Claudia Deane and John Gramlich, Pew Research Center, November 6, 2020
Even before all the ballots are tallied, Americans appear to have voted in the 2020 presidential election at their highest rate in 120 years. Democrat Joe Biden has amassed more than 74 million votes as of Nov. 6, while Republican Donald Trump has received nearly 70 million – already the most and second-most in U.S. history.
But if one early takeaway from the election is historic voter participation, another may be the continuing political polarization that has come to define the United States. Democrats and Republicans both could walk away from the election with cause for disappointment, and divided government in Washington is a distinct possibility.
It isn’t just Washington that will be divided. The elected officials who take the oath of office in January will be representing two broad coalitions of voters who are deeply distrustful of one another and who fundamentally disagree over policies, plans and even the very problems that face the country today.
The Biden and Trump coalitions also fundamentally differ over racial inequality and law enforcement – key issues in a year that saw nationwide protests following the killing of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis. Around three-quarters of registered voters who support Biden (76%) said in the summer that racial and ethnic inequality would be very important to their vote; just 24% of Trump supporters agreed. Conversely, around three-quarters of Trump voters (74%) said the issue of violent crime was very important to them, compared with fewer than half of Biden voters (46%).
The two sides are miles apart when it comes to more general questions about race, too. In a summer survey, 74% of Biden voters said “it is a lot more difficult” to be a Black person in this country than to be a White person – a view shared by only 9% of Trump voters. And while 59% of Biden voters said White people benefit a “great deal” from advantages in society that Black people do not have, only 5% of Trump voters agreed. Indeed, Biden and Trump voters were far more divided over these questions than Hillary Clinton and Trump voters were in 2016.
Underlying the many policy disagreements between Biden and Trump voters is a more personal feeling of distrust and disillusionment that could make compromise all the more difficult, particularly in the wake of a contested presidential election.
Overwhelming majorities of both Biden and Trump supporters said in October that a victory by the other candidate would lead to lasting harm to the nation. Nine-in-ten Biden voters said this about the prospect of a Trump victory, and 89% of Trump voters said it about the prospect of a Biden win. And around eight-in-ten in both camps said Biden and Trump supporters not only disagree over politics and policies, but that they also disagree over core American values and goals.