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  • Lea Kapur

People Believed Their Vote Mattered, And Sure Enough It Did: Consequential Shifts From 2016 to 2020

The 2020 presidential election was historic for several reasons; primarily, the high voter turnout compared to previous presidential elections. The turnout was about 7 percentage points higher than the 2016 presidential election, according to a study conducted by the Pew Research Center. The question remains: what motivated voters to vote in this election when compared with the last presidential election? Another study from Pew indicates that a higher percentage of voters (83%) this past election season believed their vote had more of an impact, the highest percentage of any election season since 2000.

Yet, despite this historic turnout, the majority of individuals based on their demographic and political affiliations voted in similar patterns when compared with 2016 presidential election patterns. However, there were key shifts in particular sub-groups that helped President Biden gain the presidential seat. This includes voters who identify as independents and moderates, young and non-White voters as well as college-educated voters. While there was an overall shift in voter’s confidence in their ballot, Trump voters’ confidence that voters “can do a lot to influence the government” fell dramatically when compared to the 2016 election season. The graphic below also highlights how people who voted for a democratic candidate in 2020 believed their vote influenced the government at a higher level than when compared with the 2016 election cycle.

The subtle shifts in particular subgroups of the electorate are highlighted by Miami-Dade County and Fulton County. Former President Donald Trump was 3.35 percentage points ahead of President Joe Biden at about 12:30 a.m. This lead allowed the Associated Press to call the state of Florida at 12:34 a.m. on that same Wednesday. While the former president did not win Miami-Dade County, he performed better in the county when compared with the 2016 election. In the political realm, Trump’s 2020 victory in Florida was referred to as a “Florida landslide” because his percentage point lead was greater than a single percentage point, three times greater, in the election for the state. The magnitude of the former president’s lead is highly unusual in a swing state like Florida. The former president was able to increase his victory lead in 33 out of the 55 counties in the state of Florida.

The reason that Miami-Dade County is of particular importance is because the county, along with Palm Beach County and Broward County are Democratic strongholds in the state of Florida. If a Democratic candidate is unable to maintain control over these counties, there is no way that they can win the state. In fact, Former President Trump’s increase of votes in Miami-Dade is what secured the state for him. The former president was able to gain the voters of key groups such as Cuban Americans and Venezuelan Americans. A study from the Pew Research Center found that even though more Latino registered voters are Democrats than Republicans in the state of Florida, Miami-Dade County has 46% of the nation’s Cuban American population and those voters are more likely to be registered Republicans. The former president convinced these voters not only to head over to the polls but also to cast their ballot for him.

In Fulton County, where Atlanta is located, was one of the primary reasons that the state of Georgia flipped blue. President Joe Biden took won the state of Georgia for Democrats for the first time since 1992. This monumental shift happened because of the participation and transition of key voters to the Democratic Party. These sup-groups include college-educated voters, affluent voters, and older suburban voters. Voters who live near and around Atlanta are diverse and generally vote Democratic in this election at a higher number relative to the 2016 presidential election. One woman especially is given credit for mobilizing voters: Stacey Abrams. After the 2018 election season, former gubernatorial candidate Abrams was able to register more than 200,000 voters. The organizations Fair Fight and New Georgia Project, which were founded by Abrams, registered over 800,000 voters. Abrams was a key figure in registering voters and convincing existing voters to vote for a Democratic candidate.

It is important to recognize that even though nation-wide there was no dramatic shift in voting patterns, the subtle shifts in particular states and within those states particular counties have a large impact on presidential politics. When key subgroups shift in nontraditional ways, which was apparent in both Miami-Dade County and Fulton County, the shift can have a domino effect of flipping counties and thus states, as well as which presidential candidate secures the election. National politics, as it so often does, comes back to the local theater.


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