The Final Presidential Election Results
The electoral vote margin in favor of Biden was 64 electoral votes out of 538 electoral votes. Biden won in 25 states and the District of Columbia. Trump won in 25 states.
The popular vote margin in favor of Biden was 4.5 percentage points. Wisconsin was the marginal state and favored Biden by 0.7 percentage points.
These Results Are Really Final
The results below reflect the Presidential vote totals and electoral college votes certified on the December 8, 2020 deadline for doing so in all 50 states and the District of Columbia (including the three Congressional Districts of Nebraska and two Congressional Districts of Maine that cast separate electoral votes with the state winner taking an additional two electoral votes).
All meaningful possibilities of a court challenge to any of the results have been exhausted.
Even an unprecedentedly high number of unfaithful electors (never more than a low single digit number in past elections) would not sway the actual casting of the Electoral College vote on Monday, December 14, 2020.
And, since Democrats control one of the two houses of Congress, it is effectively impossible for Congress to vote to refuse to acknowledge the electoral vote count due to disputes raised by Republicans to the outcome.
The Electoral College Systemically Favors The GOP
While the Electoral College made this election a close one, the popular vote in the 2020 Presidential election wasn't close. The systemic bias of the electoral college in favor of the Republican relative to the popular vote is about 3.8 percentage points of the popular vote. A Democrat needs more than a 3.8 percentage point lead in the popular vote to win the Electoral College.
Also, despite the fact that Democrats control the majority of the seats in the U.S. House, if the election had been an electoral college tie of 269-269 electoral votes, the vote of the U.S. House by state delegations in that scenario would have re-elected Trump. So, Biden had to win 270 electoral votes to win, while Trump only had to win 269 electoral votes to win.
Third-Parties Probably Didn't Change The Outcome
Third parties won 1.9% of the popular vote, which was less than Biden's popular vote margin of victory. If the Libertarian party had not run a candidate in this election, the outcome would have been much closer, but Biden would have very likely still won the Presidential election in the end.
Third-party voting could conceivably have flipped Arizona and Georgia to Biden from Trump (which wouldn't have changed the overall electoral college outcome) where Biden's margin of victory was razor thin and the third-party candidates on the ballot were more conservative than liberal leaning.
In Georgia, Biden won the state by a margin of 11,779 votes (0.2% of the total), there were no write-in votes, and the only third-party candidate on the ballot was Libertarian Jo Jorgensen. who secured 62,229 votes (1.2% of the total). If all of the Libertarian voters had voted for Biden or Trump instead in a two candidate race, Trump would have needed 59.5% of the Libertarian vote to win the state, which is well within the range of plausibility.
In Arizona, Biden won the state by a margin of 10,457 votes (0.3% of the total), there were 1,928 write-in votes, and the only third-party candidate on the ballot was Libertarian Jo Jorgensen. who secured 51,465 votes (1.5% of the total). If all of the Libertarian voters had voted for Biden or Trump instead in a two candidate race, Trump would have needed 60.2% of the Libertarian vote to win the state, which is again well within the range of plausibility.
But third-party voting probably didn't ultimately change the outcome in the marginal state of Wisconsin relative to what it would have been in a two candidate race (although a lack of third-parties would have probably led to a closer race). Biden's margin of victory in Wisconsin was 20,740 votes. The final outcome in the Wisconsin Presidential race was:
Joe Biden 1,630,930 votes (49.5%)Donald Trump 1,610,190 votes (48.8%)Jo Jorgensen (Libertarian) 38,493 votes (1.2%)Write-ins 8,087 votes (0.2%)
The Libertarian party is socially liberal and economically conservative. The American Solidarity Party is a center-right Christian Democratic Party that is more liberal than the current Republican Party. Write-in candidates aren't consistently left or right leaning and reflect a group of voters who would have been particularly unlikely to vote in the Presidential race at all if it had been only a two candidate race.
If all of the people who voted third-party in the Presidential election voted in that race if no third-parties had been on the ballot, Trump would have needed about 70.6% of third-party voters to win in Wisconsin (or 73.6% of the vote cast for candidates who were not write-in candidates). Given that both of the main third-party candidates in the Wisconsin race are between Biden and Trump politically, and that any conservative leaning voters who voted for these candidates did so, in part, out of a serious distaste for voting for Trump even though they would usually vote for a Republican in a two party race, this would be a tall order, although Trump might get more than 50% of the third-party vote.
Also prior studies have suggested that about half of third-party voters wouldn't have voted in the Presidential election at all if a third-party candidate wasn't on the ballot, in which case Trump would have needed 91.2% of the third-party vote to win in Wisconsin, something he almost surely could not have done. But, even if so smaller but significant share of Libertarian and American Solidarity Party voters didn't vote for either candidate in a two candidate race, the percentage of the remaining third-party voters who would have to vote for Trump for him to win would be even greater than the 70% needed if all third-party voters still voted, or the 73% needed if all Libertarian and American Solidarity Party voters voted for either Biden or Trump.
