Why Joe Biden won

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“The 360” shows you diverse perspectives on the day’s top stories and debates.

What’s happening

After a tense week of vote counting, Joe Biden is projected to win the 2020 presidential election. The race was called on Saturday morning, after Biden’s vote tally in Pennsylvania put him past the 270 electoral votes needed to secure the presidency.

President Trump outperformed polls that predicted a comfortable victory for Biden, but a series of closely won races in key swing states provided Biden with a commanding Electoral College advantage. If the current results hold, Biden will finish with 306 electoral votes — roughly the same number Trump had when he defeated Hillary Clinton in 2016. Though the race in swing states was tight, Biden is projected to finish with the second largest popular vote margin in the past two-and-a-half decades.

The 2020 election took place in the midst of a global pandemic that forced dramatic changes to voting procedures. The complications caused by the coronavirus might have been expected to stifle turnout. Instead, the 2020 race saw an unprecedented surge in the number of votes cast — thanks to increased early voting and mail-in ballots. Roughly 160 million Americans voted this year, the most ever. Turnout rate, the percentage of eligible voters who cast ballots, is expected to be the highest in more than a century.

Why there’s debate

Practically, Biden’s victory is a result of his rebuilding the “blue wall” of Rust Belt states like Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, as well as expanding his reach into historically GOP strongholds in Arizona and Georgia. He has already received the highest vote total of any presidential candidate ever with millions of ballots left to be tallied. He accomplished that through a combination of massive turnout from the Democratic base in big cities — especially Black voters — and just enough independents and suburban women to offset Trump’s gains among his own base and with Latino voters.

Biden’s campaign strategy of presenting himself as a steady hand during a chaotic year appealed to voters seeking a return to normalcy, many pundits say. Others credit him for finding a delicate balance between the two poles of the Democratic Party. Biden reassured the left wing of the party by shifting to the left on a handful of issues and embracing progressive leaders like Sen. Bernie Sanders. But none of those moves were substantial enough to shake his moderate image, a key factor in his ability to win over swing voters and duck Trump’s attempts to peg him as a socialist.

Others argue the result is more about Trump’s failures than Biden’s successes. Trump entered office with the highest unfavorability rating of any president. But rather than attempt to broaden his appeal, Trump spent his four years in office pursuing divisive policies that satisfied his base. Though he was able to garner millions more votes than he did in 2016, his divisive tenure inspired huge Democratic turnout and cost Trump the support of swing voters, experts say. Many argue that Trump also had bad luck with the emergence of the coronavirus, a handicap made far worse by his administration’s lackluster response to the pandemic.

What’s next

The Trump campaign has mounted a series of legal challenges to the election results in some swing states, but most experts believe the cases have little chance of changing the outcome. Barring any surprises, Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will be inaugurated on Jan. 20.


Biden presented the steady, reliable leadership that Americans long for in a time of crisis

“The victory was a vindication of a style of American politics that many feared was gone forever. A career politician in a nation that claims to loathe them, Biden won not with historic momentum as Obama did, nor by surprise as Trump did, but with the steadfast deliberation of a man who knows who he is and what America needs.” — Charlotte Alter, Time

Biden’s win was primarily an indictment of Trump

“The opportunity to cast a ballot against Donald Trump turns out to have been one of the most appealing and galvanizing choices that has been put to the American electorate in the country’s 232 years of existence.” — Ben Mathis-Lilley, Slate

Biden inspired massive support among his base in cities and suburbs

“Biden secured his victory by getting the turnout he needed in cities. It comes four years after Clinton struggled with turnout in cities in the Midwest that have large Black populations. But he especially ran up the score in what's become another Democratic stronghold: the metro areas and suburbs around cities.” — Joey Garrison, USA Today

Trump didn’t make any effort to expand his support beyond his base

“An unpopular president’s surest first step to becoming a reelected president is the realization that he has a lot of work to do with the public, especially with convince-ables willing to give him a chance. ... Donald Trump never could go there.” — Andrew C. McCarthy, National Review

Trump did a lot of things right, but it wasn’t enough

“Trump, it turned out, was far better at pumping up his side’s turnout than we might have assumed from polling data. ... There was in fact a red wave; it just wasn’t big enough to carry Trump to victory.” — Michelle Goldberg, New York Times

Trump never showed voters he was up to the task of being president

“Trump’s 2020 reelection bid was doomed by his boorish behavior. Time and again, he refused to act like a president. And he paid the consequences.” — Philip Klein, Washington Examiner

Biden eked out a narrow victory that should have been a landslide

“Trump did not run a good campaign. He botched the first debate. He squandered his campaign cash. His messaging against Joe Biden was unfocused and often incoherent. ... A campaign that presented voters with a clear and compelling alternative should have easily defeated Trump.” — Nathan Robinson, Guardian

America’s democratic institutions resisted Trump’s attempts to undermine them

“Mr. Biden’s victory — and Mr. Trump’s defeat — is a testament to the resilience of American democracy.” — Editorial, Washington Post

Biden ran an inoffensive campaign that appealed to a broad spectrum of voters

“Biden won because he recognized that most Americans have far less appetite for political extremism than the country’s cable-news hosts and social-media celebrities seem to think.” — Yascha Mounk, Atlantic

Biden was able to unite the progressive and moderate wings of the Democratic Party

“Rather than taking his victory over Sanders as an opportunity to define the Democratic Party, Biden took it as his opportunity to unite the Democratic Party. And that meant reopening his policy agenda, and giving a slew of critics and detractors a voice in his campaign.” — Ezra Klein, Vox

Trump’s bungled pandemic response cost him the election

“Like the patient with a chronic disease, Trump's political demise wasn't caused by the coronavirus but by the underlying and familiar deficiencies of character and leadership of America's first reality show president. Donald Trump defeated Donald Trump.” — David Axelrod, CNN

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Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Getty Images