When you look at the Washington state map of the 2020 presidential election results, it’s nearly unchanged from 2016. The blue counties are all still blue. The red counties — with one exception — remain red. So it might seem like there’s not much of a story here.
But what that map won’t tell you is that almost across the board, the state got more Democratic in 2020. President-elect Joe Biden performed better in nearly every county than Hillary Clinton did in 2016.
In 35 of Washington’s 39 counties, Biden improved upon Clinton’s 2016 margins against Donald Trump. This pattern held true both in the state’s bluest counties, as well as many of its reddest.
The county that moved the most toward the Democrats — picturesque San Juan County — already ranked among the bluest counties in Washington. In 2016, Clinton easily beat Trump here by 64% to 24%, a whopping 40-point spread.
Tough to improve on a margin like that — but that’s exactly what Biden did, and by a lot. Trump only did slightly worse this time in San Juan, at a little over 23%. But Biden massively outperformed Clinton by winning almost 74% of the vote. That’s nearly a 51-point spread, meaning Biden did more than 10 points better than Clinton had in 2016.
How did Biden do it?
In San Juan, as in every county across the state, voters abandoned Libertarian, Green and other “third parties” in 2020. Instead, they picked Trump or Biden. So while it helped both candidates, in most of the state, Biden got the lion’s share of those votes.
Let’s use San Juan as an example. In 2016, third-party and write-in candidates got 11% of the vote in 2016. Remember Green Party candidate Jill Stein? She alone got about 4% of the vote.
But in 2020, all the third-party and write-candidates combined only got 3% in San Juan. This pattern holds true across the state. Third-party and write-in candidates’ share of the vote dropped by at least five points in all 39 Washington counties.
In 2016, Clinton won 12 Washington counties. In all 12, Biden won by more in 2020. In liberal Jefferson County, where Port Townsend is located, Biden increased the spread of victory by more than nine points. In Kitsap County, which Clinton also won handily, Biden increased the margin by more than seven points.
Here in King County, Clinton beat Trump 70% to 21% in 2016, a 49-point spread. This time around, Trump did slightly better, garnering 22% of the vote. But Biden won 75% of the vote, widening the spread to 53 points. That, by the way, makes King the bluest county in Washington in 2020, edging out San Juan.
Even in the counties that Trump won again this year, his margins got smaller in all but four. In Chelan County, Trump won 53% of the vote in 2020, about the same as he did in 2016. But Biden got 45%, a 7-point improvement over Clinton’s performance. In Walla Walla and Pacific counties, both won again by Trump, Biden narrowed the spread by about six points.
And Biden even managed to flip one county from red to blue: Clallam, where Port Angeles is located. In 2016, Trump won the county by 46% to Clinton’s 44%. This time around, Biden got 50% to Trump’s 47%.
With Clallam flipping blue, there was only one county in the Puget Sound region that went for Trump in 2020: Mason, which contains most of the Hood Canal, and where Shelton is located. But it, too, moved more Democratic in 2020. Biden narrowed Trump’s margin of victory by about 5 points compared with 2016.
It wasn’t all bad news for Trump in Washington. His biggest improvement over 2016 was in Cowlitz County, in Southwestern Washington, where Longview is located. He beat Clinton here handily, winning 51% to 38%, a 13-point spread. But against Biden, he won even more decisively (57% to 40%), increasing the spread by four points.
Trump also increased his margin of victory in three Eastern Washington counties, all of which he had easily won in 2016: Garfield, Pend Oreille and Stevens.
Garfield, by the way, is the state’s reddest county (as well as its least populous, with fewer than 2,500 residents). Trump won Garfield, which is just east of Walla Walla, with a 47-point spread over Biden in 2020. That’s two points better than his margin of victory over Clinton in 2016.
Statewide, Biden won 58% of the more than 4 million votes cast in Washington to Trump’s 39%. Trump did about 1 point better than he did in 2016. But Biden bested Clinton’s 2016 showing by about four points.
Third-party and write-in candidates dropped from nearly 8% of the statewide vote in 2016 to just 3% in 2020.