The United States holds a presidential election every four years, but it’s not just the candidates and issues that change from one campaign cycle to the next. The electorate itself is in a slow but constant state of flux, too.
So what does the 2020 electorate look like politically, demographically and religiously as the race between Republican President Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden enters its final days? To answer that question, here’s a roundup of recent Pew Research Center findings. Unless otherwise noted, all findings are based on registered voters.
Foreign policy might not be the primary issue of the 2020 presidential election campaign, but Americans have clear ideas on the various threats facing the United States. Recent Pew Research Center surveys find that Americans are especially concerned about the spread of infectious diseases and are more likely than not to blame China for its role in the current COVID-19 pandemic.
But foreign policy experts have distinctly different perspectives. A September survey of 706 international relations scholars in the U.S. as part of the College of William & Mary’s Teaching, Research and International Policy (TRIP) poll found that their assessment of the current crises facing America and the world are often at odds with those of the U.S. general public.
These experts are less concerned about terrorism, more concerned about climate change and much more positive about China’s response to the coronavirus outbreak, even as they are harshly critical of the U.S. response. However, scholars and the American people do agree that U.S. policy should work to promote human rights in China, even at the expense of economic relations.
The scholars also tended to express much less concern about various issues than people in 13 other advanced economies surveyed by Pew Research Center.
On Nov. 3, millions of Americans will trek to their local polling places to cast their ballots for the next president. That evening, after the polls close, they’ll settle down in front of their televisions to watch the returns roll in from across the country. Sometime that night or early the next morning, the networks and wire services will call the race, and Americans will know whether President Donald Trump has won a second term or been ousted by former Vice President Joe Biden.
Just about every statement in the previous paragraph is false, misleading or at best lacking important context.
Over the years, Americans have gotten used to their election nights coming off like a well-produced game show, with the big reveal coming before bedtime (a few exceptions like the 2000 election notwithstanding). In truth, they’ve never been quite as simple or straightforward as they appeared. And this year, which has already upended so much of what Americans took for granted, seems poised to expose some of the wheezy 18th- and 19th-century mechanisms that still shape the way a president is elected in the 21st century.
Here’s our guide to what happens after the polls close on election night. While you may remember some of the details from high school civics class, others were new even to us. Keeping them in mind may help you make sense of what promises to be an election night like no other.
The COVID-19 recession has upended the lives of American workers, millions of whom remain without a job despite a recent upswing in hiring. Working parents have faced unique challenges as many schools and child care centers around the United States closed their doors due to the coronavirus outbreak. A new Pew Research Center analysis of government data finds that in the first six months of the pandemic, the workplace engagement of mothers and fathers with children younger than 18 at home has been affected about equally.
The shares of mothers and fathers who are working – employed and on the job – have fallen from 2019 to 2020, but the falloff has been comparable for each group. The shares of mothers who were not in the labor force edged up more than among fathers but, among those at work, fathers appear to have reduced their work hours more than mothers.
The number of Black Americans eligible to vote for president has reached a record 30 million in 2020, with more than one-third living in nine of the nation’s most competitive states – Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin – a higher share than the 29% of all U.S. eligible voters who live in these states. Nationwide, Black eligible voters now make up 12.5% of the U.S. electorate, up from 11.5% in 2000.
For many years, Black voters were the largest non-White racial or ethnic segment of the country’s electorate, but for the first time in a presidential election they will be outnumbered by Hispanic eligible voters, at 32 million.
For this year’s upcoming presidential election, a recent Pew Research Center survey found that 63% of Black registered voters are extremely motivated to vote. Furthermore, among those who support Joe Biden, over a third (35%) said that they plan on casting or have already cast their vote by absentee or mail-in ballot.
The Democratic Party has maintained a strong advantage among Black voters, according to over two decades of Center polling. Black voters have also recorded comparatively high turnout rates relative to other major racial and ethnic groups in recent elections – their levels closely matching White voter turnout rates in 2008 and 2012.
