Reid Wilson | May 10, 2021
A diverse coalition of young and new voters propelled President Biden to victory in November, according to a major new study of the 2020 electorate, while former President Trump made inroads among Hispanic voters in key states.
The report, from the Democratic data analytics firm Catalist, found the most diverse electorate in American history showed up to vote in last year’s elections. Twenty-eight percent of voters last year were nonwhite, up 2 percentage points from the 2016 presidential election.
More than 159 million Americans voted in 2020, the largest turnout in history. The number of nonwhite participants skyrocketed, including by 31 percent among Latino voters and 39 percent among Asian American and Pacific Islander voters. For the first time, Latino voters made up 10 percent of the electorate.
Black turnout rose by 14 percent, outpacing the total growth among white voters with a college degree, up 13 percent, and among whites without a college degree, up 11 percent.
The number of new Black voters was key to Biden’s win in several swing states. Biden won nearly 200,000 more Black votes in Georgia than did former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in 2016, far more than his 11,779-vote margin of victory in the state. Biden scored 28,000 more Black votes in Arizona, another state where those votes alone account for more than his margin of victory.
Biden’s margins among all Black voters were larger than his overall wins in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Nevada and Michigan, the foundational swing states he won to capture the White House.
Overall, 61 percent of voters who chose Biden were white, while 39 percent were voters of color. Among Trump supporters, 85 percent were white.
Biden took 44 percent of the two-party vote share among white voters, a 3-point increase over Clinton’s performance in 2016. He improved on Clinton’s performance, especially among college-educated white men, among whom Biden won 50 percent of the two-party vote, 5 points better than Clinton.
But the Democratic share of the vote fell by 8 points between 2016 and 2020, as Trump captured a growing share of the emerging electorate in states like Florida, Texas, Wisconsin and Nevada. Trump did best among voters of Cuban ancestry and those of Puerto Rican descent.
In a measure of just how rapidly the Hispanic vote is growing, more than 1 in 5 Hispanic voters — 22 percent — cast their first ballots in 2020. Forty percent of Hispanic voters had never voted in a presidential election before, compared with 29 percent of the overall electorate.
The 2020 elections also marked the first presidential contest in which millennials and members of Generation Z combined to eclipse the voting power of Generation X. Members of the two youngest generations accounted for 31 percent of the electorate, up 8 points from four years earlier, while 26 percent were members of Generation X.
Biden won 60 percent of the vote among voters between the ages of 18 and 29, and 56 percent among those between 30 and 45, both significant increases over Clinton’s performance. Trump improved his performance marginally among both groups, and far fewer people across all generations opted for a third-party candidate.
Trump performed best among baby boomers and those in older generations, but those generations are rapidly losing influence in the electorate. Those in and older than the baby boom generation accounted for 44 percent of the electorate in 2020, down from 51 percent in 2016 and 61 percent in 2008, when Barack Obama won the White House.
Last year’s elections “accelerated a massive change in the composition of the electorate, with Millennials and Gen Z taking an increasingly prominent role in the future of American elections — a demographic change that is functionally permanent,” the authors wrote.
Many of those younger voters cast a ballot for the first time or voted in their first presidential election — especially in swing states. More than a third of voters in Nevada, Arizona and Texas and nearly a third of voters in Georgia voted for president for the first time. The researchers estimate that Biden won 56 percent of new voters and 62 percent of new voters under 30 years old.
Despite the record turnout, millions of Americans who are eligible to cast ballots remained on the sidelines, the report found. More than 70 million people who were eligible to vote opted not to in 2020, including about a quarter of whites, more than a third of Black residents and half of Latinos.