The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Trump underperformed GOP House candidates more in places that he won

Supporters of President Donald Trump hold signs as they stand outside the Clark County Elections Department in North Las Vegas on Nov. 7, 2020. (Wong Maye-E/AP)

During his testimony before the House select committee investigating the attack at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) batted down a flurry of inaccurate claims about voter fraud that had been promoted by Donald Trump. But his most effective rejoinder was also his most succinct.

“What happened in the fall of 2020 is that 28,000 Georgians skipped the presidential race and yet they voted down-ballot in other races,” Raffensperger told the House panel. “The Republican congressmen ended up getting 33,000 more votes than President Trump. And that’s why President Trump came up short.”

This is a simple point but an often overlooked one. Trump has often pointed to the fact that he lost the presidency even while Republicans did better than expected in House races as evidence that votes for him were suppressed or votes for Joe Biden augmented through fraud. But Raffensperger gets at a simpler answer: Trump was simply less popular than other Republican candidates.

It’s a simpler answer … and it’s an answer that is demonstrable with data.

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Presidential votes aren’t usually tallied by House district, leaving such analyses to third parties. For the past several presidential cycles, that’s been done by Daily Kos, which figures out how votes overlap with House boundaries. We can compare those results with the district-by-district results in House races compiled by Cook Political Report.

In 2020, Trump got north of 74 million votes nationally. Republican House candidates got about 73 million. But when we compare those numbers at a district level, we see that, in most House districts, Republican candidates (winning and losing) got more votes than Trump, 227 to 208. In nearly all of the districts where House candidates overperformed relative to Trump, they also did better in the vote margin. In nearly a third of the districts where Trump got more votes, though, the Republican running for the House had a better margin than the president — meaning that they won by more or lost by less. Because Biden got more votes than Democratic House candidates in 337 districts.

We can plot those vote totals as a direct comparison. On the graph below, dots above the line are districts in which Trump got more votes than Republican House candidates. (Gray dots that sit above the line are ones in which the House candidate nonetheless performed better in vote margin.) Dots below the line are ones in which the House candidate got more votes.

(There are a number of House districts in which Democrats and Republicans ran essentially or literally uncontested; they sit near the left and right sides of the graph.)

You’ll notice that districts in which more votes were cast were more likely to be ones in which Trump got fewer votes. If we recolor the dots to show which presidential candidate received more votes in the district, we see that many of the districts where House candidates got more votes than Trump are districts that he actually won.

That is, in fact, the case. Trump won about two-thirds of the districts in which he was outperformed by Republican House candidates and won about a fifth of districts where he outperformed his party’s House candidate.

Overall, Trump won about 64 percent of districts in which his vote margin was worse than Republican House candidates'. In other words, if his theory that House Republicans performed better than him because of fraud were true, that fraud somehow led to his winning nearly two-thirds of those districts.

In fact, Trump got 712,000 fewer votes than Republican House candidates in districts he won. In districts he lost, he got 2.1 million more votes. Weird fraud!

Just to continue flailing this departed horse, there were 27 states in which Trump got more votes than GOP House candidates. In 18 of them, Biden won. In states Trump won, he got about 140,000 more votes than his party’s House nominees. In states he lost, he got 1.2 million more. Weird fraud!

Look, there’s no reason to take Trump’s claims about fraud seriously at all. He’s been making them — and changing them, and updating them and revising them — for 20 months now, and they are no more solid than they’ve ever been.

But Raffensperger’s point is a clear, concise one. The idea that Trump underperformed House candidates because of fraud is obviously not true. His problem was that a lot of Americans, including a lot of Republicans in heavily Republican areas, didn’t want to vote for him.