An Unprecedented Election—and Its Bitter Aftermath—Seen from Across the Country

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In many ways the campaign for the White House in 2020 began the instant Donald Trump took the stage early on the morning of Nov. 9, 2016 to announce he had won the presidency. Almost from that instant, we began to ask whether the most untraditional and divisive president of the modern era could win again.

Over the course of four years — through the ordeals of the Russian investigation, impeachment, Supreme Court nominations, primary elections, police killings and a summer of protest, and finally a once-in-a-century pandemic — POLITICO Magazine dispatched writers across the country, seeking clues to the depth and durability of Trump’s support. We went to red pockets in blue states and blue enclaves in red states. We sought out suburban women and Venezuelan immigrants, young Black families in the South and older white couples in the Midwest. In a moment of intense and seemingly permanent partisanship, we asked about why they had made the choices they did and what, if anything, might persuade them to change their minds.

Their stories provided real insight about the shifting contours of support for Trump, and, the factors that ultimately tipped the election in Joe Biden’s favor. In the aftermath of the record-setting turnout, as the counting dragged on for several tense days and the president insisted the election had been rigged against him, we reached out to a sampling of the people whose views had informed our coverage along the way. We wanted to know what this unprecedented election looked like after months (even years) of anticipation. We have paired quotes that appeared in POLITICO stories over the past four years with fresh interviews done since Election Day. We are still a deeply divided nation, as you will see, but it’s not hard to detect on both sides a stubborn hopefulness of better times ahead.

The parents of children who were born on or around the day Donald Trump was first elected president don’t fall into any one political category. But none of them have remained indifferent to the raging debate surrounding his presidency.


Marisa Erickson

40, Centereach, N.Y.

She and her husband, Jimmy, waited in line outside for one hour to cast their votes for Trump on Election Day. Jimmy voted for Trump in 2016. Marisa did not vote.


Justine and Adam Treat

Veazie, Maine

Justine, a Republican, voted for Trump in 2016 and Adam, an independent, voted for Libertarian Gary Johnson. This time both of them voted for Biden.


Jamila and Argentino Carver

Greensboro, N.C.

Jamila and Argentino, who goes by AJ, voted for Biden. Because of their strong views about racism and law enforcement, they were initially hesitant about Kamala Harris’ record as a prosecutor but they appreciated her historic spot on the presidential ticket.

Vigo County, Indiana, was long known as a bellwether in presidential elections. Its predominantly conservative voters were thrilled to have helped send Trump to the White House four years ago. Their streak is broken but not their support for the outgoing president.

Jane Smith

Vigo County, Ind.

The Hispanic vote in Florida was one of the deciding factors in keeping that key swing state in Trump’s column. Venezuelan voters, strongly influenced by their shared history living under dictators in their home country, responded to Trump’s criticism of Biden as a socialist. Some though detected an authoritarian streak in Trump himself.

Diego Scharifker

30, Fairfax, Va.

Andreina Kissane

45, Miami, Fla.

The night of the election in 2016 did not go as expected for many people around the country. Among the freaked-out was Amy Lee, a Hillary Clinton canvasser in Dayton, Ohio who had been planning to celebrate Clinton’s win with some of her fellow Democrat operatives. A POLITICO reporter called her just before 10 p.m. when a series of states were being called for Trump.

Amy Lee

Dayton, Ohio

The mid-term elections in 2018 were a moment to assess the extent of Trump’s sway over his party and also the power of the Democratic resistance. One of the politicians who was caught in the middle was Joe Manchin, the long-time Democratic senator from a state that was all-in for Trump.

Rusty Williams

Peach Creek, W. Va.

For the half of the electorate who knew they would never vote for Donald Trump the paramount question was which of the many Democratic contenders would present the most formidable opposition. Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Ind., was a surprisingly strong contender. Biden, at least for a time, seemed less attractive.

John Dabrowski

Galivants Ferry, S.C.

The summer was dominated by protests over the numerous killings of Black people by police officers. The protests were mostly peaceful but Trump fixated on rioters to stoke fears of spreading crime. His target audience were women in the suburbs.

Susan Sandler

Cornelius. N.C.

Republican politicians like Maine’s Senator Susan Collins found it increasingly difficult to separate themselves from an increasingly unpopular president. Supreme Court nominations became a lightning rod for criticism and a test of Collins’ reputation as an independent lawmaker.


Cheryl Staples

Skowhegan, Maine


Dick Enright

Skowhegan, Maine


Les Fossel

Alna, Maine

Women played a starring role in handicapping of races during the 2020 cycle. Nowhere were they more energized than in Maine, as they debated whether to return Collins to a fifth term.

Hope Eye

Brewer, Maine

The delegates who represented their states at the Republican National Convention had no doubts about their support for the president and they haven’t doubted his unsubstantiated allegations of fraud. But they’re willing to accept a Biden presidency.

Don Huizenga

Anoka, Minn.

Barbara Bowie-Whitman

Alexandria, Va.

Gary Grisafi

Philadelphia, Pa.

Kenneth Reid

Norfolk, Va.

Michael Albrecht

Bothell, Wash.

It took a while, but the president’s relentless divisiveness finally began to wear on people who had hoped in 2016 when they first voted for him that he might grow into the job. Exhausted, they turned to the alternative.


Grahm Peschel

Omaha, Neb.


Elaine Dlouhy

Lincoln, Neb.


Jacob Rissler

Chadron, Neb.

Pat Borchers

Omaha, Neb.


Robert Joseph

Valentine, Neb.

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