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4 November 2020updated 04 Sep 2021 12:40pm

Why Joe Biden’s hopes in the US 2020 election rest on suburban whites

The Democratic candidate needs white suburbia to turn out for him. Data from Ohio suggests it might just work.

By Ben Walker

The US 2020 presidential election is set to be decided in the Rust Belt states of Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin; areas initially billed as more fertile ground for Biden than the Sun Belt.

To be sure of victory, Biden needs to flip at least two of these states. But exit poll data suggests white voters without a college education – a well represented demographic in these areas – haven’t swung as much to the Democrats as initial voting returns and earlier polling had suggested.

Ohio is an example of how this can hurt Biden. In Ohio, Trump is flipping counties he didn’t win in 2016. He has consolidated his grip among working-class whites, but has lost it among those with a college education.

Trump’s loss of college educated whites isn’t of much consequence in Ohio, when turnout among those working-class whites is up so substantially on 2016 that they make up an even larger proportion of the state’s electorate than ever before. This has the effect of muting Biden’s gains among middle-class whites, a group that now makes up a smaller share of the electorate than in 2016.

Ohio: Biden overthrows Trump’s grip on middle class whites
Exit poll data for the 2020 election in Ohio. Comparisons with 2016.

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But the demographic makeup in Pennsylvania suggests such a shift there would deal better dividends for Biden there.

In Pennsylvania we are still waiting on votes from the more suburban and middle-class counties in the region – ditto, it should be said, Georgia. Ohio’s cross-breaks bodes well for Biden’s chances in the neighbouring Rust Belt state, but to what extent that will extend to wins in Michigan and Wisconsin, and, indeed, Georgia, is yet to be seen.

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[See also: Donald Trump’s grip on his white working-class base is waning]