There Wasn't a Red or Blue Wave in 2020; There Was An Independent Wave

There Wasn't a Red or Blue Wave in 2020; There Was An Independent Wave

Created: 10 November, 2020
Last update: 14 August, 2022

On Saturday, November 7, the presidential election was called for Joe Biden after media outlets projected he won the state of Pennsylvania and thus exceeded the 270 electoral votes he needed to win. But, Biden could not have won without independent voters.

All of the discussion on a blue wave or a red wave -- depending on which side you talk to -- few are talking about the reality of the 2020 election: It was an independent wave. recently reported on Edison Research exit polls that showed independents nationwide favored Biden by a 13-percentage-point margin (54-41). The democratic nominee was able to flip Trump’s favorability among independents in 2016 (4 point advantage) and then add substantially to it.

According to Independent Voting, the advantage Biden had with independents was the largest recorded since George H.W. Bush in 1988, when Bush beat Michael Dukakis with a similar margin in independent support. Biden also won more independents than Obama's 2008 campaign, which had an 8-point advantage over John McCain.

“Independents are a volatile community of voters. They elected two successive ‘outsider’ presidents, in the hopes of establishing a new direction, something other than the status quo. In this cycle, they elected a consummate insider who says he can bring unity and balance to government in a time of crisis. Their impact was huge,” said Independent Voting President Jackie Salit.

“But no one should interpret this vote as a pledge of party allegiance. If anything, it’s a vote that says, ‘get us out of this partisan sinkhole.’” Salit added, 

“If you were to combine the independent voter community with the African American and Latino communities, both of which heavily influenced the outcome, you’d have the makings of a potent third force that defies political categories.”

To better understand just how critical the independent vote was to deciding the 2020 presidential election, by Sunday, the Biden-Harris campaign reportedly received votes from 21.9 million independents. Trump-Pence had, at that same point, garnered 16.2 million independent votes -- an even larger margin than what separated the two campaigns in the national popular vote. 

The message for presidential candidates, and other public officials across the country? Ignore independent voters at your own peril. Independents cast the most critical vote in an otherwise tightly contested race between the major party nominees, which comes as no surprise since 4-in-10 Americans identify as independent of the two major parties.

Salit and Independent Voting will host a post-elections Zoom call on Sunday, November 15, at 7 PM (Eastern). The national conversation is called “And Now What? A Post-Election Review for Independents and Friends” Anyone interested in the event can register here

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About the Author

Shawn Griffiths

Shawn is an election reform expert and National Editor of He studied history and philosophy at the University of North Texas. He joined the IVN team in 2012.