Third-parties definitely didn't have a decisive impact on the outcome in any other states. Third-party candidates combined received fewer votes than the margin of victory for Biden in every other state except Pennsylvania.
In Pennsylvania, Biden won a plurality of the vote with a 1.2 percentage point lead, but was 2,705 votes short of an outright majority of the Presidential votes cast. There were 79,397 votes cast for Libertarian Jo Jorgensen (1.1% of the vote) and there were 7,672 votes (0.1% of the vote) cast for write-in candidates. Even if every single one of those voters cast a vote in a two candidate race (which is unlikely), Trump would have needed to win 96.9% of the third-party vote (which would be all of the Libertarian vote and about 65% of the write-in vote in addition) to win Pennsylvania, which is not a plausible possibility.
So, to restate my initial conclusion, third-party candidates probably did increase Biden's margin of victory and may have even caused him to win Georgia and Arizona, but probably would not have flipped the entire Presidential race to Trump in a two candidate race.
Where Was The Third-Party Vote High And Low?
Another interesting point regarding the third-party vote is that voters appear to understand to some extent that a third-party candidate acts as a spoiler and act accordingly.
Generally speaking, the third-party vote was highest in states which were (or were perceived as being prior to the election) safe for one Presidential candidate or the other, and were lowest in states which were (or were perceived as being prior to the election) battleground states.
The third-party vote was more than two and a half percentage points in Arkansas (4.8%), Alaska (4.4%), and Utah (4.3%), Wyoming (3.5%), Vermont (3.2%), Washington (3.2%), Oregon (3.1%), North Dakota (3.1%), Idaho (3.1%), Montana (2.9%), Maine (2.9%), Colorado (2.7%) and South Dakota (2.6%).
The third-party vote was lowest in Florida (0.9%), the only state where it was below one percentage point and a state with a history of very close results that had been (inaccurately) predicted to be very close in 2020. Every state that was close or predicted to be close had a third-party vote of 2.2% or less.
In addition to being higher in states perceived as safe and lower in states perceived as battleground states, dissatisfaction with the safe candidate in a state can also help explain the magnitude of the third-party vote.
The Biden supporting states with a third-party vote of more than two and half percent were states, it is plausible to think, where the third-party vote was driven by Sanders progressives dissatisfied with Biden because he is perceived as a political moderate.
At least some of the Trump supporting states with a third-party vote more than two and a half percent were states, it is plausible to think, where solidly conservative states that were dissatisfied with Trump as an individual candidate.
A Swing State Analysis
Only nine jurisdictions had a margin for the winning candidate of seven or fewer percentage points. From most pro-Biden to most pro-Trump, those states were: Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Arizona and Georgia, all won by Biden (and all, except Nevada, not won by Hillary Clinton in 2016), and North Carolina, Florida and Texas, won by Trump. Trump did not win a single state that he did not win in 2016.
The margin of victory for the winner was 1.3 percentage points or less in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Arizona, Georgia and North Carolina.
Biden had a decisive lead in 20 jurisdictions, in addition to the 2 he won by a moderate margin and 4 he won by small margins. Trump had a decisive lead in 23 jurisdictions, in addition to 2 he won by a moderate margin and1 he won by a small margin.
Of the swing states, demographic change and long term trends probably favor Democrats in 2024 relative to this year's election in Nevada, Arizona, North Carolina, Florida and Texas, although not necessarily enough for Democrats to win in Florida or Texas through demographic trends alone.
The long term trend lines probably hurt Democrats in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin in 2024, which have grown more conservative in recent years. They have grown more conservative because their rust belt economies have pushed liberal voters to migrate away from the state, and because voters that have remained to become more conservative due to their declining economic fortunes.
The state by state results are as follows:
Updated polling error analysis
The pre-election polling was inaccurate in a year where there was no good reason for it to be, and leaned strongly and consistently in favor of Biden relative to the actual results known in 20/20 hindsight.
As I've explained elsewhere, the most likely cause was widespread depressed participation in election polling by Trump supporters as a result of their social distrust in a manner that merely adjusting polling results by the demographics of the respondents wasn't sufficient to cure. In hindsight, this was probably also the main problem in the 2016 polling errors which were similar to, but not quite as large, as in 2020.
In the chart above, the column marked 538 Net Biden reflects the expected margin in percentage points of Biden over Trump according to final polling averages compiled by the Five Thirty-Eight website on the eve of the November 3, 2020 election, less the actual margin in percentage points of Biden over Trump.
