Fact check: Trump lost the 2020 presidential election
The claim: President Donald Trump won the 2020 election
Weeks after the bitterly fought presidential race ended with the naming of Joe Biden as the projected winner over President Donald Trump, some are still claiming a victor can not yet be named.
“President Trump won and the world is starting to see! Fight on Patriots – to #Victory!” a Nov. 29 Facebook post reads. The user who made the post did not respond to USA TODAY’s request for comment.
That same claim has been promoted by the president himself, who has not yet conceded the election to Biden.
“NO WAY WE LOST THIS ELECTION!” Trump tweeted Nov. 29, along with a video of his supporters.
Fact check: Image from 2017 White House event altered to make claim about votes for Biden
Trump falls short in popular, electoral votes; lawsuits fail
Despite efforts to convince the country and the courts otherwise, Trump did not win reelection.
Trump broke President Barack Obama’s popular vote record with over 74 million votes, but still fell short of Biden, who surpassed Trump – and all previous presidential candidates – by racking up a record-shattering 81 million votes. The Biden-Harris ticket gained roughly 51% of the popular vote to the Trump-Pence ticket’s 47%, according to the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.
But as the 2000 and 2016 elections showed, the popular vote is not the sole determinant of presidential elections; the Electoral College makes the final call.
Each state is allowed a number of electors, which is determined by adding its number of senators (always two) to its number of House representatives (varies by state). Nationwide, there are 538 electoral votes to cast.
On Election Day, people vote for their preferred candidate's electors, who are chosen by political parties or independent candidates before the election. Those individuals, collectively the Electoral College, then cast votes for president and vice president, usually representing the choice their state's voters made.
Candidates have to win at least half of the country's electoral votes (270 votes) to be elected president.
Biden is projected to receive 306 electoral votes to Trump’s projected 232, thanks to wins in key states like Georgia (16 electoral votes), Michigan (16 votes), Wisconsin (10 votes), Pennsylvania (20 votes) and Arizona (11 votes). Trump won by the same Electoral College breakdown in 2016, which he called a “massive landslide victory” at the time.
The Trump campaign and its allies flooded state and federal courts after the election, filing over 40 lawsuits, primarily in battleground states, according to a running tally by Marc Elias, a Democratic elections expert and founder of Democracy Docket. The lawsuits claimed ballots had errors because voters were required to use Sharpies, observers didn't have enough access to monitor ballot counting and late-arriving mail ballots were improperly mixed with legal votes.
None has gotten very far; just one case has been won and at least eight are pending.
More: Texas attorney general asks Supreme Court to block Biden victory in 4 states
Dave Wasserman, House editor of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, told USA TODAY that Trump has no path to victory.
"The case for Trump having won the election is so preposterous that the only explanation is that the losing side does not like the results," he said.
More: For these Trump supporters primed to disbelieve defeat, challenging the election was a civic duty
Biden improved on Clinton’s gains
Many Trump supporters have expressed disbelief that Biden won, and by such margins. But Biden’s campaign won by persuading just enough swing voters, making gains in unexpected states and rebuilding the coveted “blue wall” that toppled in 2016.
According to CNN’s national exit poll, 94% of self-described Democrats voted for Biden in 2020 compared to Hillary Clinton’s 89% of self-described Democrats in 2016, and 89% of self-described liberals, compared to Clinton’s 84%.
Biden’s victory was really won on the basis of support from moderates and independents, though. He received 64% of votes cast by self-described moderates, 12 points ahead of Clinton, and won independents by 13 points – a group that Clinton lost by 4 points.
Biden continued to build on the groundwork laid out by Clinton in historically red states like Arizona and Georgia. Clinton did not win Arizona or Georgia in 2016, but she did perform better than Obama in both. The swing toward Biden in those states was more than double his national swing, CNN reported.
Wasserman said he predicted prior to the election that Arizona and Georgia would flip, but the similar states of Texas and Florida would not due to their Hispanic electorate.
"It's the fact that Texas and Florida have such high Hispanic shares, but in particular, in Florida, the Hispanic electorate is substantially Cuban, and we knew that that was a particular strength for Trump entering this election, whereas in Arizona, Hispanic voters are predominantly of Mexican ancestry and Trump did not make as strong astride among those voters," he said. "In Georgia, there's not much of a Hispanic vote to speak of so it was really a question of what the shift would be in the Atlanta suburbs."
Fact check: Video claim that Dominion tech manipulated Georgia votes is false
'Blue wall' rebuilt with suburban votes
Trump suggested throughout his campaign that Biden would "destroy the beautiful suburbs," but it turned out many suburbanites disagreed.
Biden won back a number of crucial Midwest states that Clinton lost to Trump in 2016 largely thanks to suburban voters. The cluster of historically Democrat-won states, dubbed the “blue wall,” include three of the five major battleground states this election cycle.
"We saw a consistent pattern across the country, in both close states and states that weren't so close, that Biden made significant strides compared to Clinton's performance four years ago in suburbs, predominantly affluent suburbs, of major metro areas," Wasserman said.
In Wisconsin, the divide between the state's rural and urban populations was defined, as 42 Wisconsin counties, many small and rural, cast more ballots for Trump than in 2016. Biden won Wisconsin by bolstering support in the populous suburbs of Milwaukee and Madison, despite average turnout in the cities themselves. Biden erased Trump's entire 2016 margin in Wisconsin in just the counties surrounding Milwaukee, Wasserman said.
