How Joe Biden won the U.S. presidential election

How Joe Biden won the U.S. presidential election

The Democrat expanded his party's support in suburbs and other well-to-do areas

Democrat Joe Biden captured the U.S. presidency on Saturday after days of vote-counting in a closely divided country.

Biden won by expanding his party’s appeal among suburban voters, in middle- and upper-income communities and in places where a large share of people graduated from college. From the Rust Belt to the Sun Belt, he benefited from a surge in turnout in suburbs and other areas that skew well-to-do. The shifts were small but consequential in a nation appearing as politically divided as ever.

President Donald Trump, a Republican, deepened his support in lower-income communities and in places where people are overwhelmingly white and lack a college degree. He also made inroads with Black voters and with Latinos in Texas and Florida, whose votes helped him win both states. And he intensified his support in many of the counties where the coronavirus pandemic has been especially deadly.

Change from 2016 by county
Where at least 95% of expected votes have been counted
Voted more Democratic
Voted more Republican
Net gain by party, 2016 to 2020

Where Trump and Biden improved on 2016 party margins.

Peaks represent the percentage-point change in the share of two-party vote each candidate won in each county compared to the 2016 election.

Counties where Biden outperformed Hillary Clinton’s 2016 numbers

Biden improved on 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s performance in the upper Midwest and made significant inroads in and around big cities like Denver, Dallas and Atlanta.

Counties classified as mostly suburban

Biden made broad gains in the counties that surround big cities, including in Michigan, Georgia, Arizona, Texas and Pennsylvania. Turnout increased more than 18% in suburban counties, but only rose by just over 11% in largely rural counties, where Trump got broad support.

Counties with the highest incomes

Biden’s suburban strength extended to other affluent areas. Biden led Trump by about six percentage points in places where a typical household earns more than $60,000 a year. In 2016, Trump and Clinton split nearly evenly in the same counties, which are home to close to half of voters. This year, turnout in those counties surged more than 16% from 2016 and a higher share voted for Biden. In Michigan, Biden won Kent County, an affluent, long-time Republican stronghold where Trump held his final 2016 and 2020 campaign rallies.

Where Trump gained ground from 2016

Trump improved on his performance in parts of the Midwest and made substantial gains in South Florida and South Texas, both of which have traditionally been reliable sources of Democratic votes.

Places where the Black population is at least 20%

Trump made modest gains in many of the counties with the highest shares of Black Americans. A notable exception were Atlanta’s large suburban counties, which cast more votes for Democrats this year than in 2016. Trump was on track to win Georgia’s Burke County, where about half of residents are Black and which voted Democratic in six of the last seven presidential elections, including in 2016.

Places where Hispanics make up at least 20% of the population

Counties with large numbers of Hispanic voters - areas that had overwhelmingly favored Democrats in previous elections - made some of 2020’s most dramatic political shifts, largely in Trump’s favor. That was especially true around Miami and in South Texas. For example, Clinton won Starr County, Texas, by 60 percentage points in 2016; Biden won it by only about five.

Counties where the COVID-19 death rate was highest

Support for Trump increased in many of the counties where the coronavirus pandemic has been especially deadly, those with a death rate of at least 70 people per 100,000 residents.

The changes in suburbs and other well-to-do areas build on trends that have been realigning U.S. politics for years as upper-income, college-educated voters increasingly skew Democratic.

In 2020, the shift was just enough in a high-turnout election for Biden to flip a handful of battleground states - including Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin - that had narrowly voted for Trump in 2016. Biden also won them by thin margins.

Note: “Share of expected votes counted” reflects recorded votes and the best estimate of the total number of votes cast according to Edison Research (Methodology); voting and demographic data for Alaska are presented at a state level. COVID-19 death rates by county are current as of Oct. 31

Sources: Edison Research for the National Election Pool; Dave Leip’s Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections; Census Bureau; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); Office of Management and Budget (OMB); Jed Kolko, Chief Economist at Indeed.