Results Sliced and Diced

PDFs: 2020 Results [excel]  |  Biden Share of the Vote  |  Trump Share of the Vote  |  Margin in Percent  |  Margin in Votes  |  Comparison of 2016 and 2020 Results [excel]  |  Votes per Electoral Vote

(ema, updated Mar. 2021) There were many differences between the 2016 and 2020 elections, but there were also similarities.  Beginning with the most significant differences: in 2020 President Trump was running as an incumbent, the COVID-19 pandemic and Trump's handling of it, provided an opening for the Democrats, and the killing of George Floyd sensitized many Americans to the problem of racial injustice.  After enduring three-plus years of President Trump, some Americans were simply tired of the tweets and controversies.  Democrats were united and motivated by a sense of urgency, resulting in a significant fundraising advantage.  2020 was also more of a two-person race; third party and independent candidates had little impact compared to 2016 when former Gov. Gary Johnson led the Libertarian ticket and independent candidate Evan McMullin achieved national attention.

As in 2016, Democrats were running a candidate did not inspire enthusiasm among many Americans, although Biden was more likable and empathetic figure than Clinton.  As in 2016, the Trump campaign played the scandal card, but Hunter's Biden's laptop proved a less effective cudgel than Hillary Clinton's emails.

Turnout was reported as the highest since 1900, although the comparison is not entirely apt since women were not eligible to vote until 1920 and minorities faced very significant obstacles.  It is fair to say that turnout was the highest of the modern era, and broke records in many states.  158.3 million total votes were tallied in the presidential race compared to 136.5 million 2016.  Additionally, a record number of voters, more than 100 million, cast their ballots early, in large part due to the pandemic.

This was not the blowout election that Democrats had hoped for.  Biden won a popular vote majority of more than seven million votes, tallying 81.3 million votes to 74.2 million for Trump, he carried 25 states and DC, including flipping five states and NE-2, and he secured a 306 to 232 electoral vote margin.  However, in three states Biden's margin was less than 1-percent: Georgia (16 electoral votes, 0.24%), Arizona (11 electoral votes, 0.31%) and Wisconsin (10 electoral votes, 0.63%).  If those three states had gone to Trump he would have won. 
Further, as the Washington Post's Aaron Blake noted, "Republicans came within 90,000 votes of controlling all of Washington."  Republicans narrowed Democrats' majority in the U.S. House, almost kept control of the U.S. Senate, and also quashed Democrats' hopes of making gains in state legislatures.  And for third party candidates, 2020 was a disaster.  In the presidential race only 2.9 million votes (1.83%) were tallied for third party, independent and write-in candidates compared to 7.6 million votes (5.58%) in 2016. 

State election maps with counties colored red and blue for the presidential results look very similar for 2016 and 2020.  According to the AP, in 2016 Trump carried 2,626 counties to 487 for Clinton.  The Brookings Institution reported that in 2020 Trump won 2,564 counties  compared to 520 counties for Biden; Brookings added economic analysis showing Trump counties accounted for just 29% of the U.S. GDP compared to 71% for the Biden counties (>).  Ballotpedia found that of 206 counties that supported Obama in 2008 and 2012 and flipped to Trump in 2016, 181 remained in the Trump column in 2020, while just 25 reverted to Biden (>).  As some counties are very sparsely populated, the colored maps present an exaggerated picture, but the point is clear: the 2016 and 2020 elections really underscore the urban-rural divide in America.