No, It Wasn’t Election Fraud – Whiteboard Edition
This post is the fifth in an irregular series addressing and debunking claims that Joe Biden’s election victory was fraudulent. I have previously addressed Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Georgia specifically.
Before he returned to his safe space of Hunter Biden conspiracy theories, Trump campaign “senior advisor” Steve Cortes was putting up numbers on whiteboards to advance his theory that his boss couldn’t possibly have lost five states he had won in 2016 unless there was fraud involved.
Cortes puts forward as evidence several examples of Trump’s gains in raw votes in numerous urban counties – in particular, Los Angeles, Cook (Chicago), Harris (Houston), San Francisco, and Santa Clara. The viewer is supposed to see Trump’s gains in these counties and thus find it strange that Joe Biden bucked those trends in Philadelphia, Detroit, Milwaukee, and Atlanta. Or, as Cortes himself puts it:
Are we really to believe that Joe Biden threaded the needle to the degree needed to only outperform in precisely the places where he needed to outperform? Or does that improbability speak to fraud and malfeasance? I firmly believe it’s the latter…
There’s only one problem with Cortes’ framing: Joe Biden outperformed in numerous urban counties – including all five that Cortes himself cited.
To understand what actually happened, we need to look at the numbers – all of them – not just the ones Cortes selected for his whiteboard (source for all data: Dave Leip).
We’ll start with Los Angeles County, where Cortes makes a rather large error. He claims that Trump won 500,000 more votes in LA County than he won in 2016. The data say otherwise: 1,145,530 versus 769,743, for an increase of only 375,787 (strangely enough, Cortes understated Trump’s increase in margin, which was 5% rather than 4%). More to the point, Cortes leaves out the fact that Joe Biden’s vote total was more than 560,000 above Clinton’s (3,028,885 versus 2,464,364, for an increase of 564,521), leaving the president-elect with a net gain of 288,734.
Next up is Cook County, where Cortes makes a smaller mistake. His claim that Trump won 115,000 more votes in there than in 2016 is off by about 10,000: 558,269 versus 453,287, for an increase of 104,982. Once again, Cortes leaves out Biden’s overperformance in Cook (1,725,973 versus 1,611,946, for an increase of 114,027), and once again, Biden had a net gain, this time of 9,045.
On to Harris County, where Trump did indeed gain 155,000 votes (to be precise, 154,675), but Biden gained over 200,000 (918,193 versus 707,914, for an increase of 210,279) – yet another Biden net gain (55,604).
Back to California we go. Cortes got Trump’s vote change wrong again (it was 18,729, not 21K) and skipped over the fact that Biden gained over 30,000 votes (378,156 versus 345,084, for an increase of 33,072) and scored a net gain of 14,343.
However, that paled in comparison to the error in Santa Clara, where Cortes’ claim of a 137K vote increase was nearly double what Trump actually gained in raw votes (69,786). As for Biden, he gained 106,283, for a net gain of 36,497.
In other words, in every locality that Cortes cited as an example of Trump’s supposed urban political prowess, Biden ended up winning by a larger margin than Clinton did.
So why am I going over Cortes’ numbers with a fine-toothed comb when I’ve already explained that Biden’s victories in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Georgia came not from the central city but the suburbs? I have two reasons.
First, in general, this is a health reminder that numbers are just like people: torture them long enough and they’ll tell you anything. More than a few people put forward only half of the numerical story to advance an agenda. This was an example of how it’s done.
Second, and more importantly, Cortes works and speaks for the Trump campaign. So this isn’t just one random guy on Twitter. This is the campaign’s message to its voting base. They are playing their supporters for fools and hoping no one notices.