Fox News Voter Analysis: Trump sees strong support from base as moderates back Biden

Preliminary data from the Fox News Voter Analysis sheds light on the key themes underlying the election

The presidential contest stretched into the early hours of the morning without a clear winner, as a deeply divided nation watched anxiously for ballots to be counted in several battleground states. 

President Donald Trump received strong support from his base and chipped into Democratic margins among nonwhite voters to chalk up a string of wins in key swing states.

At the same time, former Vice President Joe Biden improved on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 margins with seniors, won college-educated Whites, and showed enough strength in the suburbs to keep his pathway to victory open.

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Rafael Fagundo rings a bell as he and other supporters of President Donald Trump chant and wave flags outside the Versailles Cuban restaurant during a celebration on election night, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, in the Little Havana neighborhood of Miami. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

Rafael Fagundo rings a bell as he and other supporters of President Donald Trump chant and wave flags outside the Versailles Cuban restaurant during a celebration on election night, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, in the Little Havana neighborhood of Miami. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

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. 

Preliminary data from the Fox News Voter Analysis, a survey of more than 110,000 voters nation-wide, sheds light on the key themes underlying the election and the demographics of each candidate’s support.

Roughly 100 million voters were cast before Election Day, shattering previous records – and turnout was on track to easily surpass the 135 million votes cast in 2016. Fully 15 percent 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 31 points. Those who voted early in-person split almost even (Trump +3). Mail-in voters went heavily for Biden (+36) – and the ongoing process of counting these ballots increased the level of uncertainty over the course of the night.

Voters divided sharply by gender, education, and type of community. Women backed Biden by 12 percentage points, while men backed the president by 4 points. College graduates went for Biden (+17 points), noncollege voters went for Trump (+2 points). Biden won city dwellers (+34 points), while Trump won rural areas (+21 points).

Biden’s strongest groups included those that typically tilt heavily Democratic, including Black voters, liberals, urban residents, and voters under age 30.

Trump once again ran up the score with his base, particularly White evangelicals, rural voters, Whites without a college degree, and conservatives.

Trump made gains with Hispanic voters, garnering 34 percent compared to 28 percent in 2016 (references to 2016 data throughout are based on Pew Research Center’s validated voter data).

At the same time, Biden was able to close the gap among seniors – a group that went for Trump by 9 points four years ago.

With Biden winning by wide margins in the cities and Trump carrying rural areas, the crucial battles were in the suburbs. Overall, suburbanites went for Biden (+11 points), in large part thanks to suburban women (Biden +20 points). Suburban Whites preferred Trump by 2 points.

The former vice president won college-educated Whites by 7 points and college-educated White women by 22 points. Trump had a major advantage with noncollege Whites (+24 points), and especially with noncollege White men (+30 points). Overall, White voters went for Trump by 12 points after voting for him by 15 points in 2016.

Despite Trump’s attempts to connect Biden to the far-left wing of the Democratic Party, self-described moderates voted for Biden by a wide margin.

The president won military households (+15) and gun owner households (+21 points), while Biden had an advantage among union households (+17 points).

Most Republicans backed Trump, but a meaningful number (8 percent) defected to Biden. Fewer Democrats (4 percent) pulled the lever – or, in this day and age, sealed the envelope – for Trump.

Biden would be the country’s second Catholic president if he wins – but he lost White Catholics vote by a wide margin.

Views of the Candidates

Biden attempted to position himself as a unity candidate in a time of turmoil and division. A staggering 78 percent said it was very important for the next president to bring the country together. These voters backed Biden by 18 points.

At the same time, voters responded to Trump’s brand as a political outsider willing to disrupt the system. Four-in-ten (41 percent) wanted the next president to shake up the political system, and these voters went for Trump by 17 points.

A similar number (40 percent) said Trump has brought positive change to Washington.

Voters who said Trump had not changed the way Washington works may still be looking for him to further drain the swamp – they backed the president by 20 points.

Voters were also looking for a president to look out for people like them (68 percent very important) – and Biden won these voters by 8 points.

On personal traits, a majority gave Biden positive marks. Voters were divided on whether he was honest and trustworthy (50 percent) or a strong leader (48 percent) – but saw him as someone who stands up for what he believes (63 percent) and cares about “people like you” (55 percent).

Trump’s marks on honesty (39 percent) and empathy (44 percent) were lower – but half of voters saw him as a strong leader (50 percent) and seven-in-ten as someone who stands up for what he believes (71 percent).

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 was re-elected (52 percent) than thought it would be an issue under a Biden administration (44 percent). 

Trump also attacked Biden’s mental capacity, and 48 percent felt Biden lacked the necessary mental fitness for the presidency – about the same as had doubts about Trump’s mental acuity (50 percent).

Both candidates accused each other of being too cozy with extremist groups, but voters were more likely to see this as an issue with Trump.

