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Sahyouni '21: Biden is the Narrow Victor in the Presidential Race, but 2020 Was an Overall Win for Republicans

After a long and restless week of counting votes, all major news networks are projecting that Joseph Biden Jr. will be elected the 46th president of the United States of America. With his win, Biden puts the White House in the hands of the Democratic party for the next four years, beating an incumbent president for the first time in nearly three decades. In addition, Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi will hold onto the House gavel, and her party will attempt to improve its standing in the Senate, as several key races remain outstanding. The 2020 election cycle has ended with what, on its face, appears to be a big win for liberals. But a closer look at the election tells a different story.

To understand election week 2020, we have to look at the context going into it. The political consensus was that Democrats were gearing up for another blue wave election year. In fact, it's hard to imagine how the stage could have been set any better for a big Democratic victory. President Trump, already a controversial and unpopular president, spent four years fighting mainstream media whose coverage more often resembled Democratic party campaign ads than unbiased journalism. I say this because of the magnitude of negative coverage Trump received during his four years in office. A study from the Pew Research Center concluded that only 5 percent of news coverage of the president was positive, while a massive 62 percent was negative. Compare this with former President Barack Obama, who saw positive coverage 42 percent of the time and negative coverage in just 20 percent of stories. Of course, some might say that this is only because Trump's presidency was much less popular. But Trump's approval rating was comparable to Obama's for parts of their respective first terms. Thus, it's fair to argue that the media's routine praise for Obama and attacks against Trump had at least something to do with their political biases.

Having a big chunk of the media landscape on his side wasn't Joe Biden's only advantage. I'm sure Trump didn't benefit from the emergence of an ongoing, worldwide pandemic, which has killed almost a quarter of a million Americans. The global recession induced by the spread of COVID-19 plunged a chugging U.S. economy into recession in Trump's reelection year. National economic health and the president's approval rating were two of the biggest factors in his party's election prospects.

So, Biden and the Democrats swept the White House and Congress in a big blue wave, right? Well, not exactly. While Biden has defeated President Trump, the former Vice President will eke out a narrow win in a race where he was the overwhelming favorite. Take the state of Wisconsin for example. Even after Trump’s narrow victory in 2016, FiveThirtyEight projected that Biden would win the state by around eight percentage points. Of course, that's not what happened at all. Biden did go on to win the state, but by less than 1 percent of the vote. Trump outperformed projections not just in Wisconsin but in states from Florida and Texas to Michigan and Pennsylvania.Though Trump will finish a few million popular votes behind Joe Biden, where it counts, in the largely winner-takes-all electoral college, he will likely end up losing by a few tens of thousands of votes in an election where over 150 million Americans cast ballots. All in all, Biden's victory looks a lot more like Trump's narrow 2016 upset than Obama's 2008 blowout win.

Democrats underperformed in congressional races as well. Again, FiveThirtyEight projected that Democrats would gain around seven seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. Instead, at press time, Republicans have won in 196 house races and are leading in 15 more (a net gain of 10 if the leads hold), which would hamstring Democrats' majority in the chamber, putting the lower house well within striking distance for the GOP in 2022. Republicans also appear poised to keep their Senate majority for at least another two years, as Democrats will likely pick up just one seat.

So if 2020 was neither a blue wave nor a Trump come-from-behind victory, then what was the story of this election? The 2020 elections were, without a doubt, a victory for the Republican party.

Despite all the factors going against conservatives this year, congressional Republicans not only defied the polls, but rejected the conventional media narrative surrounding their party. Many liberal pundits insist that Trump's supposed campaign of racist dog whistles would alienate ethnic minorities, but the American people must not have gotten the memo. According to 2020 exit polls conducted by Edison Research, Trump actually won an outsized share of the Black, Hispanic, Latino and Asian vote when compared to 2016. In fact, the president earned a larger share of the non-white vote in a presidential election than any Republican candidate since 1960.

Republicans' improvement among Hispanic voters in particular carried down the ballot in a big way. In Florida, around half of Hispanic voters chose the president at the ballot box, a marked improvement from 2016 where Trump won just 35 percent of that demographic. And in the Miami area, where Carlos Giménez and Maria Salazar flipped two seats for the GOP, those gains had a big impact. The GOP also diversified its ranks in the gender category. A record number of Republican women were elected to Congress in 2020, many of which flipped seats to the GOP’s hands.

Even Democrats admit that some of their party's messaging exposed cracks in their coalition. Abigail Spanberger, a Democrat from Virginia's 7th Congressional District, sounded off on party leadership, saying "If we are classifying Tuesday as a success from a congressional standpoint, we will get fucking torn apart in 2022. That's the reality."

So the political scene in the United States has entered a new era. Democrats have won the White House and the lower chamber of Congress, and Speaker Pelosi asserts that her party has a mandate to push a liberal agenda. The way I see it, American voters have sent a very different message. Yes, Democrats were able to bring just enough people out to the polls to push Donald Trump out of office, but Republicans managed to succeed in a very liberal political environment to (likely) keep Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s seat at the head of the chamber and chip away at Democrats' hold on the people's House. If the GOP holds on to the gains it made in 2020 and builds a platform free of politically damaging "STOP THE COUNT!" Twitter rants, America may be looking at a unified Republican Congress again in 2022 and a strong challenge to President Biden in 2024.

Donnie Sahyouni ’21 can be reached at Please send responses to this opinion to and op-eds to



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