Skip to Main Content

Who Can Explain the 2020 Election? Rhymes with Khaki

Broadcaster Steve Kornacki Talks Votes, Trump and Football

Steve Kornacki
Steve Kornacki, the tireless MSNBC political correspondent, visited UMass Lowell via Zoom to discuss the 2020 presidential election.

12/17/2020
By David Perry

Steve Kornacki ’17 (H), the irrepressible political analyst for MSNBC, took a deep dive into the numbers during “Election 2020 Debrief,” an 80-minute Zoom gathering that also featured UMass President Marty Meehan and UMass Lowell Center for Public Opinion Director Josh Dyck.

Kornacki, a 41-year-old Groton, Massachusetts, native who took classes at UMass Lowell while still in high school, worked the cable network’s on-air election coverage with tenacity and boundless energy, reporting numbers and reading the incoming votes on blue and red maps. He did not sleep for five days.

Along the way, Kornacki slugged down Diet Coke and made palomino brown khakis great again: The Gap reported a 90% increase in sales of the business casual pants, thanks to the consistently khakied Kornacki.

On this Zoom gathering, he wore a UML tie and was joined by an audience of UML students, faculty, staff and alumni, as well as high school students who have been accepted to the university.

Meehan, a former congressman, drove the discussion, which covered everything from how Kornacki stays awake during non-stop election coverage (“When I got home, I slept for 15 and a half straight hours,” he said), polling, football, the future of Donald Trump and the Republican party, and just how close the election really was.

Kornacki noted that last month’s election of Joe Biden over President Trump could have easily gone the other way, despite a 7 million vote margin for the Democratic ticket. 

“If you flipped about 20,000 votes in Wisconsin, about 13,000 in Georgia and 10,000 in Arizona, that’s just over 40,000 votes collectively,” said Kornacki. “In those three states, the electoral vote count would have been 269 to 269 and it would have gone to the House of Representatives. Republicans would have been able to elect Trump.

“The way that I look at this election is, Donald Trump came within about 43,000 votes of getting re-elected. We came very close to one of the biggest disconnects we’ve ever seen in terms of the popular vote and the Electoral College,” he said.

Florida was best at counting early and mail-in ballots, while New York was the worst, Kornacki said. “God forbid there’s ever a close election and we’re relying on New York.” 

Kornacki and Dyck agree the Electoral College probably isn’t going away soon.

The GOP “has no incentive to go away from it,” said Dyck. “They haven’t won a popular vote for the presidency since 2004, and they would extinct themselves by supporting reform.” 

What’s next for Trump, asked Meehan? 

“This is not going to be a post-presidency like any other modern post-presidency,” said Kornacki. “George W. Bush basically vanishes when he leaves the White House. Barack Obama very much recedes. They give the successor the spotlight and give the party room to maneuver and kind of reinvent itself. Trump is clearly not going to allow for that possibility.”

Kornacki noted the intense public interest in politics and off-the-charts voter turnout of the Trump era. 

“Seventy-four million votes for the losing candidate,” he marveled. “The level of public interest and passion is astounding to me. … The entire era we’re living in has surprised me.”

Meehan praised Kornacki’s objectivity.

“It’s a presidential election and so many people care about it,” Kornacki said. “To play it with any credibility, you cannot be seen to cheer for one side or another.”

Kornacki’s passion for numbers and statistics, and his ability to explain them, was noticed by NBC’s sports honchos. He recently joined the network’s “Football Night in America” for the first of several planned appearances to discuss NFL playoff probabilities.

New England Patriots fanatic Meehan, who admitted to jealousy about the broadcaster’s new NFL gig, asked Kornacki how his life has changed since the election coverage and the attention it garnered. 

Kornacki said he now spends Sunday afternoons in a Stamford, Connecticut, TV studio watching football games with Rodney Harrison, Tony Dungy and the rest of the commentators. Getting to see their “genuine reaction, that’s been something I never expected to get a chance to do and I love doing that,” he said.

And what about the khakis?

“The pants thing, I have no idea what to make of it. In the end, I just get grief from my friends for it,” he said.

The discussion was presented by UML’s Center for Public Opinion and Alumni Virtual Village.