Joe Biden’s presidential victory came as a deeply divided nation voted for change. Facing a pandemic, economic downturn, and racial reckoning, voters were frustrated with the way the government is functioning and anxious for a more active federal role.
Biden made notable improvements on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 margins in the suburbs and with seniors. He also modestly improved on Clinton’s numbers among White voters overall, thanks largely to outsized support from college-educated White women.
Donald Trump received strong support from his base, as anticipated. Additionally, he made gains among Hispanic voters, particularly in some key swing states. These improvements, however, were not enough to put him over the top again.
For many voters, Biden was able to successfully position himself as a leader capable of uniting a fractured country. Trump, on the other hand, continued to rely on his persona as the "disruptor-in-chief," appealing to voters who appreciated his ability to shake up politics and wanted him to continue the job. In the end, the appeal for unity won the day.
Preliminary data from the Fox News voter analysis, a survey of more than 110,000 voters nationwide, shed light on the key themes underlying the election and the demographics of each candidate’s support.
Roughly 100 million votes were cast before Election Day, shattering previous records – and turnout far exceeded the 135 million votes cast in 2016. Fully 15% of voters who cast a ballot this year said they did not vote four years ago.
Trump won among those who cast their votes on Election Day by 32 points. Those who voted early in-person went narrowly for the president (Trump +5). But mail-in votes, which could not be counted until after the Election Day votes were processed in several key states, went heavily for Biden (+36).
Voters divided sharply by gender, education and type of community. Women backed Biden by 11 percentage points, while men backed the president by 6 points. College graduates went for Biden (+16 points), noncollege voters went for Trump (+4 points). Biden won city dwellers (+32 points), while Trump won rural areas (+22 points).
Biden’s strongest groups included those that typically tilt heavily Democratic, including Black voters, liberals, urban residents and voters under age 30.
Biden won young voters by 25 points, a worse performance than Hillary Clinton’s 30-point 2016 margin. (References to 2016 data throughout this article are based on Pew Research Center’s validated voter data.)
The Democrat won 48% of the vote from seniors, a crucial demographic group because they reliably show up to the polls. Closing the gap among seniors – a group that went for Trump by 9 points four years ago – was a crucial part of Biden’s success.
Even more striking was Biden’s performance in the suburbs, where he won by 10 points (54-44%), a dramatic change from Trump’s 2-point edge in 2016. Biden’s success was driven by suburban women (+19 points).
The former vice president won college-educated Whites by 6 points and college-educated White women by 20 points. Trump had a major advantage with noncollege Whites (+25 points), and especially with noncollege White men (+31 points).
Overall, White voters went for Trump by 12 points, a bit worse than his 15-point win with the group in 2016.
Biden’s slight gain among White voters more than offset Trump’s improvement among Hispanics. The president garnered 35% of the Hispanic vote, up from 28% in 2016.
Overall, Trump’s strongest groups included White evangelical Christians, rural voters, Whites without a college degree and conservatives.
Despite Trump’s attempts to connect Biden with the far-left wing of the Democratic party, self-described moderates voted for Biden by a wide margin.
The president won military households (+16 points) and gun-owner households (+22 points) while Biden had an advantage among union households (+15 points).
Most Republicans backed Trump, but a meaningful number (8%) defected to Biden. Fewer Democrats (4%) pulled the lever – or, in this day and age, sealed the envelope – for Trump.
Biden will be the country’s second Catholic president – but he lost White Catholic voters by 15 points.
Views of the candidates
Biden successfully positioned himself as a unity candidate in a time of turmoil and division. A staggering 78% said it was very important for the next president to bring the country together. These voters backed Biden by 18 points.
Two-thirds (67%) also said it was very important for the next president to look out for people like them. Biden won these voters by 6 points.
Fewer voters responded to Trump’s brand as a political outsider willing to disrupt the system. Four in 10 (41%) wanted the next president to shake up the political system; they went for Trump by 19 points.
Similarly, 41% said Trump has brought positive change to Washington – but nearly half said he’s changed politics for the worse.
Voters who said Trump had not changed the way Washington works may have been hoping he would further "drain the swamp" – they backed the president by 21 points.
Overall, voters looked unfavorably on the job Trump has done as president: 47% approved, 53% disapproved.
Most voters, though, were ready for a change. Six in 10 (60%) felt the country is on the wrong track. Even more were either dissatisfied (38%) or downright angry (33%) about the way the federal government is working. And a 58% majority believed the government should be doing more to solve the country’s problems.
On personal traits, a majority gave Biden positive marks. Voters were divided on whether he was honest and trustworthy (50%) or a strong leader (47%) – but saw him as someone who stands up for what he believes (63%) and cares about "people like you" (54%).
Trump’s marks on honesty (40%) and empathy (45%) were lower. Half of voters saw him as a strong leader (51%) and seven in 10 as someone who stands up for what he believes (72%).
Throughout the campaign – and particularly in the final two weeks – Trump accused Biden of improperly profiting from the vice presidency. Voters were not convinced. More said corruption would be a major problem if Trump were reelected (51%) than thought it would be an issue under a Biden administration (45%).
Trump also attacked Biden’s mental capacity, and 49% felt Biden lacked the necessary mental fitness for the presidency –the exact same number had doubts about Trump’s mental capacity (49%).
