Frankly, I would like to leave the election of 2020 and the conspiracy theories surrounding it behind, but this article is a perfect distillation of the type of illogical, poorly researched nonsense that continues to dominate portions of the right. J.B. Shurk assembles a pile of amazing nuggets (some of which aren’t exactly true) to cast doubt on the legitimacy of Joe Biden’s election victory (without saying as much – we have to divine the author’s oh-so-subtle intent), but the author’s incredulous tone does not match the assembled evidence. In other words, it’s par for the course for the Stolen Election brigade.
Let’s take these “arguments” one by one. First, there’s Joe Biden’s record vote total.
Holy moly! A lot of Americans turned out for a Washington politician who’s been in office for nearly 50 years. Consider this: no incumbent president in nearly a century and a half has gained votes in a re-election campaign and still lost.
President Trump gained more than ten million votes since his 2016 victory, but Biden’s appeal was so substantial that it overcame President Trump’s record support among minority voters. Biden also shattered Barack Obama’s own popular vote totals, really calling into question whether it was not perhaps Biden who pulled Obama across the finish lines in 2008 and 2012.
Gee, imagine that – more people voted in an election when absentee and mail-in options were more readily accessible than ever. And indeed Donald Trump’s popularity among his base translated into wide adulation and drove millions of people to the polls to vote for him. But his deep unpopularity drove millions more to the polls to vote against him. Donald Trump is a polarizing figure, and is president during a time of intense partisan bickering. I get that Joe Biden enthused precisely zero people. This enthusiasm gap is why I gave Donald Trump a lot better chance to win than just about anyone else who wasn’t a die-hard Trump supporter. But we also have to acknowledge how deep was the hatred – and that’s the right word – felt towards the Donald, and that matters.
Absent from this analysis is any consideration of what the lack of third-party voting did to help Biden’s totals, at least compared to Hillary Clinton. In 2016, the two major party candidates received a hair over 94% of the vote. In 2020, that increased to 98.1%, and Joe Biden was the primary beneficiary. Joe Biden’s vote share declined (compared to Clinton) in exactly two states – Mississippi (39.9% from 40.1%) and New York (56.8% from 59%, and they’re still – very slowly – counting). The average increase for Biden was 3.8% in each state. As for Trump, he did better in 38 states (including DC) but did worse in 13. His average vote share increased 1.05%. In other words, people who voted third party in 2016 but who didn’t in 2020 largely preferred Biden. Is this an unexpected outcome considering what we know of American politics?
As for Trump’s “record breaking” performance among minorities, while it is true he performed better than any Republican since Nixon in 1960, he still was soundly beaten, especially among African-American voters. And whatever gains he made here were more than made up for in the loss of suburban voters. More on that in a moment.
The second “shocking” point raised is that Biden won despite losing multiple “bellweather” counties.
Biden is set to become the first president in 60 years to lose the states of Ohio and Florida on his way to election. For a century, these states have consistently predicted the national outcome, and they have been considered roughly representative of the American melting pot as a whole. Despite national polling giving Biden a lead in both states, he lost Ohio by eight points and Florida by more than three.
For Biden to lose these key bellwethers by notable margins and still win the national election is newsworthy. Not since the Mafia allegedly aided John F. Kennedy in winning Illinois over Richard Nixon in 1960 has an American president pulled off this neat trick.
Even more unbelievably, Biden is on his way to winning the White House after having lost almost every historic bellwether county across the country. The Wall Street Journal and The Epoch Times independently analyzed the results of 19 counties around the United States that have nearly perfect presidential voting records over the last 40 years. President Trump won every single bellwether county, except Clallam County in Washington.
From 1904 to 2004, the state of Missouri voted for the eventual winner of the presidential election in every election except one (1956). Since 2008, it has voted for the eventual winning candidate once in four elections. Things change.
Florida is not really a swing state, despite how close it is every presidential election, and despite Obama winning here twice. There are no statewide elected Democrats, and Republicans have dominated every level of government here for two decades. Ohio is also becoming less “swingy,” and provided Trump eight-point margins in both 2016 and 2018.
