Numbers, Facts and Trends Shaping Your World

What Biden and Trump supporters tell us in their own words about America’s political divisions

Supporters of Donald Trump and Joe Biden converse before a Biden campaign rally on March 7, 2020 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Kyle Rivas/Getty Images)
(Kyle Rivas/Getty Images)

One of the fascinating things about being a public opinion researcher is hearing from all kinds of Americans about a variety of topics. One of the best ways to learn what’s on people’s minds is to ask them “open-ended” questions – no pre-set answers or response options, just their unfiltered thoughts and impressions.

For years, our surveys have provided considerable evidence of just how politically divided we are, but in our new survey, we wanted to learn what voters who supported Joe Biden and Donald Trump would want the other candidate’s supporters to know about them. We asked an open-ended question: Tell us something – anything – you’d like the supporters of the opposing candidate to know to understand you a little better. It didn’t have to be about politics, though given that it was survey on politics conducted just days after the election, most people had politics on their minds.

How we did this

Pew Research Center conducted this study to learn how well Biden and Trump voters think those who voted for the other candidate understand people like them – and what they would like those with differing political preferences to know to understand them better. We surveyed 11,818 U.S. adults in November 2020, including 10,399 U.S. citizens who reported having voted in the November election.

All respondents who supported Joe Biden or Donald Trump in the November election were asked:

As you know, tens of millions of Americans supported a different candidate for president than you did in this past election. Thinking about the ordinary Americans who voted for [if Trump voter: Joe Biden/if Biden voter: Donald Trump], how well, if at all, do you think they understand people like you? Very well, somewhat well, not too well, not at all well

Everyone who did not say those voters on the other side understood them “very well” was then asked to answer a follow-up question in their own words: 

What is something you would like [Biden/Trump] supporters to know about you so they might understand you better? This can be about politics, but it doesn’t have to be.

Of the more than 10,000 responses to the open-ended question collected, a random approximately half (5,248) were coded for this analysis. This interactive presents a sampling of the responses offered by those who voted for Joe Biden or Donald Trump in the November election. There are a total of 300 “dots” shown in the interactive, and the highlighted dots proportionally represent the share of voters speaking to each of the themes that were coded for.

Everyone who took part in this survey is a member of Pew Research Center’s American Trends Panel (ATP), an online survey panel that is recruited through national, random sampling of residential addresses. This way nearly all U.S. adults have a chance of selection. The survey is weighted to be representative of the U.S. adult population by gender, race, ethnicity, partisan affiliation, education and other categories. Read more about the ATP’s methodology.

Here are the questions used for this report, along with responses, and its methodology.

The responses provide considerable evidence of the deep dislike that simmers among both Biden and Trump voters for those on the other side. Indeed, while the question was not intended to tap into partisan antipathy, some voters – nearly a quarter of each group – took the opportunity to criticize the opposing candidate and his supporters anyway. Explore the interactive yourself: There is no shortage of words like “moron” and “idiots” and phrases like “hijacked by hate,” but these do not constitute the majority of statements from the voters who shared their views with us.

Explore the responses

If they had the chance, what would Biden and Trump voters want those on the opposing side to know about them to understand them better? Here’s what they told us.

Many offered thoughtful, respectful – if passionate – affirmations of their own political values. Overall, these are a study in contrasts: What you need to understand about me, said some Biden supporters, is a strong belief in climate change, or that health care is a right for everyone, or support for the Black Lives Matter movement. On the other hand, some Trump voters proclaimed their belief in freedom, the Constitution, support for gun rights and other values.

These disagreements are political, not personal, and some people’s statements of political belief showcased values that don’t neatly fit into notions of “blue” or “red” America. For instance, several Biden voters pointed to their respect for gun rights and individual liberties alongside their belief in government support for the poor or other groups. 

In a reflection of today’s balkanized political environment, some voters answered the question by stating what they’re not: They insistently and sometimes colorfully reject partisan stereotypes or misconceptions. It’s not often you see the phrase “soy latte drinking godless hippie elite” in an opinion survey, but one Biden voter used it to dismiss what she viewed as a stereotypical impression of many Biden voters. Trump voters, by contrast, sought to counter the idea that those who support the president are racist, sexist or anti-immigrant. “I am not deplorable, homophobic, xenophobic, gynophobic, or racist,” said one.

There are some voters – to be sure, a relatively small number – who say, even after a bitterly contested presidential election, that we really all are in this together. About one-in-ten Biden voters (13%) and 5% of Trump voters expressed hope for unity and rising above partisanship. In fact, two voters, one who supported Biden and another who backed Trump, chose exactly the same words to express this sentiment: “We are all Americans.”

Note: Here are the questions used for this report, along with responses, and its methodology.