The pre-election polling averages got only two states wrong (both of which were won by Trump): North Carolina and Florida. But several states that the polling projected that Trump would just barely win were easily won by Trump (Texas, Ohio and Iowa). And several states that the polling projected that Biden would easily win were won by Biden by much smaller margins than predicted (Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Nevada and Michigan).
Just 4 jurisdictions out of 51 had a pro-Trump bias in pre-election polling averages: District of Columbia, Maryland, Colorado and Utah. The errors in the first three jurisdictions were all small. The error was biggest in Utah and matched by one of the largest third-party share of the Presidential vote in the nation (4.3%), which is notable because a large third-party vote tends to make polling predictions less accurate. All of the states with a pro-Trump lean in the polls were jurisdictions which were safe for the winning candidate. The other 47 out of 51 jurisdictions had a pro-Biden polling bias. The average pro-Biden bias in the Presidential polling was 4.24 percentage points.
The average overall error in polling was 4.54 percentage points. If the polls were adjusted for the average pro-Biden bias (bringing the average bias in the polls to zero), the average overall error in polling would have been 2.67 percentage points, which is very close to what would be normally be expected from random sampling error, corroborating the inference that the sole reason that the otherwise high quality polling averages were off was a failure to correct for lower response rates from Trump supporters than from Biden supporters, all other things being equal.
There were polling errors of four or more percentage points (all in favor of Biden) in 27 out of 51 jurisdictions. A standard deviation in a polling average should be well under four percentage points, so there shouldn't have been less than 16 polling errors of four or more percentage points and they should have been roughly evenly split between favoring Biden and favoring Trump, if the sampling were random.
The U.S. House Races
In the end, Democrats won 222 seats in the U.S. House (more than the 218 seats needed for a majority) and Republicans won 213 seats.
The closest races were the Second Congressional District of Iowa which the Republican won by just 6 votes and the Twenty-Second Congressional District in New York which the Republican won by just 12 votes (subject to a judicially ordered recount which is underway).
This is 13 seats less than the 235 seats in the House that Democrats held in the U.S. House after the 2018 midterms and the special election in North Carolina held due to Republican voting fraud in the original race.
Democrats in the House will be beholden to the most centrist 2% of their members because just five net defections from the party line are sufficient to cause them to lose a majority on any particular legislation.
The U.S. Senate Races
The Democrats have secured 48 seats in the next session of the U.S. Senate, and the Republicans have 50 seats. Two more U.S. Senate seats in Georgia will be decided based upon a January 5, 2021 runoff election, because the Republicans in each of those races won pluralities, but not a majority of the November 3, 2020 election vote.
The Democratic candidates are narrowly leading in the polls in both of the Georgia Senate races. Democrat Ossoff has a 1.0 percentage point lead over Republican Perdue. Democrat Warnock has a 1.6 percentage point lead of Republican Loeffler.
The pro-Biden bias in the Presidential polling in Georgia in 2020 was an unusually low 0.7 percentage points. The Democratic bias in the polling in the Georgia regular election race between Ossoff and Perdue was 1.7 percentage points. The Democratic bias in the polling in the Georgia special election race which is now between Warnock and Loeffler was 6.0 percentage points, but that is in part because is was a hard to accurately poll many candidate race without a primary.
Given the polling biases seen this year in Georgia's general election races, both U.S. Senate runoff elections look like coin flips in which the Democrats are underdogs, but only slightly so.
If the Democrats win both U.S. Senate races in Georgia, then the Senate will be split 50-50 and Democrat Kamala Harris, as Vice President will resolve any tie votes, giving Democrats control of the Senate by the narrowest of margins. If Democrats lose one or both of the runoff elections, then Republicans will control the Senate for at least the next two years.
Even if the Democrats secure control of the Senate, even one net defection from the party line will cost them a majority on any particular issue, and some its members, like Democrat Joe Manchin from West Virginia (the second most pro-Trump state in the U.S. after Wyoming in 2020), are quite conservative relative to the rest of the Democratic caucus in the Senate.
On the other hand, even if Republicans secure a 51 or 52 seat majority, with the Vice President's tie casting vote in the hands of the Democrats, it will take only one or two net defections from Republicans for Democrats to win particular votes on the merits, and Republicans can't overcome Democratic filibusters of ordinary legislation without exercising the "nuclear option" which doesn't make much sense for them to do when any legislation that passes the Senate over a Democratic filibuster attempt could still be scuttled in the Democratic party controlled U.S. House or with a veto from President Biden.
Instead, if Republicans manage to secure a U.S. Senate majority, Mitch McConnell will no doubt continue his long standing practice of using the Senate to prevent Democratic Party backed legislation from the House from becoming law and attempting to block or delay President Biden's judicial and executive branch nominations.