Opinions

Who helped Biden get the most votes in history?

President-elect Joe Biden with his family after his victory speech last November.

On Election Day, Donald Trump won 74 million votes — 11 million more than in 2016. But Joe Biden accomplished a considerably more impressive feat: he attracted 81 million votes, 15 million more than Hillary Clinton did in 2016.

Who were the Biden Democrats? An examination of the data reveals surprising patterns — and foreshadows a new direction for the Democratic Party.

Metros with more

than 1 million

residents

Elsewhere

in the

United States

Clinton

2016

65.9

million

Biden

2020

81.2

million

20

40

60

80 million

The New York City area alone

gave Biden 5.4 million votes

Metros with more

than 1 million

residents

Elsewhere

in the

United States

Clinton

2016

65.9

million

Biden

2020

81.2

million

20

40

60

80 million

The New York City area alone

gave Biden 5.4 million votes

Metros with more

than 1 million residents

Elsewhere in

the United States

Total

votes

Clinton

2016

65.9 million

Biden

2020

81.2 million

The New York City area alone gave Biden 5.4 million votes

20

60

80 million

40

Biden built on Clinton’s strong performances in major metro areas. In the largest metros — New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, etc. — he exceeded her total by 3.8 million votes. In other metros, such as Phoenix, Minneapolis, Baltimore and Pittsburgh, he added another six million votes.

Clinton’s strong performances in these metros was enough to win her the popular vote. But Biden’s improvements allowed him to win the electoral college, pad his popular vote total and chart a new course for the party.

Georgia

Atlanta shifts Georgia from red to purple

For decades, Georgia was a reliably red state — but Biden turned it purple by finding new votes in cities.

Elsewhere

in Georgia

Columbus, Augusta

and Savannah

Clinton

2016

1.88

million

Atlanta

Biden

2020

2.47

million

Atlanta

.5

1

1.5

2

2.5 million

Biden had more votes in Georgia’s big cities in 2020 than Hillary Clinton had in the entire state in 2016.

Elsewhere

in Georgia

Columbus, Augusta

and Savannah

Clinton

2016

1.88

million

Atlanta

Biden

2020

2.47

million

Atlanta

.5

1

1.5

2

2.5 million

Biden had more votes in Georgia’s big cities in 2020 than Hillary Clinton had in the entire state in 2016.

Elsewhere

in Georgia

Total

votes

Columbus, Augusta

and Savannah

Clinton

2016

Atlanta

1.88 million

Biden

2020

2.47 million

Atlanta

.5

1

1.5

2

2.5 million

Biden had more votes in Georgia’s big cities in 2020 than Hillary Clinton had in the entire state in 2016.

Biden added 600,000 votes to Clinton’s 2016 total. Roughly five out of six of those added votes came from the state’s largest metro areas: Atlanta, Savannah, Augusta and Columbus. In those areas, Black voters and other loyal Democrats joined with suburban GOP converts to deliver a massive surge of votes for Biden.

Nonetheless, Biden’s margin in Georgia was extremely narrow , and he needed votes in smaller towns and rural counties to overtake Trump. But Biden’s gains in Atlanta were what turned Georgia from a deeply red to purple.

Michigan

Rural and urban gains push Biden over the top

Major metros similarly helped Biden in Michigan — but rural voters also played a key role in his victory.

Grand Rapids

and Lansing

Elsewhere

in Michigan

Clinton

2016

2.27

million

Detroit

Biden

2020

2.80

million

Detroit

.5

1

1.5

2

2.5 million

Grand Rapids

and Lansing

Elsewhere

in Michigan

Clinton

2016

2.27

million

Detroit

Biden

2020

2.80

million

Detroit

.5

1

1.5

2

2.5 million

Total

votes

Grand Rapids

and Lansing

Elsewhere

in Michigan

Clinton

2016

2.27 million

Detroit

Detroit

Biden

2020

2.80 million

.5

1

1.5

2

2.5 million

Biden’s biggest gains came from Grand Rapids and Detroit — where he lost Black voters in the city’s center but added supporters in the suburbs. He also gained 30,000 votes in Lansing, the state’s capital.

But Biden also netted a crucial 191,000 new votes in Michigan’s smaller metros, towns and rural areas. Without these votes, Biden’s margin of victory might have been eliminated.