Despite the relentless negativity, voters had a net positive view of Biden: 51 percent viewed him favorably and 48 percent negatively. Trump’s favorability, on the other hand, was underwater by 8 points (45 percent favorable vs. 53 percent unfavorable). Moreover, Biden was able to win those who had unfavorable views of both candidates by a wide margin.

By a wide margin, Trump supporters said their vote was mostly cast in favor of the president (79 percent) rather than against Biden (21 percent). Biden voters were split: 49 percent described their vote as for Biden; 51 percent 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, 40 percent of voters said the federal response to the pandemic was the single most important factor to their vote. These voters backed Biden, 78-21 percent.

Three-in-ten (28 percent) said the economy was the single most important factor to their vote, and they broke for Trump by a narrower 56-42 percent.

The 18 percent who focused primarily on Supreme Court nominations went for Biden by 8 points, as did the 19 percent who prioritized protests over police violence (+4 points).

Seven-in-ten said the pandemic had affected them personally, whether because they lost a family member or close friend (19 percent), were hurt financially (38 percent), or missed out on a major life event like a wedding or funeral (52 percent).

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 (+12 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 percent felt the virus is completely or mostly under control. A 51-percent majority believed it is not under control at all. 

Most voters (78 percent) favored a national mask mandate, including 95 percent of Biden voters and 58 percent 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 percent. Those who emphasized economic reopening went for Trump, 12-85 percent.

Trump’s job rating on the pandemic (44 percent approve) lagged well behind that of National Institute of Allergy and Infection Disease Director Anthony Fauci (74 percent approve) and voters’ assessment of their state’s governor (62 percent). Voters believed Biden would do a better job handling the pandemic by 10 points.

In a sign of the economic damage caused by the pandemic, nearly six-in-ten 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.

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Moreover, with massive wildfires scorching the western U.S. and a record number of hurricanes battering the Gulf Coast, a majority of voters (71 percent concerned – including 44 percent very concerned) were worried about the effects of climate change. Biden won these voters by 41 points, while Trump won those who were not concerned by 82 points.

At the same time, majorities favored cutting regulations on business (59 percent) and increasing tariffs on imported goods (61 percent) – two of the president’s signature economic policies.

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 (71 percent favor). And with the Supreme Court slated to hear a case on the Affordable Care Act on November 10, more voters wanted to preserve or expand the law (52 percent) than repeal it (48 percent). In 2018, 51 percent preferred repeal.

Voters also opposed a repeal of Roe v. Wade, the landmark ruling on abortion, by a 71-29 margin. Views on the broader topic of abortion were more nuanced.

Voters’ views around racism, policing, and the criminal justice system were also more complicated than the narrative throughout the campaign might suggest. Roughly seven-in-ten said racism in policing (72 percent) and in society in general (77 percent) is a serious problem. A similar number believed the country’s criminal justice system needs major changes (68 percent). At the same time, only about a third said the police were too tough on crime.

A narrow majority (51 percent) opposed building a wall on the country’s southern border. During the 2018 midterms, 53 percent were against Trump’s signature immigration policy. Most voters, 71 percent, believed undocumented immigrants should be offered a chance to apply for legal status – up from the 70 percent 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 (35 percent) lacked confidence that ineligible voters would be prohibited from voting. Fewer (16 percent) 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 majority was confident that votes would be counted accurately.

Nonvoters

Election outcomes depend, in part, on who turns out and who stays home. The Fox News Voter Analysis surveys nonvoters as well as those who plan to vote. As a result, it provides a window into who decided not to vote, why they stayed home, and how they would have voted if they did participate.

Demographically, nonvoters were more likely to be younger, nonwhite, without a college education, and politically independent.

If they had made it to the ballot box, nonvoters would have backed Biden by a narrow 44-35 margin.

The main factors behind their decision not to vote included a general dislike of politics or the candidates, the feeling that voting does not matter, and fear of exposure to coronavirus.

Florida

Donald Trump won Florida four years ago by about a two points, and tonight he repeated the feat.

Trump won White voters by a robust 23-point margin, thanks in large part to a 33-point win among noncollege White men. But it may have been his strong performance among Cuban-Americans that put him over the top in the Sunshine State.

Cubans broke for the president by 17 points, but Biden’s margin among those of Puerto Rican heritage was even greater (+32 points). As a whole, Hispanics went for Biden by 9 points.

Seniors, a pivotal voting bloc in Florida, went for Trump.

Despite winning the state, voters narrowly disapproved of Trump’s handling of the pandemic.

Voters split on Governor Ron DeSantis’s performance on the pandemic: 50 percent approved of the job he’s done on the issue, while 50 percent disapproved.

Close to half of Florida voters believed that the pandemic was not under control (47 percent), six-in-ten prioritized limiting the spread of the virus over reopening the economy (58 percent), and eight-in-ten backed requiring people to wear masks (77 percent).

Immigration is perennially a key issue in Florida and was a major focus of Trump’s time in office. The president was out of step with Florida voters on the issue, as more than twice as many believed that undocumented immigrants should have a pathway to citizenship as felt they should be deported to their country of origin.

