How Trump’s electoral loss compares to the prior 11 elections

Romney was “slaughtered” by President Barack Obama in 2012, according to Trump, losing the popular vote by 5 million votes and losing the national vote overall by a bit less than four percentage points.

Trump lost the popular vote in 2016 by 3 million votes and a bit more than two percentage points. With results certified in all 50 states, we now know that he lost four years later by more than 7 million votes and about 4.5 percentage points.

If Romney got slaughtered, Trump got superslaughtered.

Of course, that’s not really accurate; Trump was just being hyperbolic. But it is nonetheless the case that Biden’s margin of victory was the fifth-largest since 1976 in terms of votes and the seventh-largest in terms of margin — solidly in the middle of the pack of 12 contests.

What is also true is that Trump did quite a bit worse than he did in 2016. In only eight states did he improve on his margin relative to his opponent. In those states, indicated with red lines below, he did an average of 1.1 points better than in 2016. In the states where he did worse, shown with blue lines, he did an average of 3.8 points worse. (States outlined in red flipped to Biden.)

By plotting the margins back to 1976, you can get a sense for how states have evolved over time. But it’s a little misleading because the country overall might swing one way or the other, as in 2008, when Obama benefited from backlash against George W. Bush and a tumbling economy.

We can correct for that by showing each state’s margin relative to the national margin. And when we do that, we see some interesting shifts.

Here, red lines mean that the state’s margin was more friendly to Trump relative to the national margin than it was in 2016. So if Pennsylvania was 2.9 points more Republican than the country overall in 2016 (which it was) and 3.3 points more Republican in 2020 (which, again, it was), it became more Republican relative to the country over that period. That it still flipped to Biden doesn’t change, of course, since the national margin moved to the left more significantly.

Some shifts are more apparent on this map, like Georgia’s reversion to being a Democratic state. (That red line off the coast of Georgia belongs to D.C., which is so heavily Democratic that it refuses to fit within a reasonable scale.) You can see something similar with Arizona and Texas — and see the reverse happening in Ohio and elsewhere in the Upper Midwest.

This is the story of Biden’s win: A big enough shift nationally to push Arizona and Georgia further in the direction they were going and a big enough shift nationally to pull Wisconsin and Pennsylvania in particular back into line.

There are a lot of places in the country where Trump is far, far more popular than Biden. Unfortunately for him, they don’t have quite enough electoral votes to have made the difference in 2020 as they did in 2016. So Trump lost.

But at least he didn’t get slaughtered.