WASHINGTON (AP) — Americans sorted themselves into two distinct camps of voters in Tuesday’s presidential election, exposing the clear and entrenched partisan divisions that separate voters by gender, class and race.
Despite a once-in-a-century pandemic and a weakened economy, some 76% of U.S. voters said they knew all along who they would support — and they constituted the bulk of the supporters for both President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, according to AP VoteCast, an expansive survey of the voters nationwide. Trump weighed heavily on voters’ minds as they made their choice — two-thirds said their decision was driven by their opinion of the untraditional president, either for or against.
The candidates’ supporters fell into familiar coalitions, with only a few groups showing significant numbers of swing voters. Biden amassed a sizable and diverse coalition of young, women, college-educated, urban and Black voters. Some 38% of his support came from voters of color.
Trump, meanwhile, marshaled his overwhelmingly white and rural supporters to turn out voters in the places that powered his victory four years ago. He held on to 62% of white voters without a college degree, despite Biden’s hopes of peeling off large numbers of them. And in some competitive states, like Nevada and Florida, Trump ate away at Biden’s support among Latinos.
The candidates were locked in a close and unsettled race Wednesday, as election officials continued to count votes in key battlegrounds. Turnout for both parties appeared to be strong as voters expressed anxiety about the country’s future. Six in 10 voters — including most Biden voters and about a quarter of Trump voters — said they think things in the country are on the wrong track.
AP VoteCast is a nationwide survey of more than 133,000 voters and nonvoters conducted for The Associated Press by NORC at the University of Chicago.
The two competing coalitions aligned behind different priorities for the country, and had two diverging views on which candidate could better address those worries. More voters — both nationwide and in key battlegrounds — said the former vice president would be better able to handle the coronavirus pandemic, the top concern for 41% of voters.
They were voters like Mariah Foster, a 20-year-old server in a restaurant in Kenosha, Wisconsin, who cast her ballot for Biden. Foster said she believed Trump “isn’t doing much” to contain the spread of a virus that has claimed more than 230,000 American lives. “We’re like nine months into COVID and it’s still getting worse, not getting better.”
But Trump bested Biden on the question of who could better rebuild an economy besieged by nearly 11 million job losses and small businesses staring down a bleak winter. Twenty-eight percent of voters nationally ranked the economy as the most pressing issue.
Scott Cross, 60, a draftsman from Nashville, Tennessee, voted for Trump and said the main issue for him was “the economy, the economy, the economy.”
“I can’t think of a better guy, if the economy is tanking, than to have him in there,” he said.
The contrast in top concerns drove much of the campaign. Biden warned that the economy can never truly heal unless the coronavirus is first contained and businesses can fully reopen. Trump argued that the economy should not be a casualty of the disease and maintained, without evidence, that the nation was “rounding the turn.”
Despite rising virus cases across the country, Trump voters largely embraced that view. About 8 in 10 said their vote was in support of him, not in opposition to Biden. They continued to clamor for a shake-up of the political system and said they were pleased with the way Trump has changed the way things work in Washington.
A majority of Biden voters, however, described themselves as angry with the way the federal government was working.
Biden voters were also far more concerned about racism in the U.S., after a year of rising tensions, peaceful demonstrations and sometimes-violent clashes over racial justice. Nearly all Biden voters called racism a serious problem in U.S. society and in policing, including about 7 in 10 who called it “very” serious.
Trump’s campaign tried to make the handling of the economy a top selling point for his reelection, an uphill battle as unemployment spiked to double digits this spring. A comeback has recently showed signs of stalling as federal aid lapsed because the Trump administration and House Democrats could not reach a compromise. Only about 4 in 10 voters said the economy was good or excellent, with the rest describing conditions as not so good or poor.
Voters in key battleground states shared anxieties about the virus and its spread. In Wisconsin, which saw an October spike in cases, 45% of voters said the pandemic was the top issue facing the country, and 57% said it was not under control. About two-thirds said the government should prioritize stopping its spread even if it means economic pain. AP declared Biden the winner in the state on Wednesday.
About half of Wisconsin voters said that Biden would do a superior job combating the virus, roughly the same as in Michigan and Pennsylvania, two other battleground states. Trump had an edge in stewarding the economy, with roughly half of voters in these states saying he would do better than Biden.
Trump has sought to sow doubt about the new voting systems and the legitimacy of the count, and claimed without evidence that some voters would cheat. The survey found about 3 in 10 expressing doubts that their votes would be accurately counted.
Concerns about voting were somewhat higher in Pennsylvania, another key state in the election, compared with other states: 36% were not confident the vote count would be accurate.
AP VoteCast is a survey of the American electorate conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago for Fox News, NPR, PBS NewsHour, Univision News, USA Today Network, The Wall Street Journal and The Associated Press. The survey of 110,485 voters was conducted for eight days, concluding as polls closed. Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish. The survey combines a random sample of registered voters drawn from state voter files; self-identified registered voters using NORC’s probability based AmeriSpeak panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population; and self-identified registered voters selected from nonprobability online panels. The margin of sampling error for voters is estimated to be plus or minus 0.4 percentage points. Find more details about AP VoteCast’s methodology at https://ap.org/votecast.
AP staffer Doug Glass contributed to this report from Kenosa, Wisconsin, and AP staffer Kristin Hall contributed to this report from Nashville, Tennessee.
For AP’s complete coverage of the U.S. presidential elections: https://apnews.com/hub/election-2020