A Detailed Analysis of the 2020 Election
Art by Dorothy Zhang.
The 2020 election was one of the most controversial elections in modern American history. But what do we know about voting patterns in the election?
Minorities & Immigrants
Foremost, immigrant and minority precincts shifted rightwards across the country. Trump was able to improve his margins in immigrants precincts across the country. The Latino vote stayed Democratic, but many Latino voters in key swing states such as in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas and Miami-Dade County in south Florida broke for Trump, keeping the states in the Republican column even as white voters shifted leftwards. Some precincts in the heavily Cuban city of Miami shifted almost 53 percentage points more Republican compared with the 2016 election, and Miami-Dade County shifted 22 percentage points towards Trump in the 2020 election. Trump was even able to receive 55% of the Cuban vote in Florida. Furthermore, eastern european and Orthodox Jewish precincts swung towards Trump, as black voters stayed with Democrats. Exit polling even showed Asian-American voters moving rightwards, with Biden performing 7 percentage points worse among Asian-Americans than in 2016, and 18 points worse than in 2012. However, the majority of minority groups still voted for Biden by large margins, contributing to his victory across the country.
Change in vote share by precinct in majority Hispanic populated Miami from the 2016 presidential election to the 2020 presidential election.
This change was also seen in some Orthodox Jewish precincts. Many Orthodox Jews had supported Trump in 2016, especially in New York City, where sometimes entire communities backed Trump. This is because Orthodox Jewish voters vote as a block and usually vote based on who their community leaders tell them to vote for. In 2020, Orthodox Jewish voters, angered by COVID-19 restrictions and encouraged by Trump’s ardent support of Israel voted for Republicans in record breaking numbers. For example, in the heavily Orthodox Jewish borough of Brooklyn some Orthodox Jewish precincts shifted 20 or more percentage points towards the Republican Party. Many of these precincts voted for Trump by 90% or more. Furthermore, in the heavily Hasidic community of New Square, New York, Trump was able to carry the entire village by a 100% margin. He won the Orthodox Jewish community with 3,011 votes compared to Biden’s 8 votes in total, from the four precincts in the community. This community had voted for Hillary by massive margins in 2016.
Bloc voting in Hasidic communities gave Trump unbelievable voter margins in 2020.
On the contrary, suburbs shifted heavily leftwards, helping Democrats flip several key states, especially in the sun belt. According to exit polling, Biden won suburban regions by 2 percentage points, a region that Hillary Clinton lost 4 years earlier by 5 percentage points. In Gwinnett County, a major suburb of Atlanta, the Democrat vote was over 18 percentage points higher than the Republican vote. Gwinnett county was a county that McCain had won in 2008 by over 10 percentage points. Generally, Biden was able to improve on Clinton’s 2016 margins across suburban counties. The suburban trend had been slowly developing for many years, but only recently has this trend allowed Democrats to break into former Republican strongholds such as Georgia and Texas.
Many Democrats down ballot were also able to improve their vote margins in the suburbs. In 2018, Democrat Lucy McBath flipped a suburban seat in Georgia, the 6th Congressional District. She had a one point advantage over her Republican opponent which she was able to expand upon this year by keeping her seat with a 9.2 point victory against another Republican challenger. This trend has continued across the country, with previously rich suburban Republican seats such as the 7th Congressional District in New Jersey, containing the suburbs of Newark, Philadelphia and New York City, flipping to the Democratic Party.
Many ancestral Democrats who voted for Obama broke for Trump in large numbers in states such as Minnesota, West Virginia, Ohio, and Michigan. This can be correlated to Trump’s high support among coal workers, as well as white blue-collar workers, groups that were previously safe voting blocs for Democrats. Coal workers were put off by the environmentalist party platform of the Democratic Party, leading to much of Appalachia shifting rightwards. For example, in rural West Virginia, a state that voted for Democrats in 10 out of 13 elections from 1950-1999, Trump’s margin of victory over Joe Biden was almost 300,000 votes in a state where only 800,000 people voted. In West Virginia, Trump was able to win every single county in the state, including counties anchored by more urban cities such as Kanawha County, home of the city of Charleston. This poor showing by Democrats is a far cry from previous Democratic victories in the state, such as Bill Clinton’s performance in the 1992 and 1996 presidential elections where Democrats carried the state with the majority of counties, or even Michael Dukakis’ performance in 1988 where Democrats carried the state by a comfortable margin.
In the 2020 election, Trump won every single county in West Virginia.
Urban Rural Divide
The urban-rural divide was also extremely noticeable this election, following trends in modern elections. Rural areas broke even further for Trump, as cities stayed in the Democratic sphere, with some massively populated counties moving further leftwards. For example, in Washington State, Biden won every single urban county except for Spokane and Benton counties, which Trump only won by 13,000 votes and 22,000 votes respectively, out of over 280,000 votes cast in Spokane county and 100,000 votes cast in Benton county. Trump also won the majority of rural counties, except for some counties with large colleges and wealthy coastal counties as seen in the map below. This trend has become more apparent with hyper-polarization. In 2008, Obama did relatively well in rural areas. For example, in the State of Wisconsin, Obama won 38 rural counties out of 46 rural counties, with McCain, Obama’s Republican challenger, only winning 8 rural counties. However, in 2020 Biden only won 4 rural counties out of 46 rural counties with Trump winning the other 42 rural counties. There was a net decrease of 34 rural counties for Democrats in just 12 years. This pattern was repeated across the country on election night as county totals showed Democrats bottoming out in many rural areas.
This election broke turnout records, possibly because of the gravity of the election. According to research by the Pew Research Center, almost two-thirds of all eligible voters voted in this election, or more than six in ten people of voting age. Across the country, turnout was seven points higher than turnout in 2016, even adjusted to the number of new voters. A pre-election survey also administered by the Pew Research Center found that 83% of eligible voters believed that it “really matter[ed]” who won the election.
Education levels played an important role in this election. In more educated regions of America, Biden and the Democrats did a lot better than in poorer, less educated regions. According to exit polling, Joe Biden won White voters with college degrees by 3 percentage points and won voters with college degrees overall by 12 percentage points. However, Biden lost voters without a college degree by 2 percentage points, but he lost White voters without a college degree by 35 percentage points. These trends likely helped Democrats flip suburban voters, as college-educated voters trending Democratic.
Contrary to polling, Republicans managed to defend and expand their seats in State Legislatures across the country, and Democrats were narrowly able to keep their slim majority in the House of Representatives. Trump did much better than expected in this election, and Republicans down-ballot also outperformed expected vote margins. In the House of Representatives, Republicans flipped 15 seats, and in State Legislatures across the nation the GOP was able to flip 79 districts in total.
So what can we take away from this election? Firstly, that immigrants and people of color moved rightwards in this election. Many socially conservative immigrants and minority groups have been put off by the Democratic Party’s increasingly socially liberal platform. Some have even shifted rightwards due to the rise of the Democratic progressive wing, which some believe supports Socialist policies. Many of these newer Republican voters grew up in authoritarian Socialist countries, such as the Cuban population in Miami. This has resulted in many Latinos ignoring the Republican Parties anti-immigration rhetoric to vote for Trump. Secondly, states with exploding populations such as Texas, Arizona and Georgia, which are primarily in the sunbelt, have moved leftwards as their suburbs grow and become more racially diverse. Furthermore, the Democratic Party has collapsed in rural areas and among white voters without college degrees as much of the Obama-era coalition in rural areas and more racially homogeneous regions have shifted towards Trump. The question analysts are now worrying about is whether the shifts among voters are a byproduct of Trump’s unique style, or if they are more permanent?