There’s little information provided about those 19 counties, but one suspects these are not metropolitan and suburban counties. In other words, Donald Trump won a bunch of rural counties. News at 11.
Next up, we have an outright falsehood: Biden fared worse than Hillary in all but four cities in four swing states.
Baris noted a statistical oddity from 2020’s election returns: “Biden underperformed Hillary Clinton in every major metro area around the country, save for Milwaukee, Detroit, Atlanta and Philadelphia.”
Barnes added that in those “big cities in swing states run by Democrats…the vote even exceeded the number of registered voters.” In the states that mattered most, so many mail-in ballots poured in for Biden from the cities that he put up record-breaking numbers and overturned state totals that looked like comfortable leads for President Trump.
Except, as Dan McLaughlin demonstrated, this isn’t true.
The problem, if you look at the cities themselves, is that the facts do not fit the story. I took a look across the 36 largest U.S. cities outside of California and New York where Biden beat Trump by at least 10,000 votes, as measured by county-wide vote totals (admittedly, some cities cross county lines or have suburban voters within county lines, and Maricopa County, Ariz., has two large cities in a single county). I excluded California and New York only because they are still counting votes so slowly that it is not yet possible to fairly compare their vote totals to 2016. I also excluded four cities where Trump either won or lost by a tiny margin: Colorado Springs, Fort Worth, Oklahoma City, and Tulsa. That leaves us with a comparison across the major American Democrat-voting cities. Is it true that Joe Biden underperformed Hillary Clinton in 32 out of 36, and overperformed in Milwaukee, Detroit, Atlanta, and Philadelphia? No, it is not. It is emphatically false:
Dan then has the chart showing how false the claim is. Then he adds:
Biden improved his margin of victory compared to Hillary in 31 out of 36 urban counties — and Philadelphia was one of the five in which he didn’t. In 29 of the cities, the Democratic margin of victory grew on a percentage basis. Of the twelve cities in which Biden overperformed Hillary by enough that his margin of victory grew by 10 percent or more (as a percentage of the 2016 electorate), only one (Atlanta) was in a swing state, and one other (Omaha) in a swing district. Biden’s improvements in Milwaukee and Detroit were distinctly subpar, and in Detroit, Trump improved his own share of the vote enough to be the first Republican to break 30 percent of the vote in Wayne County, Mich., in 32 years.
Yes, Biden had some really striking “metro area” improvements over Hillary in key states, but other than Atlanta, many of those came either in the surrounding suburbs (the election was really won in the suburbs, most of all around Philadelphia) or in counties such as Maricopa County, Ariz., (which contains both Phoenix and Mesa and was won by Trump four years ago) and Douglas County, Neb.,(which contains Omaha and swung one electoral vote). But those are not counties run by infamously corrupt Democratic local parties, and “voter fraud in the suburbs” is neither as sexy nor as plausible as fraud by the kinds of urban machines that gave us 100,000 fraudulent votes in Chicago in the 1982 Illinois governor’s race. Biden turned out tons of additional votes in Austin, Denver, San Antonio, Albuquerque, Portland, and Nashville, too, but none of those mattered to the outcome.
The point about the suburban vote needs to be re-emphasized. It is by now well-established that Donald Trump help lead a mass exodus of suburban voters – particularly women – from the GOP, as evidenced by the 2018 mid-term elections. This carried over to the 2020 election, where Trump underperformed. This is precisely where he lost the election.
Just take Frederick county in Maryland. Sure Maryland is a deep blue state, but in many of the counties outside of Baltimore, Montgomery, and Prince George’s Republicans are either competitive or even dominant. In 2016 Trump carried Frederick by over 3,000 votes. In 2020, he lost by nearly 13,000 votes. And that pattern repeated itself throughout the country.
The fourth shocking point is that Biden won despite Democrats “losing everywhere.”
Randy DeSoto noted in The Western Journal that “Donald Trump was pretty much the only incumbent president in U.S. history to lose his re-election while his own party gained seats in the House of Representatives.” Now that’s a Biden miracle!
In 2020, The Cook Political Report and The New York Times rated 27 House seats as toss-ups going into Election Day. Right now, Republicans appear to have won all 27. Democrats failed to flip a single state house chamber, while Republicans flipped both the House and Senate in New Hampshire and expanded their dominance of state legislatures across the country.
