The State of America’s Disunion
The 2020 US presidential election followed a pattern very similar to the contest in 2016, with narrow margins in a few key counties determining the outcome in battleground states. And the record-breaking turnout on both sides was a sign not of a healthy democracy but of an anxious one.
MILAN/PALO ALTO – In the US presidential election this year, President-elect Joe Biden received 79.8 million (51%) votes, Donald Trump received 73.8 million (47.2%), and the remaining candidates received 2.5 million (1.7%). Though votes are still being counted in California, New York, and Illinois, this year’s turnout has reached a record high for the post-war period.
Yet, owing to America’s Electoral College system, which allocates more electors per person to states with smaller populations, the outcome of this election was much closer than the popular vote would suggest. Though Biden ultimately won a significant number of battleground states, he did so by very thin margins, effectively reversing the outcomes that gave Trump his victory in 2016. In Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, just enough moderate Republicans, Democrats, and independents shifted toward Biden to make the difference.
A county-level view of voting patterns in 2016 and 2020 shows a deep and consistent partisan divide. The axes represent the Democratic vote minus the Republican vote, expressed as a percentage of the total vote in 2016 and 2020. A dot on a negative number signifies a Republican victory in that county. Overall, the points are highly concentrated around the 45º line, along which the margin of winning or losing was the same in both election cycles.