Yet Black eligible voters are by no means monolithic in their views or demographics. In the six states with competitive races for president, Black eligible voters have varied levels of educational attainment, income and immigrant populations. Here are key facts about Black eligible voters living in this year’s battleground states.
Voters in the United States continue to rate the economy, health care and Supreme Court appointments as very important voting issues. But less than two weeks before Election Day, those who support Donald Trump and Joe Biden differ widely on the importance of several issues – and the gap over the importance of the coronavirus outbreak has widened considerably since August.
About three-quarters of registered voters (74%) say the economy is a very important issue to their vote in the presidential election, while majorities also rate health care (65%), Supreme Court appointments (63%) and the coronavirus outbreak (55%) as very important, according to a new Pew Research Center survey conducted Oct. 6-12 among 10,059 adults, including 8,972 registered voters.
While voters who support Trump (84%) are more likely than Biden supporters (66%) to rate the economy as very important, far more Biden supporters say health care is very important (82% vs. 44% of Trump supporters).
More Floridians have registered to vote as Republicans than Democrats since the 2016 presidential elections, continuing a trend seen in previous presidential cycles and sharply narrowing the Democratic Party’s advantage, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of Florida state government data.
There currently are 5.30 million registered Democrats and 5.17 million registered Republicans in the state – an edge of about 134,000 voters in favor of the Democrats. But the size of that margin has fallen from 327,000 in 2016 and 658,000 in 2008.
Democrats and Republicans now make up similar shares of Florida’s registered voters (37% and 36%, respectively), compared with 26% who have no party affiliation. In 2008, the Democratic share of voters was 6 percentage points higher than that of Republicans (42% vs. 36%).
As the Senate prepares to vote on Amy Coney Barrett’s appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court, public attention has focused on her Catholic faith and, in particular, her stance on abortion rights.
Some critics, citing Barrett’s past rulings on abortion, have questioned her views on Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision that established a woman’s right to abortion. Others have connected Barrett’s legal opinions to her embrace of Catholic teachings, which prohibit abortion. During Senate hearings last week, Barrett declined to give specific answers about her stance on Roe v. Wade, saying that she does not have “any agenda.” If she is confirmed, Barrett will be the sixth Catholic justice on the court.
In practice, Catholics’ views on abortion are not always aligned with the guidance of their church. Like U.S. adults overall, the majority of U.S. Catholics say abortion should be legal – at least in some cases – as do many Catholic legislators and other politicians. Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, who often describes himself as a devout Catholic, has said women have a constitutional right to abortion and has vowed to uphold Roe v. Wade, although he has in the past backed curbs on abortion.
Pew Research Center has asked Catholic adults their views on abortion many times over the years, including in a 2019 survey that addressed Roe directly. Here is a compilation of key findings from these surveys.
Note: This post has been updated with new Florida statewide Hispanic voter registration totals that reflect final tallies.
About 2.5 million Latinos are registered to vote in Florida for the 2020 presidential election, making up a record 17% of the state’s total. This is up from 2016, when about 2 million Latinos were registered to vote, accounting for 16% of Florida’s registered voters, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of Florida state government data.
Nearly 476,000 additional Hispanics are registered to vote in Florida in 2020 compared with 2016, accounting for 30% of the state’s overall growth in registered voters during that span. This increase eclipses Hispanic voter growth in previous election cycles. For example, the number of Hispanic registered voters in Florida grew by 364,000 between 2012 and 2016 and by 305,000 between 2008 and 2012 – the last time an incumbent president was up for reelection. These figures are as of Florida’s “book closing” date on Oct. 6 and represent final voter registration figures for the Nov. 3 general election.)
Once again, Florida is a battleground state in a presidential election. The state has the largest Latino electorate among all battleground states and the third-largest Latino electorate overall (3.1 million eligible voters), trailing only California (7.9 million) and Texas (5.6 million).
About Pew Research Center Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping the world. It conducts public opinion polling, demographic research, media content analysis and other empirical social science research. Pew Research Center does not take policy positions. It is a subsidiary of The Pew Charitable Trusts.