A Biden for President sign stands on a lawn of suburban...

A Biden for President sign stands on a lawn of suburban Dublin, Ohio, on Sept. 18. Credit: AP / Julie Carr Smyth

WASHINGTON — President-elect Joe Biden’s performance on Long Island — a decisive victory in Nassau County and a narrow loss in Suffolk County — mirrors how the suburban vote played out nationally, according to exit polls and political analysts.

Large suburbs bordering big cities — including Nassau — turned more blue, boosting Biden’s lead in critical swing states.

But political analysts noted that suburbs farther away from urban centers, including Suffolk, continued to lean Republican despite inroads by Democrats.

Biden won Nassau with 54.11% of the vote compared with President Donald Trump’s 44.59%.

Trump won Suffolk by 232 votes — 49.4% of the vote to Biden’s 49.37% — according to final election returns certified by the state on Thursday.

"Generally speaking, the further out you got from the cities, the better Trump did but, with a few exceptions, he did not do nearly as well as 2016," said Lawrence Levy, executive dean of Hofstra University’s National Center for Suburban Studies.

Biden flipped a number of major suburban battlegrounds that had sided with Trump four years ago, including Arizona’s Maricopa County, which includes the suburbs of Phoenix, Michigan’s Kent County, where Grand Rapids is located, and Northampton and Erie counties in Pennsylvania.

An analysis of U.S. election data by Bloomberg News’ City Lab found Biden won the overall suburban vote by 51.2% of nearly 157 million votes cast, compared with the 47.2% Democrat Hillary Clinton garnered in 2016.

Despite cutting into Trump’s support in fringe suburbs Republicans won in 2016, Democrats still struggled to flip most of the outer suburbs that were critical to Trump’s 2016 presidential victory.

In 2016, Trump won Suffolk by 8 percentage points, compared with this year’s much narrower 0.03% margin.

In Nassau, Biden defeated Trump by 69,788 votes, according to county election figures.

"Democrats now dominate densely populated areas and are getting really blown out in sparsely populated areas," said Aliza Astrow, a political analyst with Third Way, a center-left think tank based in Washington, D.C., which has tracked suburban voting trends.

Astrow, who examined 2020 election data from dozens of battleground suburbs, said that while Democrats increased their margins in some outer suburbs, overall the gains were "not as much" as pollsters and analysts had expected.

"These big metro suburbs are on one side of the divide and the smaller suburbs are on the other side," Astrow said.

National exit polls show the suburbs accounted for a larger share of total votes cast than urban areas, underscoring the importance of the suburban vote to the presidential race, said Ryan Pougiales, senior political analyst at Third Way.

"As suburbs continue to grow [and] they continue to diversify across all those different measures — racially, socio-economically — they are going to continue to be the center of gravity in our politics, certainly in 2022 and in the 2024 presidential race," Pougiales said. "And because of this broad diversity … it’s going to require really paying a whole lot of attention to the needs and interests of folks there."

Trump made the suburbs a central theme of his 2020 campaign, issuing direct appeals to "the suburban housewives of America." In his pitch, he touted his rescinding of Obama-era fair housing rules aimed at addressing racial inequities in access to housing and services in suburbs.

Those appeals for the most part failed to motivate suburban voters, a historically moderate bloc, who were concerned about the coronavirus pandemic and economic recovery, Levy said.

"2020 can fairly be seen as a repudiation of Trumpism by moderate suburban voters," Levy said. "It certainly wasn’t a rejection of Republicans, as the party picked up seats in congressional and legislative elections around the country. It was about his style and substance."

Biden’s messages to suburban voters during the campaign were tied to his broader campaign pledges to organize a robust federal response to the pandemic and the economic problems it has caused.

Political analysts said they expected Biden, a longtime moderate, to seek to govern with centrist policies that reflect the views of suburbanites who solidified his victory.

"To burnish his credentials and perhaps solidify his support among suburban moderates, Biden has to show he really is the stabilizing figure he claims to be and for whom they voted," Levy said.

"Obviously, he needs to be able to fix the health issues of the pandemic but at the same time restore prosperity to places that, considering the myth of suburban wealth and wellness, are often overlooked when it comes to help from the government," Levy said.

"Overall, regardless of the policy area, he needs to show suburbanites that he understands them and their needs and that they won’t be forgotten when it comes to everything from education aid to infrastructure investments, and that he and not the left wing of the party is firmly in control," Levy said.

A source close to the Biden transition team said the incoming administration’s suburban agenda will largely focus on the economy and "rebuilding the middle class."

"The suburbs are largely comprised of middle class people, some just getting into the middle class, some trying to stay in the middle class, many aspiring to the middle class," said the source, who has advised the vice president’s team on domestic policy issues. "You’ll see economic policies that are really targeted at rebuilding middle class economic security."

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