The 2020 Results: Where Biden and Trump Gained and Lost Voters

by Dante Chinni November 09, 2020

Joe Biden and the Democrats flex their muscle in urban and suburban America, Donald Trump made some inroads in Hispanic communities, and the urban-rural political chasm remains. Those are the biggest takeaways of the 2020 presidential race in the American Communities Project’s breakdown of the data, and they could have very big impacts on politics going forward.

Overall, the presidency is going to be decided by narrow wins for Biden in a handful of key states, leaving some people to see the results as similar to 2016, albeit with a different winner. But the moves inside the ACP types suggest a continuation of some important themes, such as the differences among voters with a college education, which point to a larger shift in the electorate.

Reading too much into any election can be hazardous, particularly one that unfolded in the news roller coaster that is 2020. However, the changes in some of these communities fit with broader trends in polling that show the nation’s two primary political parties evolving into different entities, one more urban and socioeconomically diverse and the other more rural and largely more white.

The chart below shows all percentage of vote for each candidate in 2016 and 2020 by community type (as of Monday morning, with results still trickling in). The last column shows how much Biden or Trump gained in each type in 2020 compared with 2016.

The Moves in the Suburbs

The biggest changes in the 2020 results come in the places around the nation’s big urban areas. The Urban Suburbs, which have long been a Democratic stronghold bumped up their support for Biden by about three points. These places hold a lot of voters and are still growing; 22% of the 18-and-over population live here, as we noted earlier this year.

Trump still owns the blue-collar Middle Suburbs, but by 2 percentage points less. The big shifts, however, came in the Exurbs. Trump still won them and won them comfortably, but Biden did nearly six points better in terms of margin.

You see those impacts in Exurbs all around a map of the presidential results. Biden flipped Williamson and Hays counties in Texas on either side of Travis County, the home of Austin. In Waukesha County, Wisconsin, outside of Milwaukee, Trump won by 21 points this year, but that was down from 27 points in 2016. In Douglas County, Colorado, Trump won by seven points this year, but he won the same county by 18 points in 2016.

Those are big shifts and they are very important to the GOP because the Exurbs tend to hold a lot of votes; about 11% of voting- age population is there. Republican candidates need big margins out of those Exurb counties to help offset the Democrats big wins in the Urban Suburbs and Big Cities. (We will look closer at the Big Cities in subsequent posts. They currently show some erosion for the Democrats, but those results are not all in yet.)

Driving that shift in the Exurbs may be the same factor driving the shift toward the Democrats in Urban Suburbs – high numbers of bachelor’s degrees. Polling data over the last decade has shown voters with a college degree are increasingly breaking Democratic. Biden’s improvement in the Exurbs may be tied to higher numbers of college graduates in those communities. For example, all Exurb counties mentioned above are far over the national average for population with at least a bachelor’s degree.

Going into this election, there was much discussion about the GOP’s problem in the suburbs. These numbers confirm that problem and give it broader context. The Trump campaign’s losses in the Exurbs should be a serious concern to Republicans, particularly when added to the margin drops Trump saw in the Urban Suburbs and Middle Suburbs.

Trump Gains in Hispanic Centers

For the most part, Trump’s improvements in the ACP types were small add-ons, particularly in places where he already had massive margins, such as the Evangelical Hubs and Working Class Country counties, showing Trump’s message has resonance in Appalachia and Southern rural areas. But there was one more noteworthy gain for the president: He saw an improvement in margin of nearly four points in the Hispanic Center counties. Trump went from narrowly losing those counties in 2016 to winning them by more than 2 points in 2020.

There were notable shifts in heavily Hispanic counties along the Mexican border in Texas, as The Wall Street Journal wrote this past weekend.

Even in counties where Trump lost in Texas along the Rio Grande, he flattened Democratic margins. You can see the movement in counties such as Starr, where the Democratic margin went from 40 points in 2016 to five points in 2020. Next door in Hidalgo, the Democratic margin went from 40 points in 2016 to 17 points this year. In nearby Cameron, the Democratic margin went from 32 points to 13 points.

These are not all big counties. Most counties along the border produce a few thousand votes, few produce more than 100,000 total. But the shifts are significant for what they could portend for the GOP. They might be a sign that the Trump brand of Republicanism plays well along the border where many of the communities are small, rural, remote, and socially conservative. Some of these counties are 90% or more Hispanic and very young, and Trump’s success in them may surprise some people who wondered if the president was alienating these voters with his rhetoric and actions in the White House. The Hispanic Center shift is surely a bright spot in the results for Trump and the Republican Party as a whole, particularly if they can build on it.

More Analysis Coming

In the coming weeks, when results are finalized, we will do another deep dive into the figures. There are other interesting points in the data.

For instance, the five-point shift toward the Democrats in the Military Posts is noteworthy, but will take some time to understand more fully. The shifts show up in very different kinds of military communities. In Montgomery County, Tennessee, home of Fort Campbell, Trump won but saw his margin shrink from 18 points to 13 points. In Virginia Beach, Virginia, the results flipped, and a four-point Trump win in 2016 became an eight-point Biden win in 2020.

We’ll also want to take a deeper dive into the Big City shift toward Trump, if it holds when all the data are in. Perhaps Trump peeled off some Black or Latino voters in those communities. Perhaps it was driven by shifts in just a few Big City counties.

This post marks a beginning of an exploration into these election results data, not the end.

Vol. 3 2020-2021

Deaths of Despair Across America

The American Communities Project is undertaking a 30-month study of Deaths of Despair in its 15 community types.

Learn More