Election Watch 6: Winners and Losers

election results

What an exciting presidential election 2020 has turned out to be, a real nail-biter full of surprises!

As this is written – six days after the election – votes continue to be counted in several of the battleground states. Nonetheless, it has already been possible to declare Joe Biden the winner. What went wrong and what went right?

For starters, the sheer number of people who voted early or by mail exceeded 100 million – by far the largest number ever recorded. This overwhelmed many of the state election counting facilities. Second, the race between Donald Trump and Joe Biden turned out to be much closer than professional political polls had predicted. They had suggested that Joe Biden was comfortably ahead in many of the key battleground states. That turned out not to be the case. He still won most of those states, but his majority was often razor thin.

The celebrations have started: President-elect Joe Biden joins Vice President-elect Kamala Harris onstage in Wilmington, Del., on Saturday night, Nov. 7, 2020. (Erin Schaffy/The New York Times/NTB) The celebrations have started: President-elect Joe Biden joins Vice President-elect Kamala Harris onstage in Wilmington, Del., on Saturday night, Nov. 7, 2020. (Erin Schaffy/The New York Times/NTB)

To make it worse, the first returns in these states often gave a majority to Trump because more of his Republican supporters voted on November 3 and had their votes registered first. This resulted in an early “red mirage” – the false impression that the Republicans were ahead.  It took time – sometimes days – for largely Democratic mail-in votes to be counted. That was why it was not until four days after November 3 that the mail-in votes in Pennsylvania gave Joe Biden a majority. That, in turn, gave Biden a majority of 274 electoral votes in the Electoral College – four more than needed to win the election (see Election Watch 5 – The Final Push). This number will likely increase as other states complete their count.

Underlying the spectacular number of early and mail-in voters is the COVID-19 pandemic. During these last weeks, there has been a strong surge in cases. Clearly, people wanted to avoid standing in lines or voting in crowded polling stations. COVID-19 also clearly favored the choice of Joe Biden as the next president. Many voters wished that the government would do a better job of handling the health crisis. Fully 84% of Democratic voters listed COVID-19 as one of the major reasons for voting for Joe Biden. Biden, for his part, promised in his victory speech to make fighting the pandemic his first priority when he becomes president on January 20, 2021 – Inauguration Day.

And what of Donald Trump, the loser of this election? As this is written, he has refused to accept his loss or congratulate Joe Biden on his victory – a tradition after American presidential elections. Instead, Trump has claimed that the election was stolen from him by voter fraud, especially through mail-in votes. He has promised to start legal action in the courts to overturn the official results. Few take his claims seriously at this point because he has produced no evidence to support them. Even so, court cases could potentially cause suspicion about the final results for weeks, fueling frustration among both his opponents and supporters. And that, in turn, could help spark the kind of civil strife many have feared might follow this election, but which so far has not occurred.  

In sum, the election is over. Joe Biden is President-Elect. But the contest for the presidency could go on for some time to come. It depends on the actions of Donald Trump, who will remain sitting President of the United States until January 20. Much could happen before that date.



The election is now over. It is time to take stock, find out what has actually happened and look to the future.



  1. Here are some factual questions:
  • How many states did the winner get a majority in?
  • How many states did the loser get a majority in?
  • How many votes did the winner get nationally?
  • How many votes did the loser get nationally?
  • How many electoral votes did the winner get in the Electoral College?
  • Which candidate got the most votes among:

            - Women

            - Men

            - Hispanics

            - Whites

            - Blacks

            - Youth

  1. Which party now has a majority in the House of Representatives?
  2. Why is it important for Joe Biden which party gets a majority in the Senate?
  3. Why did more Democrats than Republicans choose to vote by mail-in ballots?
  4. Republicans have traditionally done best in the “heartland” states west of the Mississippi River and in the South. Democrats have done best in the upper Midwest and on the East and West coasts. Did the candidates follow this pattern in the election? Were there exceptions?
  5. The professional political polls once again failed to predict how people actually voted. What reason(s) do the media suggest for this failure?
  6. What reason(s) do the media give for the result of the presidential election?



  1. Which of the candidates did you hope would win? Did you get a winner?
  2. Looking back at the last five weeks, what do you think were the most important events or issues that influenced the outcome of this election?
  3. How do you feel about the way President Trump reacted to the voters' verdict? What about his supporters - do they have reason to be disappointed or even angry, in your opinion?
  4. What policies do you hope the new president will follow in the coming years?