Photo of Joe Biden shaking hands with individuals at a campaign event.

The Demographics Behind Biden’s Victory

by Kevin Schofield

This weekend’s “long read” is a deep dive into the demographics of the voters in last November’s presidential election. It would be wonderful if we knew more immediately after the election about who chose to vote (or stay home), but our secret balloting process means that demographic data must be reconstructed after the fact. And that process often takes months.

The Pew Research Center has 11,818 validated 2020 voters in its ongoing “American Trends” panel of people it polls and recently released its analysis of the November election based upon a study of those panel members. The 34-page report is a wealth of data and easy-to-read charts on the differences between Trump and Biden voters as well as interesting trendlines in comparison with the 2016 and 2018 elections.

Given the record-high turnout in the election, it’s not much of a surprise to learn that 19% of last November’s voters didn’t vote in either the 2016 or 2018 election. But it turns out that both major parties were effective at getting voters out: Those 19% of new or irregular voters split fairly evenly between Biden (49%) and Trump (47%). Though there was a significant age split in how they voted: The under-30 group voted 59% Biden/33% Trump, while the over-30 group went 55% Trump/42% Biden.

Only 2% of 2020 voters chose a third-party candidate, well down from the 6% who did so in 2016. 

Compared to previous years, Biden made gains with suburban voters; men; white voters without a college degree; and atheists and agnostics.  Trump gained with Hispanic voters (particularly those without a college degree), women, and white evangelical protestants.

For the first time in decades, baby boomers and the “silent generation” made up less than half of voters (44%). Generation Z was 8%, and Generation X and millennials combined for 47%.

Forty-six percent of votes were cast absentee or by mail, though there were several significant demographic splits there too. Voting early in-person was most popular among Black voters, while voting absentee or by mail was favored by Hispanic voters.

Chart depicting percentage of validated voters who cast their ballot in person on Election Day (dark yellow), in person early (light yellow), and by mail or absentee (green).
Chart depicting percentage of validated voters who cast their ballot in person on Election Day (dark yellow), in person early (light yellow), and by mail or absentee (green). Sourced from PEW Research Center’s “Behind Biden’s 2020 Victory.”

There is so much to interpret in this report, and the national political parties will spend the next three years doing so in preparation for the 2024 election cycle. Some of it reflects long-term and expected demographic changes, especially in age and race/ethnicity. But other aspects, such as voting early or by mail, are aspects that political leaders can control — as we have seen with voting-rights bills from both sides of the aisle.

Pew Research Center — Behind Biden’s 2020 Victory

Kevin Schofield is a freelance writer and the founder of Seattle City Council Insight, a website providing independent news and analysis of the Seattle City Council and City Hall. He also co-hosts the “Seattle News, Views and Brews” podcast with Brian Callanan, and appears from time to time on Converge Media and KUOW’s Week in Review.

📸 Featured image is attributed to stingrayschuller (under a Creative Commons, CC BY 2.0 license).

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