Record-Setting Voting and Polarized Voters
The 2020 Presidential election was monumental and enlightening in many ways. For one, the US saw an incredible increase in voter participation and citizen engagement: Biden’s 79 million votes and Trump’s 73 million votes are, respectively, the first and second most votes for a candidate in US history. With 66.4% of eligible voters turning out to the polls, both candidates beat Obama’s 69,498,516 votes in 2008, when the 44th President faced off against the late John McCain, a Republican senator from Arizona. This increase is due, in large part, to the efforts of grassroots organizers in battleground states (Stacey Abrams, and her organizations Fair Fight and the New Georgia Project, helped to register 800,000 new voters) and to the ease of casting a ballot due to the prevalence of early and absentee voting. The incredible results achieved by grassroots organizers and voting rights organizations are even more impressive when large-scale voter suppression schemes, such as President Trump and postmaster general Louis DeJoy’s push to back up mail-in ballots by defunding the USPS, are taken into account.
Sadly, the other great takeaway is the extent and insidious nature of America’s growing political (and ideological) polarization. With greater political engagement comes greater investment in results: 77% of registered voters think that 2020’s presidential election matters more than previous elections, up six percentage points from 2016’s responses. And rightly so, as issues ranging from climate change policy, racial inequality, COVID-19 response, housing, police brutality, and education are heavily affected by the outcome of national and local elections. However, not all candidates and voters share the same beliefs regarding the best way to move forward and heal America, with 74% of Biden voters saying that “it is a lot more difficult” to be a Black person in this country than to be a White person, while only 9% of Trump voters say the same. This polarization is demonstrated again in attitudes towards climate change: according to Pew Research Center data, 68% of Biden voters indicated that climate change would be very important to their vote, while, for Trump voters, climate change ranked last in importance out of 12 issues addressed, with only 11% naming it as a key factor in their vote. So, while voters agree that the outcome of the election is important, the similarities seem to start and end there.
Despite the voter coalitions’ fundamentally different views on key issues, American voters do have some common ground: 84% of Trump voters and 66% of Biden voters reported that the economy would be a top voting issue for them. Although the two groups differ in their approaches to addressing America’s economic crisis (Republicans are evenly split between wanting to open businesses, regardless of COVID-19 cases, and reducing infection rates before reopening, while 94% of Democrats prefer the latter), this shred of unity is what President-elect Joe Biden must cling to as he appeals to both sides of the political divide: as he said in his first post-victory speech, “I will work to be a president who seeks not to divide but unify. I won’t see red states and blue states, I will always see the United States.” Only time will tell if that unification is possible in what appears to be a deeply torn nation.