North Carolina

Small metros mean insufficient gains

Biden made gains in a number of cities across North Carolina. But without a single mega-city to help him as it did in Michigan and Georgia, the state stayed red.

North Carolina’s five

biggest metro areas*

Elsewhere in

North Carolina

Clinton

2016

2.19

million

Biden

2020

2.68

million

1

1.5

.5

2

2.5 million

*Charlotte, Raleigh, Greensboro, Winston-Salem,

Durham/Chapel Hill

North Carolina’s five

biggest metro areas*

Elsewhere in

North Carolina

2.19

million

Clinton

2016

Biden

2020

2.68

million

1

1.5

.5

2

2.5 million

*Charlotte, Raleigh, Greensboro, Winston-Salem,

Durham/Chapel Hill

North Carolina’s five

biggest metro areas*

Elsewhere in

North Carolina

Total

votes

Clinton

2016

2.19 million

Biden

2020

2.68 million

1

1.5

.5

2

2.5

*Charlotte, Raleigh, Greensboro, Winston-Salem, Durham/Chapel Hill

Biden found more than 350,000 new votes in Charlotte, Raleigh, Greensboro, Winston-Salem and Durham/Chapel Hill. These added votes helped Biden stay in the race, but they weren’t enough to flip North Carolina. Trump also added votes — many from outside the large metros — and eked out a one point victory.

California

Biden gained in blue states too

As in Georgia, Biden performed better in California’s five largest cities in 2020 than Hillary Clinton performed statewide in 2016.

Los

Angeles

San

Francisco

Elsewhere

in California

Clinton

2016

8.75 million

Four other large metros*

11.1

million

Biden

2020

4

6

2

8

10 million

*Riverside, Sacramento, San Jose, San Diego are

combined in this block.

Los Angeles

San Francisco

Elsewhere in Calif.

Clinton

2016

8.75 million

Four other large metros*

11.1

million

Biden

2020

4

6

2

8

10 million

*Riverside, Sacramento, San Jose, San Diego are

combined in this block.

Elsewhere in

California

Four other

large metros*

San

Francisco

Total

votes

Clinton

2016

8.75 million

Los Angeles

Biden

2020

Los Angeles

11.1 million

4

6

2

8

10 million

*Riverside, Sacramento, San Jose, San Diego are combined in this block

California was always safely blue, and neither candidate campaigned there during the general election.

In San Francisco and Los Angeles (where historically Republican suburbs moved towards Biden), he found more than 1 million new votes. He added 786,000 votes in four other major metros — Riverside, San Diego, Sacramento and San Jose — plus another half million in the smaller metros and towns scattered across the state.

These new Democrats didn’t net Biden any extra electoral votes, but they strengthened his lead in the overall popular vote.

Kansas

Unexpected strength in the GOP-dominated plains

Finally, Biden also posted gains in red states that he lost. Like Kansas.

Kansas

City

Wichita

Elsewhere in

Kansas

Clinton

2016

427,005

Biden

2020

570,323

100k

300

500

Kansas

City

Wichita

Elsewhere in

Kansas

Clinton

2016

427,005

Biden

2020

570,323

200

100k

300

400

500

Total

votes

Elsewhere in

Kansas

Wichita

Clinton

2016

427,005

Kansas City

Biden

2020

Kansas City

570,323

200

300

100k

400

500

Democrats haven’t won a presidential election in Kansas since 1964, and they didn’t come close in 2020. But Biden still found new voters across the state, and outperformed other recent Democratic presidential candidates. And in other deep red plains and mountain states — such as Montana, Nebraska, Wyoming and the Dakotas — Biden improved on Clinton’s total.

What it means

Biden’s base is larger than Hillary Clinton’s — but its composition is different than what some might have expected. Scranton Joe didn’t win by taking back White, older segments of the country, though he gained some votes in those areas. Instead, he won the cities and suburbs of large metropolitan areas, where demographics and economics favor liberal politics. This is a powerful coalition — and if Biden and Kamala Harris can hold it together, it has the potential to deliver major policy victories for progressives.

Note: Metro areas defined by Office of Management and Budget’s core-based statistical areas. Election results from Dave Leip’s Election Atlas

Read more:

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