2020 Election Results
Former Vice President Joe Biden (D) defeated then-President Donald Trump (R) for the presidency on November 7, 2020.
Biden received 306 electoral votes to Trump’s 232 electoral votes. Biden won the national popular vote with 51.3% of the vote, while Trump received 46.9% of the vote. Biden received roughly 81.3 million votes, the highest amount for any candidate for president in American history.
Despite the large gap in the national vote, it took several days for media observers to project Biden as the winner due to close vote totals in several swing states. New rules and procedures implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic slowed vote tabulations considerably.
The contest between Biden and Trump was one of the most pitched in modern American politics. Because it took place during the COVID-19 pandemic, issues surrounding public health restrictions, the economy, and Trump’s record as a divisive leader with many notable governance failures were paramount during the campaign.
President Trump enjoyed historically low approval ratings during his term, and as a result, a wide swath of Democrats entered the Democratic presidential primaries believing they could beat him in a general election.
Not since 2004 had the Democratic path to the nomination been so open, as Barack Obama was term-limited, and Hillary Clinton decided not to run again having been the 2016 nominee.
The early frontrunners included Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT), who rose to prominence challenging Hillary Clinton in 2016. Former Vice President Joe Biden began the race with considerable name recognition and regularly led in polls, but not overwhelmingly so. Candidates who also polled well at points included Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, Senator Kamala Harris of California, and Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.
Former Mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg joined the Democratic race late and spent more than $1 billion in an attempt to secure the nomination.
Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg performed well in the first contests in Iowa and New Hampshire, with Sanders winning the Nevada caucuses as well. But after Joe Biden secured a big victory in South Carolina, Democratic primary voters as a whole began coalescing around his candidacy. After a strong showing on Super Tuesday, Biden became the clear frontrunner and coasted from there to the nomination.
Biden was officially nominated at the Democratic National Convention on August 18, 2020.
President Trump never faced serious opposition to the Republican nomination. He won every state by large margins and beat poorly funded and organized campaigns.
The presidential election of 2020 was dominated by concerns about COVID-19. The pandemic caused an historic shutdown of economic activity and social life, and the ensuing political debate touched on the role of government in protecting human life and how much government should spend (and who should receive that spending) in an emergency.
Much of the race focused on Donald Trump’s temperament and deeply problematic record as President. His term was dominated by resignations, demonstrated cases of corruption, and foreign policy decisions that often seemed to elevate the interests of nominal enemies over traditional allies.
Many of these forces culminated in Trump’s impeachment by the House of Representatives in December of 2019. Trump was impeached for his solicitation of (and attempts to cover up) foreign help in Ukraine to interfere in American elections, specifically by targeting Joe Biden. Trump was acquitted by the Senate in February of 2020.
That summer, the police killing of George Floyd set off nationwide protests for racial justice and policing reform. Democrats largely embraced the spirit of the protests, but Republicans led by Donald Trump focused on the potential lack of law and order that would come from “defunding” the police. Trump and other Republicans routinely paired this message of chaos with a deep opposition to “socialism,” arguing that Biden and Democrats would upend ordinary American life.
In October, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died. President Trump quickly nominated conservative Amy Coney Barrett to the court, and Senate Republicans confirmed her in a matter of weeks. Barrett’s ascension tilted the court’s ideological makeup further to the right, and it served as a major point of contention during the campaign.
The Biden campaign sought to expand the electorate, courting independent and Republican-leaning voters who disliked Trump. Biden enjoyed endorsements from prominent Republicans in key swing states, such as in Arizona, where Cindy McCain (wife of the late John McCain) and former Republican Senator Jeff Flake backed Biden.
Biden’s appeals often focused on suburban and women voters who felt alienated by Trump’s divisive governing style and rhetoric. Biden promised a return to normalcy both in terms of ending the pandemic and in seeking common ground across the political spectrum.
The Biden campaign was hampered by pandemic restrictions that made traditional organizing such as door-knocking unadvisable.
The Trump campaign ran firmly on his brand of grievance and white identity politics, but his campaign also heavily courted traditionally Democratic-leaning Black and Latino voters. Trump and outside groups focused heavily on digital ads, seeing success in targeting more occasional voters who often weren’t heavily courted by major campaigns.
Trump’s barnstorming style did result in one problem: in October, he tested positive for COVID-19 and was forced off the campaign trail. Trump’s poll numbers collapsed during his illness, but he recovered in time to resume full campaigning with little long-term damage to his campaign.
2020 Electoral Map Results
Biden ended up securing a broad Electoral College victory, but only thanks to relatively small margins of victory in key swing states. Biden’s margin of victory was under 1% in Arizona, Georgia, and Wisconsin, and it was under 1.2% in Pennsylvania.
Biden’s success could be attributed to many factors. According to exit polls, women voters went to Biden by 57-42. Biden won individuals making less than $100,000 a year by similar margins. And Biden excelled with younger voters, winning voters under age 45 by 56-42.
Biden likely benefited from a smaller share of Americans voting for third-party candidates in 2020 (1.8% of the total vote) than in 2016 (5.7%).
As in 2016, Trump racked up big margins with White voters, particularly those without college degrees, which Trump won 67-32. Trump saw modest but significant improvement with minority voters, particularly with Latino voters in key swing states. Florida’s Cuban-American voters were a source of strength for Trump, helping him win the state by a healthy 3.4% margin.
Biden overcame a historically large gap between the national vote and the “tipping point” vote needed to secure a majority of the Electoral College. He did so by reestablishing the Northern “blue wall” of Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania that Trump was able to flip red in 2016.
Biden also established new ground for Democrats by winning Arizona and Georgia, with Georgia later delivering Democrats control of the Senate with two run-off victories there in January of 2021.