November 06, 2020
Against a backdrop of national turmoil and a global pandemic, American voters will decide the winner of the 2020 presidential race between Republican incumbent Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden.
By early Friday morning, the race appeared to be taking final shape around a few key battleground states — Pennsylvania, Georgia and Nevada among them. Vote counts in all three states continued into the morning, as Pennsylvania flipped toward Biden on the strength of mail-in ballots across the state.
As of 5 p.m. on Friday, Biden led Pennsylvania with 49.53% of the vote to Trump's 49.32% with more than 98% of precincts reporting, according to the Associated Press.
Votes are still being counted in Philadelphia and elsewhere in Pennsylvania. The Philadelphia City Commissioners Office last updated its count for the presidential election around 9 a.m.. Friday. Results will be updated as they become available.
Biden was already projected to win New Jersey early on election night.
With five states still undecided, Biden has 264 electoral votes to Trump's 214. (The AP called Arizona for Biden on election night, though other media outlets have not yet given Arizona to Biden.)
In Georgia, where Trump had held a sizable lead, Biden drew virtually even with the president by 10 p.m. Thursday night and flipped the state by Friday morning, building a lead of more than 4,000 votes by late afternoon.
The former vice president led in Nevada by a slim but growing margin, while the president appeared on track to take North Carolina and Alaska.
In Wisconsin, a state Trump won in 2016, Biden was declared the winner by the Associated Press on Wednesday afternoon. The Trump campaign has indicated it will request a recount there and has sued Pennsylvania, Georgia, Michigan, and Nevada over their respective vote counts.
The AP called Michigan for Biden on Wednesday night. He had amassed a lead of more than 145,000 votes there by Thursday evening.
During a public appearance on Thursday, Trump spoke for 17 minutes at the White House and cast doubt on the entire electoral process. The president claimed Democrats had rigged the election and vowed court fights over the results of elections in several battleground states.
"We think there's going to be a lot of litigation because we have so much evidence, so much proof and it's going to end up perhaps at the highest court in the land," Trump claimed.
The president further singled out the cities of Philadelphia and Detroit as "two of the most corrupt political places anywhere in our country," charging them with attempts to engineer the outcome of the presidential race. He insisted that "legal votes" would support his re-election, while fraudulent votes were responsible for Biden's advances.
It was Trump's first appearance since he falsely claimed victory while addressing his supporters at the White House early Wednesday morning. At the time, he cited large leads in several battleground states, including Pennsylvania, that have since whittled away to Biden or within razor-thin margins, with votes still to count.
Trump campaign officials told reporters on Thursday that they "still have confidence in Pennsylvania" and are expecting to defeat Biden by more than 200,000 votes.
But a substantial amount of legitimate mail-in ballots, which have favored Biden, still remained to be counted.
Biden sounded optimistic while addressing supporters in Wilmington, Delaware, predicting he would win the presidency. He urged the American public to remain patient while an unprecedented number of mail-in ballots were counted. .
As early as Wednesday morning, Trump began to insinuate possible fraud as large batches of mail-in votes filled out the picture in battleground states. The president suggested his leads had "magically" disappeared.
Even Republican leaders and Trump allies, including former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, balked at Trump's posture toward the ongoing vote count. As Biden's leads grew in pivotal states, some Republicans began to stand behind the president, including Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, who pledged $500,000 for Trump's legal defense fund.
Biden has several scenarios in front of him to reach 270 Electoral Colleges votes and win the presidency, even without taking Pennsylvania. Trump's re-election chances now appear to depend on Pennsylvania, barring any change of course that may result from final vote tabulations or eventual recounts.
In the popular vote, Biden already has set a U.S. election record for most votes, totaling more than 73.8 million by Friday afternoon, ahead of Trump's approximately 69.8 million. The previous record of just over 69 million votes was set by Barack Obama in 2008.
Ensuring a free and fair election has been incredible feat in 2020, with nearly 60% of U.S. voters casting their ballots by mail. Prior to polls closing, it appeared highly doubtful that a winner would be declared on Election Day – or even in the early hours of Wednesday – setting the stage for a lengthy vote count that would depend crucially on the integrity and effectiveness of elections in battleground states.
