‘Doesn’t add up’: Confusion over US election map


Donald Trump shares election map showing he won far more counties than Joe Biden

President Donald Trump shared this version of the US election results online today, believing it throws Joe Biden’s victory into doubt.

US President Donald Trump and his supporters believe they have found another reason to be suspicious of his election defeat to Joe Biden.

This morning, Mr Trump took to social media once again and shared posts from conservative radio host Kevin McCullough, which focused on the number of counties each candidate won in the election.

As we have previously reported, Mr Trump won far more counties than Mr Biden. According to the Brookings Institution, the President claimed 2547 and his rival got just 509.

So, when you look at a map of the election results at county level, it is a sea of Republican red, with small pockets of Democratic blue concentrated mainly along the coasts.

That’s despite Mr Biden winning the national popular vote by about seven million ballots, and the electoral college vote 306-232.

Mr McCullough’s posts included one such county level map, along with a claim that the President “won 84 per cent of America”.

“Biden supporters seem to be really losing their minds at how angry they get when you tell them that Biden ‘won’ only 16 per cent of the counties. They get even (angrier) about that than the fact that they are all supporting a cheater,” he said.

These are the posts Mr Trump retweeted.

Mr Trump and Mr McCullough are far from alone in drawing attention to the county results and ascribing significance to them.

Go back a couple of weeks and you’ll find a widely shared post from the advocacy group Students for Trump, contrasting Mr Biden’s 477 county wins in 2020 (that number has risen since the post in question) to the 873 his predecessor Barack Obama won in 2008.

“Something doesn’t seem to add up,” the group said.

Jan Morgan, spokeswoman for another group called Citizens for Trump, echoed that post with a meme of her own.

“Trying to figure out how Biden won a record low of only 16.7 per cent of all US counties, yet supposedly won the election with the most votes in history,” it read.

Charlie Kirk, a pro-Trump media personality and founder of the conservative student organisation Turning Point USA, made the same point to his 1.9 million followers on Twitter yesterday.

And he was joined by the President’s son, Eric Trump, who shared images comparing Mr Biden’s crowds during this year’s election campaign to those of Mr Obama and Mr Trump, with the county statistics added on top.

“Says it all,” he said.

I’ll make the obvious point about crowd sizes first to get it out of the way – neither of Mr Obama’s election campaigns happened during a pandemic.

This year, Mr Biden chose to hold small events to comply with social distancing rules. Note the circles on the ground in one of those images Eric shared – they were there to ensure people stayed far enough away from each other.

Meanwhile, the President chose to continue holding his trademark rallies, with thousands of supporters pressed together in close proximity.

Mr Trump frequently drew attention to that contrast during the campaign to suggest his supporters were more enthusiastic than Mr Biden’s.

Anyway, the more interesting issue here is the very real and vast gap between America’s results at national level and county level.

The existence of this gap is not new. Four years ago, Hillary Clinton won 2.9 million more votes than Mr Trump (while losing the decisive electoral vote), even though he claimed 2584 counties compared to her 472.

In his comfortable 2012 victory over Mitt Romney, Mr Obama won 689 counties – still a small minority. And as we mentioned earlier, he didn’t even reach 1000 counties in 2008, despite winning that election in a 9.5-million vote landslide.

That brings us back to the central question Mr Trump and his supporters are currently posing. How could Mr Biden possibly have won this year’s election with a record popular vote total when he claimed far fewer counties than the President, and indeed, even fewer than Mr Obama?

“Small crowds. No enthusiasm. Fewer counties than Obama. Yet Biden won? Something doesn’t add up,” the right-wing website Gateway Pundit, known for peddling conspiracy theories, wrote today in response to the President’s retweets.

The answer here is actually quite simple. Some counties have more people – and more voters – than others, and the population differences can be enormous.

For instance, Mr Trump won Loving County in Texas, where a total of 64 people voted. Meanwhile, Mr Biden won Los Angeles County in California, where a total of 4,174,415 people voted.

That registers as a single county each, a 50/50 split, even though one of them has more than 65,000 times the number of voters.

I’ve cherrypicked a particularly lopsided example there to illustrate the broader point – while the US has thousands of counties, more than half of its people live in about 150 of them.

Democratic voters tend to be concentrated in these high density, urban counties, whereas Republicans are likely to live in more sparsely populated suburban and rural areas. And that trend has become even more pronounced in recent years.

That is why it’s possible for Democrats to win the popular vote and the number of states required to seat a president, even though the Republicans always win more counties.

This fact has never really sunk in for Mr Trump, who has frequently cited the county level results from 2016 in the past to overstate his support from the American public.

Here’s a tweet he posted during the impeachment saga last year.

Maps like this are not inaccurate (although the one above actually does give some of Ms Clinton’s counties to Mr Trump for some reason). They just don’t give us much useful information about how people voted. A tiny dot of blue on the map could, and often does represent more Americans than a large chunk of red.

The President’s latest round of retweets this morning also included a claim from Gateway Pundit that “simple math” showed Mr Biden could not possibly have won as many votes as he did, because there weren’t enough voters.

While we’re here, we may as well deal with that claim as well.

Here is the story Mr Trump shared with his followers.

It pointed to a Washington Post graph tracking voter turnout, which showed a historically high 66.2 per cent of the voting eligible population had cast ballots in 2020.

“Of course, this on its face value implies fraud, since no one was excited about voting for Joe Biden, but the WaPo wouldn’t consider going there – not with their far-left extreme bias,” Gateway Pundit said in its own characteristically detached, unbiased tone.

“When we add up the number of registered voters we obtain 213.8 million registered voters in the US as of this morning,” it continued.

“We find a huge issue. If we have 213.8 million registered voters in the US and 66.2 per cent of all voters voted in the 2020 election, that equals 141.5 million voters who voted in the 2020 election.

“If President Trump won 74 million votes, then that leaves only 67.5 million votes remaining for Biden. This means 13 million duplicate or made up ballots were created and counted for Biden!

“This also supports our observations form the start. Biden committed fraud in every imaginable way, but the big steal was in millions of fraudulent votes that were created to steal the election for Biden. MILLIONS!

“The results of the 2020 election at a very high level do not add up. This is math, liberals – very simple math that even liberals should be able to understand. At a high level, the Biden camp clearly committed fraud.”

Speaking of simple maths, there’s a rather glaring error in the story’s premise. The Washington Post’s graphic measured turnout as a percentage of eligible voters, not registered voters.

These terms do not mean the same thing. There are millions of Americans who are eligible to vote – i.e. they’re citizens over the age of 18 – but have not registered to vote.

The Post estimates the voting eligible population is about 240 million people, as opposed to the 214 million Gateway Pundit used. Use the correct number, and the “13 million duplicate ballots” no longer exist.

Clearly, Mr Trump did not check the story was accurate before posting it.












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