US election

by Sarah Feldman and Chris Jackson

The 2020 election highlighted a divided US

After four nail-biting days where Americans across the country became all too familiar with the ins and outs of vote counting and the electoral map, finally, on Saturday 7 November, it was confirmed that Joe Biden would be the next President of the USA.

Ipsos had predicted the race would be close, with Joe Biden pulling out a narrow victory.

The former Vice-President (now President-Elect) went into the election as the favourite, with many polls suggesting a blowout victory was about to unfold. However, his ultimate success, while still considerable, fell well short of those double-digit margins.

The election unfolded in this way because President Trump had a number of significant advantages working in his favour. He was an incumbent president and he was willing to use all the powers of the state to further his electoral chances. His approval ratings remained stable throughout the crisis and election, indicating the robustness of his support among his core supporters. Indeed, his distinct brand gave him a reserve of enthusiastic supporters to drive turnout higher than ever.

Man voting in 2020 US election

Real and perceived risk to health altered voting behaviour

The coronavirus pandemic made analysing these mixed signals difficult. Real and perceived risk to health altered voting behaviour, changing voting laws led to an explosion in the early and absentee vote, and the pandemic roiled society in unprecedented ways.

One of the few things Americans agreed on at the end of the campaign was how existential the election was for the country. Most Americans viewed the contest between Joe Biden and Donald Trump as a battle for the soul of the nation. This view helped drive turnout in the election to record levels, with nearly 160 million Americans voting.

Americans believed the 2020 presidential election was a ‘battle for the soul of the nation’

We are in a battle for the soul of the nation


% agree


1,113 adults aged 18+ between 1-2 September 2020

In the wake of such a seismic election, bringing the country together will be difficult. The election and aftermath have reinforced the partisan divisions in American society and Donald Trump and his supporters have turbocharged distrust of civil institutions. All this has unfolded as the country continues to struggle through the pandemic (in November the US passed the bleak landmark of 250,000 COVID-19 deaths), while the nation’s media continues to highlight division over unity.

The question facing the nation as we move into 2021 is who can lead the country out of the tumult of the Trump era? President-Elect Joe Biden is putting a brave face on his plans, but Republican opposition looks to be entrenched and uncompromising. However, there are rays of light. A new era of civic activism, symbolised by the Black Lives Matter protests, has prompted many Americans to ‘get involved’. The next generation of corporate leaders is pushing an agenda where purpose and sustainability are integral. With trust in institutions at a low,1 perhaps America’s future will be led from the bottom-up.

The election and aftermath have reinforced the partisan divisions in American society

Sarah Feldman

Sarah Feldman

Data Journalist

Chris Jackson

Chris Jackson

Senior Vice President, Ipsos North America