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The claim: Five statistics about Obama, Trump and Biden appear to discredit election results
On Dec. 14, President-elect Joe Biden secured his victory after he received 306 votes from the Electoral College, per USA TODAY.
Recently, though, social media users have shared a meme with statistics that they claim discredits his victory. The meme compares information about former President Barack Obama in 2008 and President Donald Trump and Biden in 2020.
First, it lists total number of votes they received — Obama at 69,000,000, Trump at 74,000,000 and Biden at 81,000,000.
Second, the meme includes the number of counties each candidate won — Obama at 873, Trump at 2,497 and Biden at 477.
Third, it lists the fraction of bellwether counties each candidate won — Obama at 18 of 19, Trump at 18 of 19 and Biden at one of 19.
Fourth, it lists whether they won Florida, Ohio and Iowa — Obama won them, Trump won them, Biden lost them.
Fifth, it lists whether each candidate’s political party won seats in the House of Representatives — which occurred with Obama and Trump, but not Biden.
“End of day, the solution is complicated but the problem is very simple,” wrote a user who shared the meme on Instagram. “The 2020 election was RIGGED.”
“Mathematically impossible,” wrote a user who shared it on Facebook.
The users have not responded to requests from USA TODAY for comment.
Election results by county.
Statistics are correct, but implication of election fraud is not
Most of the statistics in the meme are true — but they are not proof of voter fraud.
In fact, a national coalition of election security officials described the general election as “the most secure in American history,” per USA TODAY.
“There is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised,” they concluded.
The coalition — which included the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency and the National Association of State Election Directors — also noted that all states with close results had paper records of each vote.
“This is an added benefit for security and resilience,” they wrote. “This process allows for the identification and correction of any mistakes or errors.”
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That report was issued on Nov. 12. Weeks after Election Day, there have still been no discoveries of widespread voter fraud.
On Dec. 1, former Attorney General William Barr also told the Associated Press the U.S. Justice Department had uncovered no such evidence.
The statistics also are not indicative of electoral fraud. They’re just facts about the vote.
More:Fact check: What’s true and what’s false about the 2020 election
Here’s what each statistic actually means
The vote totals in the meme are true.
In 2020, Biden received 81,281,888 votes and Trump received 74,223,251 votes, according to a tally by USA TODAY. In 2008, Obama received 69,498,516 votes, per the Federal Election Commission.
The popular vote is not enough to win a presidential election; that only occurs with a win in the Electoral College. But it’s still indicative of widespread support.
Multiple factors, including higher turnout and population growth, contributed to the fact that both Biden and Trump totaled more votes than Obama.
According to PolitiFact, voter turnout was 66.2% in 2020 and 61.6% in 2008. Combined with general population growth, and this election had 27 million more participants.
The statistic on counties comes from a report by the Brookings Institution on Nov. 10. It’s true that the report first showed Biden at 477 counties and Trump at 2,497 counties, though it has since been updated to show Biden at 509 and Trump at 2,547.
But county wins don’t correlate with the popular vote, in part due to tremendous variance in population size and density by county.
More than half of all Americans live in just 143 counties, per the U.S. Census Bureau.
A single county could have as few as 88 residents, like Kalawao County, Hawaii. Or it could have almost 10.1 million residents, like Los Angeles County.
For that reason, Rogers M. Smith, a political scientist at the University of Pennsylvania, told Reuters that “focusing on counties won as an indicator of the likely popular vote winner makes no sense whatsoever.”
“Biden did well in virtually all of the most populous counties in the U.S., which, along with a larger electorate explains why he defeated Donald Trump by over 7 million votes, despite carrying many fewer counties,” Smith wrote.
(Biden, for example, won over 70% of the vote in Los Angeles County.)
Fact check: Biden won the most total votes – and the fewest total counties – of any president-elect
First, what are bellwether counties? From 1980 through 2016, there were 19 counties that consistently voted for the eventual president. That includes 10 elections, including Obama in 2008 and Trump in 2016.