Trump’s policies toward Venezuela and Cuba, however, clearly helped him in Florida. Almost nine-in-ten said his approach to Venezuela was either about right (46 percent) or not tough enough (41 percent). Similarly, 48 percent said his Cuba policy was about right, and another 29 percent said he had not been tough enough.

Has Trump changed the way Washington works? Equal numbers of Florida voters (44 percent each) said he’s changed it for the better or changed it for the worst. Those who vote “better” broke overwhelmingly for Trump (97 percent), and those who sided with “worse” for Biden (also 97 percent). Those who said Trump hasn’t changed Washington broke almost two-to-one for him – signaling that perhaps they felt he hasn’t had enough time.

Pennsylvania

We don’t know the winner in PA yet, but here’s what we do know.

Former President Barack Obama campaigned here for Biden in the closing days of the campaign.  Biden dominated among black voters, getting more than nine-in-ten.

Almost seven-in-ten urban voters backed Biden, as did six-in-ten suburban. White suburban women, despite Trump’s plea, didn’t like him much – the majority of them voted for Biden. Political moderates also favored Biden, as did one-in-ten conservatives.

Trump was stronger among white evangelical voters, in rural areas, and among white voters without a college education. This has always been his core of support. He had a narrow lead among senior voters.

The unemployment rate in Pennsylvania is just slightly above the national average. A strong majority of voters say their personal finances are holding steady, but almost twice as many feel they are falling behind as getting ahead.

The pandemic has wreaked havoc on the economy and people's finances. Which should take priority? Voters placed more importance on limiting the spread of the virus, even if it further damages the economy.

Fracking gained a lot of attention during the campaign. This controversial method of extracting oil or gas from bedrock is the source of both jobs and pollution. Trump promised to not restrict the practice, while Biden, trying to please both sides, said he would ban fracking on public lands, but not on private land, where most fracking occurs.

Six-in-ten believe it is more important to focus the state’s energy policy on alternative energy, such as solar, wind or hydroelectric. A strong majority of them support Biden. At the same time, almost four-in-ten say it’s more important to expand production of fossil fuels – and almost eight-in-ten of these voters back Trump.

On balance, Pennsylvanians choose Biden as the one who will better handle energy policy.

There is a clear divide about the change Trump has brought to Washington. Four-in-ten think it has been for the better; they strongly back Trump. Slightly more than four-in-ten think the change has been for the worse; they just as strongly back Biden. Among the small percentage who think there hasn’t been any change yet, Trump leads.

Considering Trump’s slim victory in 2016, it’s clear that each vote here could make a difference for either campaign. Almost two-thirds are confident the votes will be counted accurately, though just two-in-ten are very confident.

A number of lawsuits were filed in the state with regard to early and absentee voting and voter rights in general. In the end, a majority of voters felt confident that all eligible voters will be allowed to vote.

Georgia

A combination of Black voters and younger voters put Georgia up for grabs as a potential Democratic win for the first time in nearly thirty years. But at the end of the night, it’s still too close to call.

Black women in Georgia showed up – voting for the Biden/Harris ticket by an overwhelming 94-4 margin. The vote among Black men was closer, however.

Voters under age 45 leaned toward Biden by 9 points, while those over 45 backed Trump by the same spread.

The president won White Georgians by more than 40 points, thanks in large part to a huge margin among Whites without a college degree.

Trump also led among suburban Whites by 32 points, substantially better than his showing among them nationally. He also led among college-educated White women by 10 points in Georgia.

Overall, city-dwellers went heavily for Biden (+35 points), the suburbs were a light shade of blue (Biden +10 points), and rural voters went for Trump by a 33-point margin.

This summer, Atlanta was gripped by protests against police violence following the police killing of Rayshard Brooks. Some of the protests turned violent. A quarter of Georgians said the protests over police violence were the single most important factor to their vote – and these voters narrowly favored Biden.

While 73 percent said racism in policing is a serious problem, only about a third (37 percent) felt the police were generally too tough in their approach to crime. Another third felt that the police typically take the right approach (36 percent), while just over a quarter said the police should take a tougher line (27 percent).

Georgia was one of the first states to fully reopen after the coronavirus shutdowns this spring, with Republican Governor Brian Kemp declaring the state open for business. At this point, though, voters prioritized limiting the spread of the virus over restarting the economy.

Voters split on their view of the job both Kemp (51 percent approve) and Trump (48 percent approve) have done on the pandemic.

Kemp’s win in the 2018 governor’s race was controversial, as Stacy Abrams, his opponent, alleged widespread voter suppression. Kemp, as Georgia’s Secretary of State at the time, held that his actions were necessary to prevent fraud.

This time around, voters overall felt that voting was at least relatively easy. Almost nine-in-ten had an easy time voting, although Biden voters (17 percent) were slightly more likely to say that they encountered difficulty than Trump voters (11 percent).

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Methodology

The FNVA 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 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.