Both candidates accused each other of being too cozy with extremist groups, but voters were much more likely to see this as an issue with Trump.
Despite the relentless negativity, voters had a net positive view of Biden: 50% viewed him favorably and 48% negatively. Trump’s favorability, on the other hand, was under water by 7 points (46% favorable vs. 53% unfavorable).
By a wide margin, Trump supporters said their vote was mostly cast in favor of the president (79%) rather than against Biden (21%). Biden voters were split: 49% described their vote as for Biden versus 51% as against Trump.
Views on the issues
Overall, voters said the most important issues facing the country were the pandemic and the economy, followed distantly by health care and racism.
With a third wave of coronavirus infections sweeping across the country, 39% of voters said the federal response to the pandemic was the single most important factor to their vote. These voters backed Biden, 78-21%.
Three in 10 (28%) said the economy was the single most important factor to their votes, and they broke for Trump by a narrower 57-41%.
The 18% who focused primarily on Supreme Court nominations went narrowly for Biden by 7 points, as did the 19% who prioritized protests over police violence (+2 points).
Seven in 10 said the pandemic had affected them personally, whether because they lost a family member or close friend (19%), were hurt financially (38%), or missed out on a major life event like a wedding or funeral (52%).
Those personally affected by the pandemic in at least one of these ways backed Biden (+12 points), while those who had not been affected broke for Trump (+13 points).
Trump was on the wrong side of public opinion on several issues related to the pandemic. Despite his assertion that the country is turning the corner on the pandemic, just 19% felt the virus is completely or mostly under control. A 51% majority believed it is not under control at all.
Most voters (77%) favored a national mask mandate, including 95% of Biden voters and 58% of Trump supporters.
And despite Trump’s arguments against lockdowns on economic grounds, voters were also more likely to prioritize limiting the spread of the virus over restarting the economy.
Voters who prioritized limiting the spread of coronavirus backed Biden, 77-21%. Those who emphasized economic reopening went for Trump, 12-86%.
Trump’s job rating on the pandemic (45% approve) lagged well behind that of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease Director Anthony Fauci (74% approve) and voters’ assessment of their states' governors (62%). Voters believed Biden would do a better job handling the pandemic by 9 points.
In a sign of the economic damage caused by the pandemic, nearly six in 10 voters rated economic conditions as fair or poor. This stands in sharp contrast to evaluations during the midterm elections in 2018, when two-thirds rated the economy positively.
Voters believed Trump would do a better job handling the economy, by about the same margin as Biden’s edge on the pandemic.
For much of the campaign, Biden sought to connect climate policy to jobs and the economy, arguing in part for large-scale government spending on renewable energy. More than two-thirds favored the idea.
Moreover, with massive wildfires scorching the western U.S. and a record number of hurricanes battering the Gulf Coast, a majority of voters (70% concerned, including 44% very concerned) were worried about the effects of climate change. Biden won these voters by 40 points, while Trump won those who were not concerned by 82 points.
On health care, voters liked Biden’s public-option approach, in which anyone could buy into a government-run health care plan if they wanted to (70% favor). And with the Supreme Court slated to hear a case on the Affordable Care Act on Nov. 10, slightly more voters wanted to preserve or expand the law (51%) than repeal it (49%). In 2018, slightly more, 51%, preferred repeal.
Voters also opposed a repeal of Roe v. Wade, the landmark ruling on abortion, by a 70-30 margin. Views on the broader topic of abortion were more nuanced.
Voters’ views around policing and the criminal justice system were also more complicated than the narrative throughout the campaign might suggest. Roughly seven in 10 said racism in policing (72%) and in society in general (76%) is a serious problem. A similar number believed the country’s criminal justice system needs major changes (68%, including 22% who say it needs a "complete overhaul"). At the same time, about a third said the police were too tough on crime.
A narrow majority (51%) opposed building a wall on the country’s southern border. During the 2018 midterms, 53% were against Trump’s signature immigration policy. Most voters, 71%, believed undocumented immigrants should be offered a chance to apply for legal status – up from the 70% who felt that way in 2018.
Views on the election itself
Accusations of voter fraud, voter suppression and foreign influence operations formed a core part of the campaign narrative – and contributed to hundreds of legal challenges in the run-up to the election.
One third of voters (36%) lacked confidence that ineligible voters would be prohibited from voting. Fewer (16%) lacked confidence in eligible voters being able to cast their ballots.
With pre-election reports of meddling from Russia, China, Iran and other adversaries, there was also widespread concern about foreign interference in the election.
Despite all these concerns, a wide 69% majority was confident that votes would be counted accurately.
The Fox News voter analysis is a survey of the American electorate conducted in all 50 states by NORC at the University of Chicago for Fox News and the Associated Press. The survey of about 110,000 voters and 22,000 nonvoters was conducted Oct. 26 to Nov. 3, concluding at the end of voting on Election Day. It combines interviews in English and Spanish with a probability sample of registered voters drawn from state voter files, samples of self-identified registered voters from a probability-based national panel, and samples of self-identified registered voters from opt-in online panels. Participants selected from state voter files were contacted by phone and mail and had the opportunity to take the survey by phone or online. The final results in each state are weighted to ensure results are consistent with actual voting results in that state.
Fox News’ Victoria Balara contributed to this report.