From a political standpoint, the race between Trump and Biden has fully rendered the anatomy of America's partisan divide, amplified by the concurrent public health and economic crises facing the nation. What already had the makings of an emotional election a year ago is now a generational test of the United State's ideological footing in a time of upheaval.
Biden entered Election Day with a 7.8-point lead over Trump in an average of national polls monitored by RealClearPolitics.
But much like the 2016 election, when Democrat Hillary Clinton won the popular vote but lost the Electoral College, the final outcome rests on the candidates' performances in hotly contested individual states.
By Nov. 3, Biden had modest or slim polling leads in a handful of battleground states: Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan. He and Trump had been roughly even in North Carolina, Arizona and Florida. Trump carried all of those states in 2016.
How accurate the polls are has become a point of growing debate in light of the outcome in 2016, when undecided voters favored Trump and flipped predictions in states where Clinton held leads. A Reuters/Ipsos poll in late October showed that in 2020, less than 7% of likely voters had yet to back a major-party candidate. That's less than half the percentage of undecided voters than there were in 2016.
President Trump's approval rating rose to about 46% in a late October poll conducted by Gallup, which also found national satisfaction had risen from a dismal 14% in September to 28% in October. Much of the gains came among Republicans, who have responded well to Trump's messaging on the U.S. "rounding the corner" in the coronavirus pandemic and the nation advancing toward economic recovery.
The current state of the coronavirus pandemic suggests the opposite is true.
COVID-19 case rates rose sharply in October and the United States recorded a daily high of nearly 90,000 new cases on Oct. 29. Public health researchers anticipate that deaths, which had dropped off from a spring peak, could climb dramatically in the next few months, fueled by the typical season of worsening respiratory viruses.
As of Monday, more than 231,000 Americans have died from COVID-19, the highest number of fatalities in the world, according to the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Research Center.
Much of Biden's campaign has focused on highlighting the Trump administration's failure to develop a coordinated national plan to combat the pandemic and instead favoring a state-by-state approach riddled with inconsistencies. Biden criticized the White House recently for "quitting" on the American people and expecting them to grow numb to the pandemic.
The Trump administration, touting the country's 2.6% COVID-19 case fatality rate, recently took credit for "ending the COVID-19 pandemic" and spurring the development of treatments that have shown some success in reducing deaths. Several vaccine candidates, still in clinical trials, will not be released until they are deemed safe and effective by the FDA.
In Florida, days before the election, Trump threatened to fire the nation's top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, who had told the Washington Post the U.S. needs an "abrupt change" in its COVID-19 policies. Fauci had praised Biden for "taking it seriously from a public health perspective," in contrast to Trump's emphasis on reopening the economy.
Biden has said he'll prioritize public health in charting the country's path forward.
"I’m not running on the false promise of being able to end this pandemic by flipping a switch," the former vice president said last week in Wilmington. "But what I can promise you is this: We will start on Day 1 doing the right things. We’ll let science drive our decisions. We will deal honestly with the American people. And we will never, ever, ever quit."
The U.S. economy, which had been a strength of Trump's first term, prior to the pandemic, shed 22 million jobs as lockdowns began in the spring to mitigate the spread of the disease. More than six months later, in the final jobs report before the election, pandemic unemployment claims fell to their lowest point, showing signs of a rebound that may now be jeopardized by the resurgence of the virus.
The country lost a net of 3.9 million jobs between January 2017 and September 2020, prompting Biden to point out that Trump could be the first president to leave office with fewer U.S. jobs than when he entered the White House.
At 7.9%, the nation's unemployment rate is the highest ahead of a U.S. presidential election since the statistic was first tracked in 1948. Barack Obama was re-elected in 2012 with an unemployment rate of 7.8%, which remained high in the long aftermath of the 2008 economic recession.
Americans received desperately needed relief from the federal CARES Act in the spring, yet negotiations on a second stimulus package broke down before the 2020 election. Congress, following the president's Supreme Court nomination of Amy Coney Barrett, prioritized her confirmation hearings ahead of an election whose logistical complexities may end up requiring input from the justices.
"I think this will end up in the Supreme Court," Trump recently told reporters, referring to the election. "And I think it’s very important that we have nine justices. I think having a 4-4 situation is not a good situation."
