Trump Lost in Part Because 2016 Third-Party Voters Heavily Preferred Biden
As ballot counting in most states winds to a close (except in laggardly Alaska, Illinois, New York, Maryland, and a few others), a striking pattern has already emerged: President Donald Trump, in state after state, received virtually the same percentage of the vote as he did in 2016.
In swing state Arizona, where demographics are changing and Republicans are losing their grip on statewide politics, the incumbent stands at 49.0 percent of the vote, compared to his 2016 total of…48.1. In battleground Michigan, after four years of intense campaigning, Trump’s 2016 result of 47.5 percent was fed feet-first into the woodchipper of 2020 and came out the other end as…47.9. By late Tuesday night, the expressed preference for Trump in more than half the country had changed in four years by less than a single percentage point.
What did change were two overlapping and interrelated sets of numbers. The share of third-party/independent presidential voters plummeted by nearly four percentage points since 2016, from 5.7 to 1.8, while Joe Biden exceeded Hillary Clinton’s haul nationally by 2.6 percentage points and climbing steadily, as the populous blue states continue to pad his lead.
So while Michigan, for example, was delivering essentially the same results for Trump as four years ago, the Great Lakes State was subtracting 3.6 percentage points from third-party candidates, and adding 3.2 to Biden (that’s a 90 percent “Excess Vote” rating, for those who enjoy made-up stats). Arizona has a similar story: down a combined 4.6 for the marginal names, up 4.3 for the Democrat; 92 percent E.V. All over the country, the president was able to bring out more of his voters, but with only a handful of exceptions was unable to expand on his core share of support by persuading fence-sitters to choose the Republican side.
Pre-election polls predicted this—2016 third-party voters, and specifically Libertarians (who made up 57 percent of the third-party electorate that year), repeatedly said that a majority of them were going straight, and preferred Biden to Trump by more than two to one. There were 7.8 million third-party voters last time, and just 2.7 million this time, so any strong lean by the remaining 5 million-plus was always going to dwarf whatever impact partisans may attribute to “spoilers.”
Some Republicans have been mad online that Libertarian presidential candidate Jo Jorgensen’s vote totals exceeded Biden’s margin over Trump in Arizona (by 1.12 percentage points), Georgia (by 0.95), Wisconsin (0.54), and Pennsylvania (0.47). But those numbers pale in comparison to the products of this formula
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