The Cook Political Report took a giant credibility hit this election cycle, as did the polling industry in general. But these disparate results aren’t quite as “revealing” as the author thinks they are. Many of the Republican gains came in states where they were devastated in 2018, particularly New York and California. They also won back a couple of seats they had previously long-held. Despite the gains, the Republicans still lost – Democrats will have a slight majority. And even if Democrats lose both run-off elections in Georgia in January , they will have gained at least one Senate seat.
These Congressional election results are perfectly in-line with what one would expect in a year with close presidential elections. And, if anything, these are far from anomalous historically speaking. Dwight Eisenhower (1956), Richard Nixon (1972), Ronald Reagan (1980 and 1984), George Bush (1988), and Bill Clinton (1996) all won smashing election victories while the other party maintained control of the House.
Ticket splitting a normal phenomenon. What’s different about Trump is he has underperformed Congressional Republicans – this was true in 2016 and was true again in 2020. Newsflash: Donald Trump was/is not popular. Republicans are less unpopular.
Finally, there’s Trump’s primary performance:
First, no incumbent who has received 75 percent of the total primary vote has lost re-election. Second, President Trump received 94 percent of the primary vote, which is the fourth highest of all time (higher than Dwight Eisenhower, Nixon, Clinton, or Obama). In fact, Trump is only one of five incumbents since 1912 to receive more than 90 percent of the primary vote.
Third, Trump set a record for most primary votes received by an incumbent when more than 18 million people turned out for him in 2020 (the previous record, held by Bill Clinton, was half that number). For Biden to prevail in the general election, despite Trump’s historic support in the primaries, turns a century’s worth of prior election data on its head.
This is one of those historically true, but ultimately meaningless nuggets. Now I have noted before that it historically true that incumbents who are challenged in primaries have lost (Ford, Carter, HW Bush), while incumbents who are not have always won. Trump does upset this tradition.
Presidents who face serious primary challenges are those who are overseeing turbulent times and who are not popular with large chunks of his party’s base. Those two factors spell disaster for most presidents. Therefore, their primary challenges are a sign of what’s to come. Trump maintained his popularity with his base, and therefore had no problems in the primary.
But that also gets to the heart of what is so different about Trump, and also exposes why all these supposedly odd historical nuggets don’t add up to much. Donald Trump is deeply polarizing. His base loves him, and most others loathe him. He never dipped below 40% approval, but rarely got up above 45%. He had a steady base of support that never left him, but he also never built upon that base. Or to the extent he built upon that base, as he did with minorities, he lost it in other crucial demographics.
Donald Trump is a political anomaly. He managed a hostile takeover of the Republican party, built a slightly different political coalition than we’re used to seeing, and became the object of deeply passionate feelings – in both opposition and support – that we have never seen before. That his victory in 2016 and defeat in 2020 are both unique events doesn’t prove anything that we didn’t know already. Those trying to dig deeper and pretend there’s something suspicious at work are just deluding themselves and others.
Update: The Wall Street Journal has an article that addresses one of the issues raised above, ticket splitting.
Surveys have found that splitting votes between parties has been on the decline in recent years as the electorate grows more polarized. The 2020 election showed there are still enough people who vote that way to matter in places like eastern Nebraska and Maine, where Mr. Biden and Republican Sen. Susan Collins both won statewide.
. . .
A Wall Street Journal analysis of county-level election results found that, as in the Omaha area and in Maine, Mr. Biden tended to outperform Democratic Senate candidates in cities, suburbs and exurbs.
Bill McInturff, a GOP pollster at Public Opinion Strategies, said his firm found in a survey that 11% of voters nationally split their ticket—a thin slice but one that matters when contested races are decided by a few percentage points. “That number is really pretty deceptively small, but still, I think, really important in understanding where the Republican gains came from.”
Remember: Ronald Reagan won 60% of the popular vote in 1984. The Democrats lost 16 seats, but still had a 253-182 majority, while Democratic House candidates earned over 4 million more votes than their Republican counterparts.
This is not new. What’s new, if anything, is how relatively minimal it is.