A historic number of people voted in this year's election, yet the race was close. Here's why
Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect new vote totals and coronavirus deaths.
President-elect Joe Biden made history Nov. 3 by getting the most popular votes in a presidential election – over 78 million votes and counting.
While for many that number came as a sign of hope, there was also another milestone achieved that is equally interesting: President Donald Trump got the second most votes in history with over 72 million, and some ballots still to count.
The numbers give an interesting view of how America stands when it comes to politics, especially amid a pandemic that has killed over 245,000 people and brought a country to its knees through a nationwide reckoning with race and police brutality.
Because while Biden has been named the president-elect, Trump's base still showed up in full force for the president.
“He's saying what a lot of people want to say but can't say,” James E. Parker said.
While the Wilmington man doesn't care who is in the White House, Parker said Trump emboldened a lot of people with his blunt behavior.
“I think the truth came out,” Parker said.
In interviews with voters across the state and spectrum, Delawareans cited miscalculations about the strength of Trump's base, as well as perceived fraudulent issues with mail-in voting as the reasons behind the election being so close.
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It wasn't a complete shock to Parker that people still voted for Trump despite many believing his base – and many undecided voters – would flock to a more subdued personality like Biden.
When Trump was elected in 2016, Parker said, his base was actually emboldened to stand firm in their contempt of racial minorities, immigrants and LGBTQ-identifying individuals.
He said that he believes the issues driving Biden voters include things like fairness, equality and equal rights. With Trump supporters, however, it is a desire to go back into the past, he said.
This would be difficult for Parker – a Black man – as the past was one that saw Black people as slaves, he said.
Despite this divide, Parker says everyone needs to work together no matter the president.
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“I need to be able to get along. We need each and every person, white, Black, Mexican," he said. "For this America to be great, everybody needs to love one another."
He's channeling hope for Biden's presidency. So is Joe Wells.
Even though he didn't vote for Biden, the self-proclaimed moderate Republican said he hopes Biden will be a healer and bring people more to the center.
"I did like Trump's policy and I think overall he accomplished a lot of good things," the Milford resident said. "However, his style of leadership certainly was controversial. And some of his positions were certainly controversial."
Wells said that he likes that Trump didn't get involved in any more wars and tried to wind down some of the conflicts America was already in like Afghanistan. And successful business people aren't always the most likable, Wells said.
"But they get things done and I think Trump was a guy that that got things done," he said.
Just because conservatives haven't been as loud as liberals, Wells said, it doesn't mean they are not there – which could have explained why projections were so off.
"I think the conservative side of America is not as vocal about their opinions as to who they support and who they don't," the 66-year-old real estate agent said.
Kati Driscoll was one of those people thrown off by the results, as it revealed a side of America she said she wasn't expecting. The election numbers brought on moments of both joy and frustration for the Wilmington resident.
“I would have liked to have seen more blue and more people consider what it means to cast their vote for Trump,” Driscoll said.
White women like herself are going to have to have hard conversations with one another in the future about important topics like Black Lives Matter and anti-immigrant sentiments she said.
In 2016, white women were one of the major groups that voted for Trump – 53% of them voted for Trump, according to exit poll data – and in 2020, so far that percentage is even higher.
“It also frustrates me to see people make a decision that puts a short-term selfish sentiment above the needs of their full community because we need each other,” she said. “I think people are viewing him in terms of racial solidarity instead of class solidarity. It’s kind of disappointing to me because I think we have a lot more in common than some folks might realize.”
Despite this, she has had moments of joy throughout the process, like talking to family members before the election and convincing them to vote for Biden.
“Joy is resistance,” she said. “You have to be a hopeful and optimistic person.”
A Biden presidency is not going to fix everything though, the 37-year-old woman said. There are still a lot of things she would ask Biden to change or rework.
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As a former social media manager, she said that the online world has created a feedback loop for many people, so they don’t often hear what others are thinking. This could be one of the reasons the election is so much closer than people originally anticipated, she said.
Bonnie Guy-Gillespie, a 61-year-old Trump supporter, is saddened by the results of the election, but she has faith the future is still bright.
She draws supplemental security income from the federal government, which benefits disabled adults and children who have limited income and resources.
“I didn't really get into politics until this year," the Georgetown resident said. "And I never really wanted to vote until this year."
Though she's a self-identified independent, she wanted to see Trump get back into office.
More than anything, she said, it was a fear of a Biden presidency that prompted her to vote for Trump. She didn't like the things she had heard about Biden, she said, citing faith as a driver in her decisions.
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“I don't want a public official doing the things that he's been reported doing because it just opens the door for so much bad stuff to happen,” she said.
But even among independents, there was no clear path at the polls. Fellow independent Heather Morris didn’t vote for either Biden or Trump.
“I feel like neither candidate was a good option to begin with, so either way America loses,” she said.
The 26-year-old UPS worker wants to see third parties be given the chance to lead.
“Both of them have their own agenda," she said. "And I don't appreciate that because it's not about the people anymore."
The Sussex resident feels that many smaller issues like prison reform – an issue she is very passionate about – have been forgotten or not discussed this election. Instead, she points to COVID-19 as the reigning topic of this year's discussions and debates.
Instead of choosing between Trump and Biden, Morris voted for a third-party candidate.
“I think that people who don't typically vote went out and voted this year, which is great,” she said. “But I think a lot of people are voting for the wrong reasons. Like a lot of people are voting for Biden because they don't like Trump, or a lot of people are voting for Trump because they don't like Biden.”
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Larry Miller in Townsend also didn’t vote for either major candidate.
“I took a stance that I was not going to support any incumbent or establishment politicians because in my mind everyone failed on COVID response,” the highway construction worker said.
And while he believes the two-party system in America has overstayed its welcome, he didn’t think the election would shake out the way that it did.
“I thought it was gonna be close but not this close,” he said. “I mean it's a little sad that so many people support such a corrupt administration. But there's also tons and tons and tons of misinformation and willful ignorance, on both sides out there.”
The 37-year-old pointed to how informed voters really are as part of that reason.
Throughout the general and presidential election, there was misinformation hurled from campaigns around the country. Unfounded rumors like Biden having dementia or that voter fraud was being committed were spread far and wide all year.
Cathy Watts is someone who believes voter fraud was an issue. As a Trump supporter, she wanted to see him win the election and worries there was fraudulent activity at play.
As far as why the votes were so much closer than people anticipated, she said she believes it could be the result of voter fraud through mail-in ballots. She said people could be voting multiple times or fake people – like Mickey Mouse, for all she knows –could be voting.
There have been no founded reports of voter fraud in this year's election.
Fear of Marxism and communism also brought people to the polls this year, the 71-year-old Sussex resident said.
“People are afraid, given all the rioting and looting and abuse of our police. Those are all serious problems that should never be occurring, but they are occurring," she said. "When police stand up, Americans feel safer."
Despite those fears, she is hopeful that no matter what, the future will be bright for Trump and his base.
For many, though, the real work occurs in Delaware communities, where decisions about infrastructure, public safety and housing affect everyday lives in an impactful way.
“I just have to do my part,” said Parker, the Wilmington man. “That's the whole thing about people putting too much dependency on who's in the White House, rather than who’s in your community.”
Every week, Parker has been passing out food to people along the Route 9 corridor outside of Wilmington. He is focused on being a change in his community, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, and looks more to his local elected officials than the president to make change.
“I think a lot of people don't work with what they have, they try to work with what they want to try to get,” he said. “Let's make lemonade if we’ve got lemons. Let's make orange juice if we’ve got oranges.”
Contact Marina Affo at 302-353-0375 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @marina_affo.