Americans Conclude an Election Like No Other, and It’s a Tight One

Mr. Biden’s candidacy had the potential to create a history-making moment for his running mate, Senator Kamala Harris of California, who is of Indian and Jamaican descent; she was seeking to become the first woman on a winning presidential ticket. And Mr. Biden would be only the second Catholic president, along with John F. Kennedy.

According to recent polls, Mr. Biden appeared to have succeeded in making himself a kind of safe harbor for a wide array of voters unhappy with Mr. Trump, including women, white voters with college degrees, people of color, young people and seniors. But Mr. Biden’s coalition was more impressive for its breadth than its depth, and despite its size and diversity, most voters supporting him appeared more excited to reject Mr. Trump than to install Mr. Biden in his place.

Mr. Trump, by contrast, was relying on a far narrower base of support: rural and less educated white voters, and especially men, who continued to embrace his message of hard-edge nationalism and cultural grievance even as the economic downturn deprived Mr. Trump of the chance to campaign on several years of comfortable growth.

Even as they have suffered through the pandemic, most working-class white voters saw Mr. Trump as a trustworthy pugilist who would take their side against any adversary — whether China or Mexico, the national news media or Black Lives Matter protesters, or the Democratic Party.

Even aside from the pandemic, the 2020 campaign unfolded against a backdrop of national tumult unequaled in recent history, including the House’s vote to impeach the president less than a year ago, a remarkable wave of racial justice protests in the spring, spasms of civil unrest throughout the summer, the death of a Supreme Court justice in September, and the hospitalization of the president in October.

As a result, Election Day arrived with the nation on edge, confused in some places about new voting systems and court battles over the electoral process, and worried about flare-ups of violence in the aftermath of a disputed result.

Mr. Trump, 74, encouraged those fears, and the underlying social divisions that fostered them: On the eve of the election, he made a baseless claim that a court decision on Pennsylvania’s ballot-counting procedures would lead to street violence. No American presidential race in half a century or more has featured the same scale of civil unrest and uncertainty about the legitimacy of the political process, and no modern campaign has been so defined by an incumbent president who seemed to relish both factors the way Mr. Trump has.

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