-term trends and short-term shocks that shaped this dramatic year and what these changes could mean for the future.
John Sides, Chris Tausanovitch, and Lynn Vavreck demonstrate that Trump’s presidency intensified the partisan politics of the previous decades and the identity politics of the 2016 election. Presidential elections have become calcified, with less chance of big swings in either party’s favor. Republicans remained loyal to Trump and kept the election close, despite Trump’s many scandals, a recession, and the pandemic. But in a narrowly divided electorate even small changes can have big consequences. The pandemic was a case in point: when Trump pushed to reopen the country even as infections mounted, support for Biden increased. The authors explain that, paradoxically, even as Biden’s win came at a time of heightened party loyalty, there remained room for shifts that shaped the election’s outcome. Ultimately, the events of 2020 showed that instead of the country coming together to face national challenges—the pandemic, George Floyd’s murder, and the Capitol riot—these challenges only reinforced divisions.
Expertly chronicling the tensions of an election that came to an explosive finish, The Bitter End presents a detailed account of a year of crises and the dangerous direction in which the country is headed.
"Completely invaluable. . . . A model of how American politics is working right now."—Ezra Klein, New York Times
"Since 2000, we’ve stayed very close to 50-50 in presidential elections and control of Congress has bounced back and forth. . . . No wonder the political scientists John Sides, Chris Tausanovitch and Lynn Vavreck refer to our politics as 'calcified' in their important (and aptly titled) recent book on the 2020 election, The Bitter End."—E. J. Dionne Jr., Washington Post
"The timely advice and analysis will pique the interest of readers interested in politics and government and will be a strong title to offer prior to election season."—Library Journal
"The authors compile a vast amount of statistical and survey data to identify what they call the 'tectonic shifts' transforming the American political landscape. . . . Recommended."—Choice
“The Bitter End is the best work on the 2020 campaign I have read. It’s the rare political book that doesn’t ignore the day-to-day details but also captures the broader dynamics that shape American politics. Even those who watched cable news, scrolled Twitter, and read all the big papers every day in 2020 will learn new things.”—Perry Bacon Jr., national political writer
“If you want a lay of the land of U.S. politics, rooted in the leading social science, and written in an engaging manner, look no further. Sides, Tausanovitch, and Vavreck digest the results of their massive Nationscape study and help us see the 2020 presidential election as the culmination of long-term trends, the pandemic, and identity shocks.”—Katherine Cramer, University of Wisconsin–Madison
“This richly detailed, fast-paced book surely will become the definitive work on the 2020 presidential campaign. Deftly combining narrative accounts with academic analyses, The Bitter End is accessible to all who wish to better understand a campaign whose echoes continue to reverberate across the American political landscape.”—Morris P. Fiorina, Stanford University
“The Bitter End is indispensable for understanding the bitter calcification that now paralyzes American politics. The authors combine powerful data and sharp analysis to show how good faith has been boiled out of our politics, creating a take-no-prisoners partisan battlefield that deeply threatens our democracy. For any student of politics, concerned citizen, or politician, this is a must-read.”—Mike Murphy, political consultant
"The Bitter End provides critical new insights showing how Trump used identity issues and base appeals to hold his supporters in place through a norm-shredding presidency, a pandemic, and, ultimately, an insurrection. Anyone who cares about the future of American democracy needs to grapple with the findings in this book.”—Brendan Nyhan, Dartmouth College
“The Bitter End deftly weaves together an impressive amount of data, wise analysis, and engaging writing to tell the story of the 2020 election. This is a must-read for anyone who wants to better understand the dire state of our politics and our democracy.”—Ben Rhodes, author of After the Fall: Being American in the World We Made