That same divide made Michigan competitive. Biden made gains in counties like Kent, where Grand Rapids is located, and the Detroit metropolitan area, though he underperformed Clinton in the city of Detroit. Trump improved his margins statewide, but not enough to surpass Biden’s lead.
Biden again leaned on the suburbs of major metropolitan areas in Pennsylvania, outperforming Clinton by more than 150,000 votes in the four counties surrounding Philadelphia. Wasserman said Biden erased Trump's 2016 margin in just two of those counties.
Since cities are typically Democratic strongholds, as are rural areas for Republicans, the suburbs in between the two have always been highly contested. According to the Brookings Institute, there was a shift in large suburban counties from a 1.2 million vote advantage for Trump in 2016 to a 613,000 vote advantage for Biden as of mid-November.
Trump and his allies have largely pointed toward cities as the crux of unfounded claims of fraud, but cities aren't to blame for the president's loss.
"There's also a pretty consistent pattern that cities are some of the only places where Trump performed better than he did four years ago," Wasserman said, pointing to Milwaukee, Philadelphia and Detroit – all cities in swing states – as well as New York and Chicago.
"The idea that somehow the patterns don't line up is preposterous, because we're seeing them in both the close states and the non-competitive states."
The "blue wall" wasn't the only place Biden won back with help from the suburbs. In Georgia, the state was flipped blue due to a combination of higher turnout in Atlanta and massive gains in the suburbs around it.
In Fulton County, which includes most of Atlanta, Biden beat Trump by 240,000 votes to Clinton's 180,000 votes. And, in growing suburban counties Gwinnett and Cobb, which are farther out from Atlanta, Biden beat Trump by 132,000 votes. Clinton won those counties combined by just 26,000 votes.
Wasserman said that Biden's success in the suburbs is likely due to both attitudinal change in the past four years and the exodus of Black voters nationwide from cities to suburbs.
Fact check: Biden won popular, Electoral College votes in several battleground states
Biden team already working toward transition
Biden will be inaugurated as president on Jan. 20, whether Trump acknowledges his win as legitimate or not. Biden has already begun the process of transitioning to the country’s highest office.
Though Trump has not formally conceded, his administration has granted the new administration access to intelligence briefings, office space, secure computers and other government services, USA TODAY previously reported. Trump tweeted Nov. 23 that the move was made at his recommendation.
The announcement, made by Emily Murphy of the General Services Administration, allocated over $6 million to Biden’s transition team for hiring and other transition-related expenses. Since then, Biden has made a number of Cabinet picks, including his chief of staff, Treasury secretary, director of national intelligence, head of the Department of Homeland Security, ambassador to the United Nations, climate change envoy, secretary of State, Defense secretary and Health and Human Services secretary.
Our rating: False
Analyses of the 2020 election results explain Trump's loss to Biden. We rate as FALSE the claim that Trump won the 2020 presidential election.
Our fact-check sources:
- Interview with Dave Wasserman, House editor of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report
- USA TODAY, Nov. 12, Joe Biden pushes ahead on transition, working around Donald Trump
- President Donald Trump, Nov. 29, tweet
- Associated Press via USA TODAY, retrieved Nov. 30, 2020 Election Results & Maps
- Cook Political Report, 2020 National Popular Vote Tracker
- Associated Press, Oct. 31, EXPLAINER: They lost the popular vote but won the elections
- USA.gov, Presidential Election Process
- New York Times, Nov. 7, The Key States Biden Won en Route to the White House
- New York Times, retrieved Nov. 30, 2016 Presidential Election Results
- Associated Press, Dec. 12, 2016, AP FACT CHECK: No ‘landslide’ election win for Trump
- TIME. Nov. 18, Here Are All the Lawsuits the Trump Campaign Has Filed Since Election Day—And Why Most Are Unlikely to Go Anywhere
- CNN, Nov. 26, How Biden won: He built on Clinton's successes
- Arizona Republic, Nov. 18, 2016, Arizona picked Trump, but by a lot less than you might think
- FiveThirtyEight, Nov. 18, How Georgia Turned Blue
- USA TODAY, Nov. 10, Joe Biden flipped the 'blue wall' states of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, but work still needs to be done
- USA TODAY, Nov. 20, Fact check: Joe Biden outperformed Hillary Clinton in most major metro areas
- Detroit Free Press, Nov. 6, Here's how Biden beat Trump in Michigan — and it wasn't corruption
- USA TODAY, Nov. 23, Trump administration clears the way for President-elect Biden's transition to officially begin
- President Donald Trump, Nov. 23, tweet
- USA TODAY, Nov. 29, Three major developments in President-elect Joe Biden's transition to the White House
- Associated PR, Nov. 16, AP FACT CHECK: Trump conclusively lost, denies the evidence
- University of Missouri - Kansas City, How the Electoral College Works
- The White House, July 16, Remarks by President Trump on Rolling Back Regulations to Help All Americans
- Brookings Institute, Nov. 13, Biden’s victory came from the suburbs
- New York Times, Nov. 16, The Cities Central to Fraud Conspiracy Theories Didn’t Cost Trump the Election
- Fulton County, Georgia, Nov. 20, Official Results
- Fulton County, Georgia, Election Results
- Gwinnett County, Nov. 3, Election Summary Report - Official and Complete
- Cobb County, Nov. 3, Election History
- USA TODAY, Nov. 16, Trump baselessly claims voter fraud in cities, but suburbs actually lost him the election
- New York Times, Feb. 16, Black Families Came to Chicago by the Thousands. Why Are They Leaving?
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