Nebraska Voting
Nebraska voters were a reflection of national trends in terms of turnout and in specific voting patterns.

By Audrey Brooker, Brent Bartels and Will Stone

For the first time since the 2008 Presidential Election, the state of Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District has awarded its electoral vote to the United States’ Democratic Party. Nebraska is one of only two U.S. states that have the ability to split electoral votes based on congressional districts. The other state is Maine. Nebraska has followed this system since 1992. 

Nebraska’s races were not much different from the rest of the U.S., especially in terms of the rural-urban red-blue split, and voters who supported a Democrat President and Republican House and Senate representatives.

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Democrat and Republican vote totals both in Nebraska and nationwide stayed consistent between election cycles, while independent parties received fewer votes. Graphic by Brent Bartels

In 2016, Donald Trump and the Republican Party received all of Nebraska’s electoral votes as only Lancaster and Douglas counties voted blue. In 2020, Douglas and Lancaster were once again the only counties with a majority of votes for the Democratic Party, demonstrating support for Joe Biden. However, in 2020 there were enough votes in Douglas County to move NE-2’s electoral vote to a win for the Democrats.

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More urban voters supported the Democratic party in Nebraska than in the previous presidential election. Graphic by Brent Bartels

Along with the rest of the U.S., in 2016, more urban voters supported the Democratic Party in Nebraska while rural voters turned out primarily in favor of the Republican Party. This held true for 2020, by increased margins. There was approximately a 6% increase in urban voters going blue while rural areas remained consistent with about 70% of voters going red. Overall, fewer voters from both areas voted for independent parties. These two factors contributed to the changed outcome in the 2nd district from the previous Presidential Election.

With Joe Biden declared as the winner on Nov. 7 by the Associated Press, some Nebraskans have expressed optimism about the future under a Biden administration.

“I feel better [about the state of the country] because I know he [Biden] will take COVID seriously and that he will fight to protect a woman’s right to her own body,” Anna Delaney, a Biden voter from Lincoln said.

Lauren Becerra, a Biden voter from the Omaha area, echoed Delaney’s optimism.

“I’m excited about the new environmental laws and tax reforms that’ll be put into place. I’m also excited for a ‘more equal America’ underneath Biden that we wouldn’t have seen with Trump,” she said. “I’m also interested to see how much better — hopefully — he handles the coronavirus pandemic.”

Other Democratic voters, such as Dustin Bower of Hastings, also think Biden will handle the U.S. COVID-19 response better than Trump.

“He [Biden] takes the virus seriously, which has been Trump’s greatest failure concerning COVID,” Bower said. “Trump minimized its danger to public health, which proved disastrous. Biden will listen to Fauci and other scientists working to solve the problem, and he’ll defer to their expert judgment as often as necessary.”

Bill Crooks, a Trump voter from North Platte, saida vaccine can help the U.S. handle the pandemic and that it will be developed regardless of who holds the office of president. 

“We need to support [Biden] as much as we can and pray for him,” Crooks said. 

Some Nebraskans, specifically in the more rural, western part of the state, are disappointed about the election results and are worried about the potential impact of Biden’s policies, especially on the economy.

“Even with an abrasive personality, [Trump] has done more for the economy and national security than previous presidents,” Ruth Chadwick, a Trump voter from North Platte said.

She also said the U.S. Senate needs to remain Republican in order for Biden to have a successful presidency.

This calls attention to another voting pattern, one not accounted for in most national polls prior to the election, which had a strong turnout both nationally and in Nebraska. This was the faction that voted Democrat in the Presidential race, but Republican in most other races on the ballot, specifically the House and Senate.

In FiveThirtyEight’s final projection, 32,000 of 40,000 simulations resulted in the Democrats holding between 48 and 55 seats.

FiveThirtyEight predicted the house race the same way with their most conservative projections giving  the Democrats 225 seats, 6 over the needed number for the majority.

FiveThirtyEight reached those conclusions with the belief that Biden would coast in the Presidential election, and down-ballot Democrats would see similar successes. As of this writing, the Republicans hold 50 seats in the Senate. Both uncalled races are in Georgia. One is considered a toss-up and the other leaning Republican. In the House, Democrats are expected to hold their majority, by a slim margin, not the blue wave  predicted in the polls.

Nebraska’s 2nd District, the same one that sent its vote to Biden, saw this play out to a T.

According to the New York Times’ most recent numbers, Biden received 150,309 votes (54.7%) to Trump’s 119,117 (43.3%) in Douglas County, home to Omaha — the driving force of NE-2. In that same county, Republican Senate candidate Ben Sasse defeated Democrat challenger Chris Janicek 134,032 (50.9%) to 84,772 (32.2%). Republican House incumbent Don Bacon saw the same pattern play out in his race, receiving 170,865 votes (50.7%) to Democrat Kara Eastman’s 155,734 (46.2%).

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Caption: Nebraskans voted for Republican Senate and House of Representatives races. Graphic by Brent Bartels.

Bryan Stadle, a self-proclaimed conservative voter from Omaha, found himself part of that larger, specific turnout pattern as he voted Biden-Sasse-Bacon down the ballot.

“I voted for Joe Biden, not because Joe was an outstanding candidate by any means, but because I just thought Donald Trump had the potential to be far more damaging in the next four years to the conservative movement, and the fabric of the nation as a whole,” Stadle said. 

Ultimately, Stadle voted for Biden, because he felt it was the better choice for the long-term future of the conservative movement.

Stadle added that he’s most excited for normalcy, and the bipartisan work between Biden and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

“I think the policy compromises are worth the lowering of the political and partisan temperature, something I believe Biden will be somewhat effective at accomplishing,” he said. 

Though, many like Stadle are excited for the future, some Biden supporters still have some concerns about his presidency.

“He’s just a man. We didn’t elect a messiah. He has a lot of work ahead of him, much of it repairing what Trump has broken these last four years,” Bower said. “No matter who hard he works and how well he performs, we’re still going to face huge problems as a country.”

Becerra said less divisiveness and more equality are important to Biden’s future success.

“I think America in general needs to be repaired, the people need to come together to support our government rather than picking and choosing sides,” she said. “If he can enforce this idea and create an equal or more equal America then he’ll gain more support for the great ideas he has for America’s future.”

For more on the story, check out the audio feature here and listen to voters talking about their experiences and how they feel looking to the future.