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A black woman with brown and red dreads smiles with her daughter on some stairs

As the clouds of uncertainty over the United States election result cleared and Joe Biden was declared the winner, people like Allana Williams Baldwin could feel just how powerful their vote had been.

She had never voted before in a presidential election and wanted to be a vote for change.

Mr Biden’s campaign had a clear mission to get out the vote in Rust Belt states like Michigan.

Donald Trump won Michigan by 11,000 votes in 2016, so if more people in the largely Democratic areas showed up for the Biden ticket, the statewide tally could edge in his favour.

As the election was called for Mr Biden, cars on the streets of Detroit sounded their horns in celebration. There was no blue wave, but Mr Biden had done enough.

“I felt so powerful. It felt like my vote really mattered,” Ms Williams Baldwin said.

“A lot of my friends — we were all texting each other [asking] ‘did you vote’, keeping each other accountable.”

Ms Williams Baldwin is a mum of three and a customer service worker. She’s a person of faith and, as she says, has watched Mr Trump disrespect the presidency.

She’s still angry he was ever elected and laments not getting organised and registering in time to vote for Hillary Clinton in 2016.

That won’t happen again.

“I was so excited … in the basement screaming in the Zoom meeting. My supervisor is like ‘what’s going on’. I said ‘we just went blue,” Ms Williams Baldwin said.

“For years and years to come you’re going to see a better turnout because we are realising that our vote really matters and if we are fed up with something, we have the right to change it.”

Talking about the future with Mr Biden as president, she looks to the sky and says: “Thank you, lord.”

‘What time is it? Vote time’

A black main with a moustache and wearing a grey jacket sits in a church pew smiling.

Charles W Ellis from north west Detroit went door-to-door canvassing ahead of the election.

There was a grassroots “ground game” among local leaders in Michigan, urging people to make their voice heard.

One of the people on the ground in Detroit was bishop of the Greater Grace Church in the city’s north west, Charles W Ellis.

“I was going to the liquor stores, I was going to the gas stations where people are. And I would gather everybody’s attention in the liquor store [and say] ‘listen up everybody’,” he said.

“Everybody knows who I am because I frequent all the time.”

He would tell them: “You can vote, no waiting.” And in response he would hear: “Rev, Rev, Rev, you know I’m gonna vote.”

“I’m not talking about what you gonna do, I’m saying you can do it right now,” Mr Ellis said.

During the campaign, Mr Ellis walked through his neighbourhood in a parade designed to get out the vote, chanting: “What time is it? Vote time.”

North of Detroit, the town of Flint is another blue spot.

Mr Biden made a major campaign stop in Flint just days before the election and he brought former president Barack Obama with him.

A woman with grey hair and wearing an I voted badge smiles as she stares at the camera.

Linda Hoff worked to make sure voters knew their rights ahead of the election.

Linda Hoff has been working to get out the vote in Flint for 10 years as part of the Women’s Voting League.

“People say ‘but I’m only one person’ and I say ‘you are, but collectively you are one that makes a movement,'” she said.

Like Mr Ellis, she said she wanted “people to understand that every vote counts”.

Associate professor at the school of information at the University of Michigan, Libby Hemphill, said the Democratic Party started this fight for a margin in Michigan four years ago.

“I think Democrats understand turnout in 2016 in Michigan was part of the problem for candidate Clinton and so voter turnout efforts in Michigan started in 2016 for the 2020 election,” she said.

“There’s been a very strong ground game.”

Just how much of the record voter turnout translated to Democrat votes in Rust Belt states is still being debated.

Michigan did see an all-time high of 5.5 million people casting a vote, but experts said data showed the Republicans benefited from that too, which led to a very close result.

Joe Biden’s victory as narrow as Hillary Clinton’s loss

A line of buildings, one with Black Lives Matter written at the front, alongside a street.

Voter turnout in Detroit helped turn Michigan blue.

After the 2016 election there was a lot of talk about how Hillary Clinton had won the popular vote, but lost the all-important electoral college.

In 2016, Mr Trump won Michigan by about 11,000 votes, Wisconsin by nearly 23,000 votes and Pennsylvania by about 44,000 votes.

So, no more than 78,000 voters handed Mr Trump all three states and the election-deciding 46 electoral college votes they are worth.

Director of the Elections Research Centre and professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin, Barry Burden, said Mr Biden did just enough.

“It looks like it’s not very different from Clinton’s coalition. She narrowly lost and he narrowly won,” he said.

“It’s a peculiar feature of the electoral college that these small wins in some key states really added up in the electoral college.”

The blue wall has been rebuilt, but it may not be all that strong.

With 98 per cent of the vote counted across these three key Mid-western states, the 2020 breakdown looked like this:

  • Michigan — Biden ahead by 148,600 votes
  • Wisconsin — Biden ahead by 20,500 votes
  • Pennsylvania — Biden ahead by 53,800 votes

Associate professor of political science from Temple University in Pennsylvania, Michael Hagen, said results were close because voters turned out for Mr Trump too.

“There was a lot of hope on the Democratic side that high turnout would be a big boon to the Democratic presidential candidate and of course he won, so it’s hard to argue that it wasn’t, but Trump’s vote totals in a lot of areas exceeded 2016 by a wider margin than Biden’s did as compared to Clinton,” he said.

“There was a lot of enthusiasm on the Republican side as well as on the Democratic side.”

Two cars wait at traffic lights on a street as smoke blows by against a city backdrop.

Detroit, Michigan has always been a blue city.

Biden built a coalition of voters

Professor Burden said Mr Biden was able to build a “complicated coalition of different groups” across the Rust Belt region to secure the narrow win.

“Biden appears to have done very well among young voters, he did very well among voters of colour. That’s been a traditional pattern for Democrats … and those held up in terms of support,” he said.

“In college towns it looks like Biden did better than Clinton did and it looks like turnout was pretty robust in those areas.

Professor Burden said the Biden campaign was able to stop Trump “running up the score in the suburbs”.

He said the win in the Rust Belt was “mainly the result of a slight shift in the white vote in the direction of the Democrats, especially educated whites, people who have college degrees or more and predominantly in the suburbs”.

“It was not a large shift, but it was significant enough to flip the result in all three states.”

As predicted, women in suburban areas moved away from the 45th president.

“Suburban white college-educated women were not, in the aggregate, great supporters of Trump four years ago, but they are dramatically less so in 2020,” Mr Hagen said.

“That’s the group that was the most responsive in a negative way to the past four years.”

Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania are likely to remain battleground states.

“It’s a very narrow victory. It’s not as though there was a lot of change from 2016, it was incremental change from four years ago,” Professor Burden said.

“They’re very competitive. They’re likely to get attention from both campaigns four years from now and, I think, have a real potential of swinging in either direction in the future.”

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