No blue wave, no red tide: Historic election turnout boosts Biden in Michigan, Trump in Ohio

This presidential election turned on the turnout.

It was the surge in voters of all kinds — Democrats and Republicans, city dwellers and rural residents, suburbanites and people of color — that lifted president-elect Joe Biden over President Donald Trump.

In neighboring Michigan and Ohio, states whose voters were in lockstep for Trump in 2016, the rise in the number of folks visiting the polls and mailing in ballots led to a split in the outcome this time. Who won each state largely hinged on who energized the people already most likely to vote for them, a USA TODAY analysis shows.

Both states saw historic turnout — for both sides of the political spectrum. In Michigan, the increase in new voters allowed Biden to boost his support in some large suburbs and chip away at Trump’s in rural counties. In Ohio, Trump attracted increased support in most of the counties he won in 2016.

Only three counties flipped from 2016 in Michigan and three in Ohio. In Michigan, Saginaw, Leelanau and Kent counties went for Biden this time. Biden also won Montgomery County in Ohio back from Trump, though Trump surprised by gaining Lorain and Mahoning counties.

Biden’s campaign “won the turnout game,” in Michigan, according to David Dulio, a political science professor and director of the Center for Civic Engagement at Oakland University. Trump won the state by a slim margin in 2016. Biden’s campaign was able to get voters to the polls in the cities and suburbs alike, and he chipped away at Trump’s margins in rural counties.

In Ohio, Biden beat Hillary Clinton’s vote share by only 3 percentage points in the suburbs, which they both lost. That baffled experts who thought he’d ride a blue wave of suburban mom anger over COVID-19 and Trump’s offensive behavior. With only modest gains for Biden in two of the state’s three big metros, Trump’s large gains in rural and industrial areas proved insurmountable.