We know that Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential election (regardless of what former President Donald Trump and his allies say). We just haven't had a great picture of how he won.
...that is, until today, when we got the clearest data yet on how different groups voted, and crucially, how those votes shifted from 2016. The Pew Research Center just released its validated voters report, considered a more accurate measure of the electorate than exit polls, which have the potential for significant inaccuracies.
The new Pew data show that shifts among suburban voters, white men and independents helped Joe Biden win in November, even while white women and Hispanics swung toward Trump from 2016 to 2020.
To compile the data, Pew matches up survey respondents with state voter records. Those voter files do not say how a person voted, but they do allow researchers to be sure that a person voted, period. That helps with accuracy, eliminating the possibility of survey respondents overreporting their voting activity. In addition, the Pew study uses large samples of Americans — more than 11,000 people in 2020.
It's a numbers-packed report, but there are some big takeaways about what happened in 2020 (and what it might tell us about 2022 and beyond):
Suburban voters (especially white suburban voters) swung toward Biden
Suburban voters appear to have been a major factor helping Biden win. While Pew found Trump winning the suburbs by two points in 2016, Biden won them by 11 points in 2020, a 13-point overall swing. Considering that the suburbs accounted for just over half of all voters, this is a big demographic win for Biden.
That said, Trump gained in both rural and urban areas. He won 65 percent of rural voters, a 6-point jump from 2016. And while cities were still majority-Democratic, his support there jumped by 9 points, to 33 percent.
Men (especially white men) swung toward Biden
In 2020, men were nearly evenly split, with 48 percent choosing Biden to Trump's 50 percent. That gap shrank considerably from 2016, when Trump won men by 11 points. In addition, this group that swung away from Trump grew as a share of the electorate from 2016 — signaling that in a year with high turnout, men's turnout grew more.
White men were a big part of the swing toward Biden. In 2016, Trump won white men by 30 points. In 2020, he won them again, but by a substantially slimmer 17 points.
In addition, Biden made significant gains among married men and college-educated men. All of these groups overlap, but they help paint a more detailed portrait of the type of men who might have shifted or newly participated in 2020.
However, we can't know from this data what exactly was behind these shifts among men — for example, exactly what share of men might have sat on the sidelines in 2016 as opposed to 2020.
Women (especially white women) swung toward Trump
The idea that a majority of white women voted for Trump quickly became one of the 2016 election's most-cited statistics, as many Hillary Clinton supporters — particularly women — were outraged to see other women support Trump.
While that statistic was repeated over and over, Pew's data ultimately said this wasn't true — they found that in 2016, white women were split 47 percent to 45 percent, slightly in Trump's favor but not a majority.
This year, however, it appears that Trump did win a majority of white women. Pew found that 53 percent of white women chose Trump this year, up by 6 points from 2016.
This contributed to an overall shift in women's numbers — while Clinton won women of all races by 15 points in 2016, Biden won them by 11 points in 2020. Combined with men's shifts described above, this shrank 2016's historic gender gap.
Notably, the swing in white women's margin (5 points altogether) was significantly smaller than white men's swing toward Biden (13 points altogether).
Hispanic voters swung toward Trump
Trump won 38 percent of Hispanic voters in 2020, according to Pew, up from 28 percent in 2016.
That 38 percent would put Trump near George W. Bush's 40 percent from 2004 — a recent high-water mark for Republicans with Hispanic voters. That share fell off substantially after 2004, leading some Republican pollsters and strategists to wonder how the party could regain that ground. Trump in 2016 intensified those fears, with his nativist rhetoric and hardline immigration policies.
There are some important nuances to these Hispanic numbers. Perhaps most notably, there is a sizable education gap. Biden won college-educated Hispanic voters by 39 points, but the Democrat won those with some college education or less by 14 points.
That education gap mirrors the education gap regularly seen in the broader voting population.
Unfortunately, Pew's sample sizes from 2016 weren't big enough to break down Hispanic voters by gender that year, so it's impossible to see if this group's gender gap widened.
Nonwhite voters leaned heavily toward Biden
Unlike White and Hispanic voters, Black voters didn't shift significantly from 2016. They remained Democratic stalwarts, with 92 percent choosing Biden — barely changed from four years prior.
Nearly three-quarters of Asian voters also voted for Biden, along with 6 in 10 Hispanic voters and 56 percent of voters who chose "other" as their race. (Those groups' sample sizes also weren't big enough in 2016 to draw a comparison over time.)
2018 trends stuck around... but diminished
In many of these cases where there were substantial shifts in how different groups voted, they weren't surprising, given how voters in the last midterms voted. For example, white men voted more for Democrats in 2018 than they did in 2016, as did suburban voters.
What it means for 2022
The data signal that Democrats' strength with Hispanic voters has eroded, but that they succeeded in making further inroads in the suburbs, including among suburban whites.
That suggests that these groups, already major focuses for both parties, will continue to be so in 2022, with Republicans trying to cement their gains among Hispanics (and regain suburban voters), while Democrats do Hispanic outreach and try to hold onto the suburbs.
However, it's hard to project much into the future about what voters will do based on the past two elections because of their unique turnout numbers.
"It's hard to interpret here, because 2018 was such a high turnout midterm election, and then our last data point, 2014, was a historically low turnout midterm election," said Ruth Igielnik, senior researcher at Pew Research Center.
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