Nov 11, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Four demographic trends that explain Biden's victory

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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Geography, rather than race or age, paints the clearest picture of President Trump's defeat and illustrates the demographic trends that could hurt Republicans in future elections.

The big picture: The rural-urban divide demonstrated President-elect Joe Biden's power in and around cities — which helped him flip the states that delivered his election victory.

  • But there's also a demographic trend that should worry Democrats: the support Trump won from some Latinos in some areas of the country.

Here are four geographic and demographic trends that help explain the election outcome:

1. Suburbs have undergone a fundamental shift in favor of Democrats. Trump may have alienated some suburban voters in ways that wouldn't translate to other Republicans — but suburban demographics are also rapidly changing, and not benefitting the GOP.

  • The biggest county-level shift in Pennsylvania came in Chester, home to some of Philadelphia's western suburbs. It went for Biden by 17 points — 7 points more than Hillary Clinton's 2016 margin.
  • It was not alone — every sizable Pennsylvania county surrounding Philadelphia had a bigger Democratic margin than in 2016.
  • That leftward shift repeated itself in the areas around Detroit, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Dallas, Austin, Charlotte and in many bluer states.
  • The suburbs are growing and racially and ethnically diverse. They're becoming new immigrant hubs. The trends could benefit Democrats for the long-term unless Republicans change their playbook.

2. Blue areas got even bluer, while rural areas dug in for Trump.

  • Georgia's shift to the left came on the back of Atlanta and its suburbs — Biden's margin over Trump in populous Cobb and Gwinnett counties was 12 points higher than Clinton's in 2016.
  • Biden also dominated across New England, even in areas that have traditionally been GOP-friendly. Mitt Romney carried Darien, Conn. in 2012 by 31 points, Clinton carried it by 12 points in 2016, and Biden carried it by 23 points this year.
  • The other side: Rural areas still turned out strong for Trump.

3. The white working class vote in the Midwest did not deliver victory for Biden, even though that was one of his key selling points in the Democratic primary.

  • While he did make gains in central Pennsylvania and western Michigan, he was walloped outside of the big cities in Ohio and Iowa compared to Clinton's performance in 2016.
  • Biden made efforts to win over some of the white, non-college educated voters who propelled Trump to victory in 2016, but "he didn't deliver as much as he wanted to," Brookings Institution demographer William Frey told Axios. "The exit polls actually do show him doing a little worse."

4. Latino support for Trump grew in a number of key regions — not just in Miami. The results highlight the complexity and diversity of the Latino vote in the U.S.

While Democrats' focus on Latino communities in Arizona might have helped Biden flip the state, they seemingly lost ground in Florida and Texas. “Hispanic erosion was catastrophic for Democrats in many places,” the Cook Political Report‘s Dave Wasserman told Axios.

  • Three heavily Latino counties in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, while still supporting Biden, all swung by 19+ points toward Trump compared to 2016.
  • The 55-point swing in small Starr County was the most dramatic nationwide this year.
  • Trump became the first Republican presidential candidate to carry the small, 94% Hispanic Zapata County in Texas since 1920.
  • Even within Houston's Harris County, while Biden gained ground due to support from whiter areas, he lost support in Hispanic areas.
  • In 60% Hispanic Yuma County, Arizona, Trump upped his margin from 2016 by 5 points.
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