Following Donald Trump’s shocking presidential victory in 2016, there was no shortage of post-mortems looking at why his victory came as such a surprise.
One, written by the New York Times’ public editor, Liz Spayd, the day after the election, said, “As The Times begins a period of self-reflection, I hope its editors will think hard about the half of America the paper too seldom covers.”
That half of the US – the 63 million who voted for Trump in 2016 – stunned the world again in 2020, after months of polling and analysis suggested not only a resounding defeat for Trump, but also for Republicans in the US Senate and House.
We still don’t know if Trump will be handed a second term in the White House, but we do know that he shattered his 2016 vote total, receiving at least seven million more votes. Regardless of whether Trump wins or loses, these questions are raised: Did those who help shape the political narrative in the US “think hard” about that half of the US that’s seldom covered?
This year was dominated by a once-in-a-century pandemic, Trump’s response to it and the vocal debate about how to deal with the pandemic, combined with a summer marked by incidents of police brutality that sparked violent protests in US cities.
Amid this narrative arose a sentiment that Trump was divisive and missing the moment. Political polling regularly showed majorities of Americans disapproving of Trump’s overall job performance and his handling of the year’s crises. And, in turn, those polls showed him trailing Joe Biden significantly in the presidential race and they showed incumbent Senate Republicans struggling against their Democratic opponents.
Yet, American voters didn’t stick to the script that Election Day would be a Republican washout. Republican political consultant Frank Luntz says that is because pollsters simply did not learn the lessons of 2016.
“They should’ve known better because they got it wrong four years ago,” Luntz told Fox News Thursday.
Who are the people that voted for Trump this year, flying in the face of those pre-election narratives set about the American electorate? Compared with 2016, for the most part, the cross-section of Americans that voted for him was quite similar and there are more of them.
This year, nearly three-quarters (74 percent) of US voters were white and 55 percent of them backed Trump, according to the Associated Press’ VoteCast post-election survey. About half of men (52 percent) voted for him. Trump won 60 percent of voters living in small towns and rural areas.
Biden’s coalition consisted of college graduates (he won 57 percent of them), women (Biden won 55 percent). And he won 55 percent of voters under the age of 45, 65 percent of urban voters and 54 percent of suburbanites.
As for the so-called 206 “pivot counties” that voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 but supported Trump in 2016, Trump carried 174 of them this year. Biden won just 20, while the remainder are still counting votes, according to Ballotpedia.
Much has been written about the political and cultural divisions in the US: elite vs working class, religious vs non-worshippers, urban vs suburban. But Trump and his supporters raise serious questions about whether one side’s concerns and interests are given too much focus by powerful people in Washington, New York and Hollywood, accusing them of creating narratives that, while seemingly sensical among the so-called “elite”, are viewed as nonsensical among a large swath of Americans.
It is Trump voters – right-wingers, but also those in middle America, many of whom voted for Barack Obama but have since grown disillusioned with the Democratic Party – who continue to say they feel left behind and ignored economically and culturally, something that came into plain view after Trump’s election in 2016. But that was another lesson that was seemingly forgotten in the run-up to Election Day this year.
“[T]hey seem to forget that there’s the rest of the world out here, the rest of the country,” said Deana Wagner from Valley County, Idaho, about the US government in Washington, DC, and why she planned to vote for Donald Trump.
It is voters like Wagner that Democrats, and those who suggested that Trump and the Republican Party were completely out of touch with Americans, misunderstood yet again, leading to a much closer presidential election than originally anticipated and the unpredicted success of Republicans running for the House and Senate.
Whether Trump wins or loses, the 70 million voters – and counting – who supported him are again sending a clear and loud signal that they are not going away.