The votes that won Joe Biden the presidency

Americans cast a historic number of votes in the presidential election. A handful of them gave Democrats the edge.

Amid a global pandemic and the highest voter turnout in more than a century, the presidential race has ended with a victory for Joseph R. Biden Jr. with 306 electoral votes. Biden was put over the edge by Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral votes after the state was called on Nov. 7. Biden added later Arizona and Georgia, states that have not voted for a Democrat for president since Bill Clinton.

By the time all races were called, Biden had received more than 78 million votes across the country — the most votes cast for any presidential candidate in history. That number is likely to grow as final counts come in from Democratic-leaning states, such as California and New York.

But one of the paradoxes of our electoral college system is that, while the popular vote margin of more than five million may seem like a landslide win, the vote margins that gave Biden the presidency are razor-thin. Flipping just a little more than 81,139 votes in four states would have changed the winner of this election. That is just over the margins that gave Trump the presidency in 2016. The vote count has not yet been completed and those margins could change, but they are unlikely to shift dramatically.

The ballots counted on Election Day set the candidates up for a tight race, and some early battleground state calls sent signals that an expected “blue wave” would not materialize, meaning the race could drag on for days as votes were counted. Trump over-performed polling averages in Florida, winning by a margin of 372,000 votes, despite Biden’s focus on in-person rallies there in the final few weeks of the campaign.

Over the following days, a marked “blue shift” occurred as election officials continued to count a historic number of early and mail-in votes. In many states, these skewed heavily Democratic and were counted after in-person returns.

While Democrats made limited efforts to flip Texas and its 38 electoral votes, the state remained firmly in the GOP’s column by a margin of more than 647,000 votes. That is about 5.7 percent of total votes cast in the state. While voters in Texas swung largely toward Biden in Houston, Austin and Dallas, this was offset by Republican gains in the Rio Grande Valley.

[The political winds in the U.S. are swirling]

Winning vote margins in battleground states

Winning vote margins in non-battleground states

Chiqui Esteban contributed to this report.


In an earlier version of this article, Biden's margin of victory in Nevada was incorrectly labelled as 8,354 votes, and Biden's total margin was incorrectly described as smaller than President Trump's margin in the 2016 presidential election. The correct margin in Nevada as of November 13 was 35,453 votes, and Biden's margin as of November 13 was larger than Trump's 2016 margin.

Alyssa Fowers is a graphics reporter for The Washington Post.
Atthar Mirza is a graphics reporter and animator working on interactive storytelling.
Armand Emamdjomeh makes data visualizations, maps and graphics. Before coming to The Washington Post, he was deputy director of data visualization at the Los Angeles Times and an alum of the L.A. Times Data Desk.