Whether horrified or galvanized by Donald Trump’s rhetoric, the U.S. election saw a motivated — and divided — nation. Voters who wanted to “Make America Great Again” came out in droves to the polls, hoping to beat Joe Biden's message of unity. And while they were ultimately unsuccessful, we can learn a lot from looking at who showed up to vote.
This election had more voters than ever before: Two-thirds of eligible Americans turned out to vote in 2020, with nearly 160 million voters casting ballots — 22 million more than in 2016, and the highest proportion of Americans exercising their right to vote since 1900. At the time of publication, Biden has received over 79.3 million votes, while Trump has gotten nearly 73.5 million. While a motivated Democratic Party expected to see a huge surge in votes, what was perhaps most surprising was the additional 10.1 million people who voted for Trump this year than in 2016. After Trump completely mishandled a global pandemic, spewed daily nonsense on Twitter, and literally caged children, who exactly were these 10 million new voters choosing Trump to continue leading the country?
According to an analysis by the New York Times, Trump picked up votes in Appalachia, the Southern portion of the Piedmont region, rural Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, and more agrarian sections of the Midwest. “The president made significant inroads with critical nonwhite swaths of the electorate while also growing his share of rural white voters,” Ken Spain, a Republican strategist, told the Times.
White working-class voters, long the stronghold of Trump’s base, increased their support — thanks in part to a voter turnout drive that the Trump team quietly worked on for years. Trump also received the highest share of non-white votes won by a Republican candidate in 60 years. In South Florida, Trump received 200,000 more votes than he had in 2016, something likely due to Trump’s rhetoric about the Democrats being socialists, which did not play well with the large number of Cuban Americans in the county, many of whom left Cuba under Fidel Castro’s socialist government. In some predominantly-Hispanic counties in Texas, Trump also picked up support.
Many experts have expressed surprise at the increasing support for Trump in Latinx communities, especially considering Trump’s hardline anti-immigration policies and racist rhetoric, but that analysis is based on characterizing the Latinx community as a monolith — which it is not. It is a racially and ethnically diverse population of people. White Cubans, for example, have at times failed to support immigration reform because they were able to migrate to the U.S. under different conditions than people coming from South and Central America. Even still, the fact that more than one-third of Latinx people voted for Trump shows that the stereotype that Cubans vote Republican and most other Latinx people vote Democrat is a false and oversimplified binary.
Though the election is over, the party line battle is still alive: the Million MAGA March, the Republicans' refusal to recognize Biden as President-elect, and the threats of violence from Trump supporters over vote-counting make that clear. Some people are even predicting that a 2020 loss sets Republicans up for a 2024 comeback. But everything could change in four years. If Democrats want to beat the GOP, strategists say they're going to have to work on their messaging and lean into the progressive politics that are winning them seats.
"Unfortunately, we have a lot of good candidates who their message gets overshadowed by millions of dollars of the Republican message that just literally doesn't even use their own words," Rep. Tony Cardenas of California, who is running to lead the DCCC, told NPR. "And those are the kinds of tactics that we're having to combat."