In 2020, a single county in the set kept its perfect record by tallying a win for Biden. Trump won the other 18 counties.
David Hopkins, a political scientist at Boston College, told the Wall Street Journal that the failure of typical bellwether counties reflects “the overall trend that we are seeing toward greater geographic polarization.”
“There are more and more places in this country that are consistently red or blue, so there are fewer and fewer counties that swing back and forth from election to election,” he said.
David Niven, a political scientist at the University of Cincinnati, also told the Associated Press that it “speaks to an evolution in American politics” rather than fraud.
Ultimately, they are simply 19 counties — and this time, 18 of them voted for the candidate who lost the election.
Florida, Ohio and Iowa
The same can be said for the three states listed in the meme.
It’s true that both Obama in 2008 and Trump in 2020 won in Florida, Ohio and Iowa. But those states represent just 29, 18 and six electoral votes, respectively.
Even combined, they represent only 53 votes — a fraction of the 538 total electoral votes or the 270 electoral votes required to win the White House.
As long as a candidate wins enough electoral votes from other states, there is no reason it’s impossible to win an election while losing Florida, Ohio, or Iowa.
It’s happened before. In 1960, President John F. Kennedy lost all three states and won the White House, beating out future President Richard Nixon, according to Snopes.
House of Representatives
It’s true that it is unusual for the party of the candidate who wins the White House to lose seats in the House of Representatives. But it’s also not unprecedented.
Democrats Woodrow Wilson, John F. Kennedy, Bill Clinton and Grover Cleveland (twice) won elections while losing ground in the House, per The Atlantic. Republicans Ulysses S. Grant and William Howard Taft won a majority of the presidential popular vote but lost a handful of seats in House, too.
There are numerous theories about why it happened in 2020. None of them impacts the legitimacy of the presidential election.
It’s also worth noting that some voters “split their tickets” between parties — voting for Biden but also for Republicans in Congress, for example.
Dave Wasserman, who analyzes election data for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, told the Wall Street Journal that ticket-splitting appeared to make “a fashion comeback in many places.”
“It gave suburban moderates an opportunity to vent their anger at Trump directly at the top of the ticket but continue to vote for the down-ballot Republicans they liked,” he said.
That’s another reason results of the contests might not have lined up.
Our ruling: Missing context
Based on our research, the claim that these five statistics about Obama, Trump and Biden appear to discredit election results is MISSING CONTEXT. Most of the statistics in the meme are true — but they are not proof of voter fraud or other supposed issues with the election.
Our fact-check sources:
USA TODAY, Nov. 15, “Joe Biden says democracy ‘proved to be resilient’ after Hawaii casts final ballots in Electoral College”
USA TODAY, Nov. 12, “Election security officials: ‘No evidence voting systems compromised'”
Associated Press, Dec. 1, “Disputing Trump, Barr says no widespread election fraud”
USA TODAY, Dec. 19, 2020 Election Results & Maps
Federal Election Commission, 2008 PRESIDENTIAL POPULAR VOTE SUMMARY
Politifact, Dec. 15, “How Biden managed to win far more votes in 2020 than Obama did in 2008 — but far fewer counties”
Brookings Institution, Nov. 10, “Biden-voting counties equal 70% of America’s economy. What does this mean for the nation’s political-economic divide?”
U.S. Census Bureau, Oct. 24, 2017, More Than Half of U.S. Population in 4.6 Percent of Counties
Reuters, Dec. 29, “Fact check: Clarifying the comparison between popular vote and counties won in the 2020 election””
Wall Street Journal, Nov. 13, Bellwether Counties Nearly Wiped Out by 2020 Election”
Associated Press, Nov. 18, “America’s bellwethers crumbled in aligning with Trump in ’20”
Snopes, Dec. 10, “Has No Presidential Candidate ‘Won Iowa, Florida and Ohio’ and Still Lost?”
The Atlantic, Nov. 27, “Democrats’ Real Liability in the House”
Wall Street Journal, Nov. 25, “Split-Ticket Voters Helped Biden, Republicans in Nebraska, Maine”
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