Five takeaways from election night 2020

The result of the 2020 presidential election was in doubt in the early hours of Wednesday after a complicated and dramatic election night.

But here are some important takeaways.



Win or lose, Trump over-performed

Trump has, at the very least, performed much better than most polls were predicting — even though the outcome of the race for the Electoral College with Democratic nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenRealClearPolitics reporter says Freedom Caucus shows how much GOP changed under Trump Iowa governor suggests immigrants partially to blame for rising COVID-19 cases Biden officials pledge to confront cybersecurity challenges head-on MORE remained unclear.

Trump’s best result of the night came early, when he won Florida relatively comfortably, bagging its 29 Electoral College votes. There are still votes being counted in the Sunshine State but it seems almost certain that Trump has improved upon his 1.2-point margin of victory there from four years ago.

Trump still retains real hopes of winning the election, though his chances now lean heavily on pulling a surprise by holding on to either Michigan or Wisconsin. In Pennsylvania, Trump had a wider lead, though a huge advantage in mail-in ballots could save the state for Biden.

Trump held on easily in states that Democrats believed could be competitive, including Ohio and Iowa. He also seems to have a slight edge in North Carolina, which was higher on Biden’s target list.


A bad night for pollsters, again


Going into Election Day, the verdict was clear from the polls — Biden was on course for a comfortable victory.

It didn’t turn out that way — again.

Biden has lost Florida and appears likely to lose North Carolina, having led both states in polling averages going into Election Day. As in 2016, Trump appears to have outperformed the polls in the Rust Belt and upper Midwest.

It will be some time before the full national result is known, but Biden’s polling lead, which averaged around 8 points, suggested an ease of victory that has simply not occurred.

After 2016, there was much talk of how pollsters had improved their methods.

Now, they will face a whole raft of new questions, including whether they are simply missing some part of Trump’s appeal.


Trump’s early hours speech stirred fear

Trump had denied media reports over the final weekend of the campaign that he would declare victory prematurely.

He then appeared at the White House after 2 a.m. Wednesday and did exactly that.

Trump claimed he had won the states of Georgia and North Carolina. No media organization had projected those victories at that time. 

Trump further insisted that the election was set to fall victim to “fraud” if outstanding votes were counted.

“This is a fraud on the American public. This is an embarrassment to our country,” Trump said, pledging that he would “be going to the U.S. Supreme Court” in order to get “all voting to stop.”

The remarks played right into the characterization of Trump as a would-be authoritarian, and upped the chances of the kind of unrest many Americans had feared in the election’s aftermath.


In the process, they also overshadowed a night on which the president’s electoral performance had surpassed expectations.


Media consensus on Trump is at odds with public perception

Over the course of his tenure, mainstream news outlets from CNN to The New York Times have become increasingly willing to brand Trump as a misogynist and a racist.

They assert that his record is plain. But a significant share of the public — beyond the stereotype of the MAGA base — seems to disagree.

According to exit polls this year, Trump won white women’s support by a slightly greater margin — 11 points rather than 9 points — than he did in 2016. His deficit among all women remained unchanged, at 13 points.

This year, Trump drew the support of 18 percent of Black men — up from 13 percent four years ago — and boosted his overall Black support from 8 points to 12 points. Trump’s support among Latinos, at 32 percent, was higher by 4 points than it stood four years ago.


Those differences can’t be ascribed to the exit polls being skewed by the preponderance of early voting this year. The organization conducting the exit polls corrected for that phenomenon by conducting interviews with early in-person voters and making phone calls to those who had voted by mail.

Put simply, there are plenty of people, beyond white men, who just don’t accept the reactionary version of Trump that is often portrayed by the media.


No ringing endorsement for Biden

If Joe Biden ends up being elected president, it will be the crowning achievement of a 50-year political career — but it will hardly have come in emphatic style.

Running against a historically unpopular president amid a catastrophic pandemic, Biden, if he wins, seems at best to have eked out a narrow victory.

It’s an outcome that is likely to give Biden pause for thought, as it is far from a ringing endorsement of the 77-year-old former vice president. It also demonstrates the extent to which the nation is cleaved in half.

Biden, if elected, has challenges in winning more Americans over to his side in such a polarized time.