On health care and tax policy, Trump and Biden have shared competing visions of reform and economic prosperity. Trump has said he hopes to to see the U.S. Supreme Court strike down the Affordable Care Act, a key component of Biden's plan to improve the U.S. health care system.
And while Biden has promised no tax increases for Americans earning less than $400,000, many business owners impacted by the pandemic are torn by whether Trump's friendlier policies will be sufficient in the face of a prolonged health crisis under his leadership.
Another key force in the 2020 election will be the voice of Black voters, who have widely been spurred to action by a slew of fatal police shootings. Civil unrest over systemic racism in American law enforcement has led to renewed calls for reform and social justice, often accompanied by chaos in the streets and further violence.
Issues of race and racism have galvanized Trump's opponents as well as certain elements of his base. Dating back to the events in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017, the president has often avoided alienating his supporters who are hostile toward Black Lives Matter and other activist groups.
As those divisions devolved into riots and looting this year, the president leaned on powerful displays of law and order, chastising Democratic governors and mayors for enabling lawlessness alongside peaceful demonstrations for change.
"You can't let that go on," Trump said of the looting in Philadelphia after the police shooting of Walter Wallace Jr. "Again, a Democrat state, a Democrat-run city, Philadelphia. We don't have that. The Republicans don't have that."
Trump even challenged Biden to "condemn" those responsible for the situation in Philadelphia, turning around a request often made of him in relation to white supremacist groups.
"There is no excuse whatsoever for the looting and the violence. None whatsoever," Biden said of the unrest in Philadelphia. "I think to be able to protest is totally legitimate, totally reasonable."
How these cultural and social struggles are reflected among voters could have a consequential impact in states such as Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, where conflicts have erupted in recent weeks and months.
The Biden campaign has made securing Black voters a priority leading up to the election. Turnout among Black voters fell sharply from a high of 66.6% in 2012 to 59.6% in 2016, according to the nonpartisan Pew Research Center.
With so much emphasis on the outcome in pivotal battleground states, it could well be Black voters in Philadelphia who play a decisive role in the election.
Black residents make up about 43% of the population of Philadelphia, a city that had an overall turnout of 64% in 2016, among all races. About 65% of Pennsylvania's Black voters live in Philadelphia, followed by 14% in Pittsburgh and 4% in Harrisburg.
As Black voter turnout fell in 2016, Trump was boosted in Pennsylvania by an increase in turnout among non-college-educated white voters, from 53% in 2012 to 57% in 2016.
Many observers believe that margin made the difference for Trump in defeating Clinton in Pennsylvania. Trump won by 48.2% to 47.5%, a difference of just 44,000 votes.
It explains why the Biden campaign had former President Obama speak in Philadelphia on Oct. 21, and why both campaigns have spent considerable time in Pennsylvania in October and the first days of November.
It may also explain why Trump has directed his deepest distrust toward the election in Philadelphia, demanding the presence of Republican poll watchers.
"We’re watching you, Philadelphia," Trump said in Allentown. "We’re watching at the highest level."
A pair of new polls released Sunday gave Biden solid leads in Pennsylvania. One from the Washington Post-ABC News had Biden at 51% in Pennsylvania and Trump at 44%. Another from The New York Times/Siena College found Biden at 49% and Trump at 43%.
But without pre-canvassing of mail-in ballots in Pennsylvania, it's possible that the state could be among the last in the nation to announce a winner. The vote count could take several days, said Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar, raising concerns about a legal fight to declare a winner before all votes have been counted.
Biden, speaking at a Philadelphia church on Nov. 1, urged Pennsylvania voters to turn out to the polls on Tuesday.
"President Trump is terrified of what will happen in Pennsylvania," Biden said. "He knows that if the people of Pennsylvania get to have their say, if you have your say, he won't stand a chance."
In the stretch run, the president has become keenly aware that his chances in Pennsylvania — and for a second term — are linked to the coronavirus pandemic and the support that may have eroded as a result of it.
"We had this thing won," Trump claimed in Erie. "We were so far up. We had the greatest economy ever, greatest jobs, greatest everything. And then we got hit with the plague."