WASHINGTON (AP) - Americans sorted themselves into two distinct camps in the 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.
The candidates' supporters fell into familiar coalitions, with only a few groups showing significant numbers of swing voters. The divisions reflected a persistent polarization that appeared to be driven in part by voters' strong feelings about the provocative president. About two-thirds of all voters said their decision was about Trump — either for or against.
Biden amassed a sizable and diverse coalition of young, women, college-educated, urban and Black voters, groups that powered his party's 2018 midterm victories. 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 anchored 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, with election officials continuing 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 the nation was 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 hurt by nearly 11 million job losses as momentum has faded for a full and quick recovery. Twenty-eight percent of voters nationally ranked the economy as the top priority.
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 said the economy cannot return to its former strength so long as the coronavirus persists. 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 echoed his optimism. 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 welcomed how Trump has transformed the government.
Nearly three-quarters of U.S. voters were white and 55% of them backed Trump. The president secured 81% of white evangelical Christians. About half of men voted for him. Trump won 60% of voters living in small towns and rural areas.
Nationwide, nearly 57% of college graduates backed Biden. So did 55% of women. And 55% of voters under the age of 45. He won 65% of urban voters and 54% of suburbanites.
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Biden voters were 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.
Voters in key battleground states shared anxieties about the virus and its spread. The Associated Press declared Biden the winner in Wisconsin, where 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 that hurts the economy.
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. The AP on Wednesday declared Biden the winner in Michigan. 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. His campaign has announced that it will sue to stop the vote counts in Michigan and Pennsylvania.
The survey found that 3 in 10 voters were doubtful that their votes would be accurately counted. Concerns about voting were somewhat higher in Pennsylvania, where 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.