Like so many of my fellow citizens, I felt extreme nervous tension early this past week, waiting for the election. I realized how much it frightened me a few months ago when I made a routine dentist appointment for the morning of election day. It wouldn't affect my vote--I knew I would cast it in person, well in advance, as indeed I did--but I was frightened to think that that day might actually come, and end with Donald Trump's re-election and American democracy in tatters. Despair threatened on Tuesday night, and some of the younger viewers that I watched the returns with on zoom succumbed to it briefly, but I went to bad around 12:30 convinced that there were far too many outstanding votes to know what would happen, and that we would not have clear results at least until Wednesday morning. After I got up Wednesday and had breakfast, it didn't take too much calculating to realize that Joe Biden was quite likely to win. Now,. on Saturday morning, that seems like a certainty, although the four key states are counting their final ballots at an excruciating pace. We will turn to Donald Trump's reaction later.
I had hoped to do a comprehensive state-by-state analysis of the differences between 2016 and 2020 this morning, but I can't find state-by-state popular vote data in convenient form--form that can be easily put into a spreadsheet. Wikipedia is waiting, apparently, for more final results. I have enough overall data, however, to contribute some original observations.
The 2020 election saw a probably unprecedented increase in voter turnout, probably the largest such increase since women got the vote before the 1920 election. The total vote in 2016 was 136.7 million; so far this year 151.7 million votes have been counted, a full 10% increase, with more to come. Equally importantly, we have seen a return to an effective two-party system. In 2016, Clinton and Trump together secured only 94.2% of the total popular vote. So far this year Biden and Trump have won 98.2% of the vote, and Biden, like Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, seems certain to have an actual majority of popular votes cast. The Democrats appear to have picked up nearly all the votes that went to third parties in 2016. Biden was a more appealing candidate than Clinton, and voters took this election much more seriously than the last one. Biden already has about 13.2 million more votes than Clinton received in 2016 and his total will increase. Clinton by contrast in 2016 did not quite equal Barack Obama's total in 2012. All this confirms what I found in an earlier analysis of the 2016 election: the Democrats lost in 2016 because they nominated a very unpopular candidate.
That, however, is only half the story. Donald Trump also gained significant votes, increasing from 63 million in 2016 to 69.9 million (so far) this year. While Biden increased the Democratic share of the total vote from 48.1% to 50.5%, Trump increased his share from 46.1% to 47.7%, evidently picking up a much smaller portion of 2016's large minor party vote. That is what has depressed so many liberals and flabbergasted so many commentators. I wanted systematically to look at where Trump had increased his vote share, but I don't have enough data in convenient form. I will look one by one at some critical states. His share of the vote in Wisconsin increased from 46.1% to 48.8%, even though he won it in 2016 and lost it this time. He declined marginally in Michigan, where he went from 47.9% to 47.5% this year. He has done better in Pennsylvania, increasing from 48.2% to 49.1%. In Georgia he has fallen from 50.8% to 49.3%, and he currently has the exact same percentage of the vote in Arizona--48.7%--that he had in 2016, and in Nevada he has increased from 45.5% to 48%. Of the critical states that are deciding the election, Georgia is the only one in which Trump's percentage of the vote has suffered a measurable decline--1.6%--and even there, his vote total increased by about 360,000 votes.
What about the large states that have become Republican strongholds? Trump in Texas had 52.2% of the vote in 2016, and he has exactly the same percentage of the Texas vote right now. He had 49% of the Florida vote in 2016, and he has 51.2% of it now. How about the biggest blue states? Trump gained slightly in California, from 31.2% in 2016 to 33%. this year. He gained significantly more in New York, 36.5% to 40.4%--a gain, so far, of 115,000 votes. (Biden is currently running more than 300,000 votes behind Clinton in 2016 in the Empire state, but New York as 16% of its vote left to count. Trump did lose about a single percentage point in most of the New England states, the only group I have discovered where he polled worse as a percentage of a larger electorate than he did four years ago.
I do not have time to do a systematic analysis of exit poll data this morning, but a quick look at CNN's data has yielded an extraordinary shock. I knew that Trump increased his share among both black and Hispanic voters--he lost both of them badly, of course, but he did better than four years ago. The CNN data shows him 7 points better among black voters and about 6 points better among Hispanics, where there was a substantial gender gap. But the real shock is that despite all the talk about suburban women, white women voted for Trump in a slightly larger percentage--about 1.5% more this year as they did in 2016. White men, on the other hand, shifted significantly away from Trump, losing about 6.5% from their 62% Trump majority in 2016. The gender gap shrank this year because white men shifted towards Biden. That may have given him the election. In later post, I will revisit the issue of generational voting.
The electorate remains deeply divided, as the House and Senate results show as well. I don't see much chance of Donald Trump overturning the election results, but I am very worried about the role he might play out of office, riding herd on the Republican Party and perhaps inciting violence. Unless the Democrats do win two runoff elections in Georgia, the Senate will remain Republican, and it will be very hard for Joe Biden to pass the test I set for him last week--to substantially improve the lot of the American people in the next two years. Still, it appears that a functioning adult--who will appoint more functioning adults--will occupy 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue on January 20. The American people have barely passed one of the most severe tests in their history.