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Analysis

By the numbers: How Americans voted in 2020

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As Joe Biden nears victory in the closely contested US presidential race, Donald Trump appears to have lost support among the white voters who carried him to success in 2016, while Americans have become more divided by place and income.

Mr Trump has gained ground among the wealthy, while the more educated broke more strongly for the Democrats than in 2016, an early analysis of data from national exit polls and other post-election and election eve surveys shows.

This data is only a preliminary snapshot and comes with some health warnings. Exit polls will be reweighted to reflect final vote tallies, which have been slower to come in this year due to the pandemic. The way exit polls are conducted has changed since 2016, complicating historical comparisons.

Finally, the unprecedented surge in early and mail-in voting may impact on the data that has been collected. In order to correct for these issues, the Financial Times has supplemented exit polls with other data sources to confirm trends.

Here are some of the trends the data suggest so far about how Americans voted:

1. Trump lost ground with white voters

In 2016, Mr Trump’s victory largely hinged on the enthusiasm of white voters without a college degree.

This year, Mr Trump did about as well among this group (63 per cent supported him in both years), but Mr Biden made gains (36 per cent compared to 32 per cent for Hillary Clinton in 2016). The result is a 4-point Democratic swing among non-college educated whites.

Exit polls suggest Trump lost ground to Biden with white men, but gainedsupport among some groups of non-white voters, particularly those withouta college degree

White non-college voters are also a diminishing share of the electorate — they made up 44 per cent of eligible voters in 2016. In 2020, demographic shifts reduced that to 41.7 per cent, according to estimates from the Center for American Progress.

Mr Trump also appears to have lost further ground with both white college-educated men and white college-educated women, though different sources disagree on the extent of the shift.

Chart showing that Biden made headway among college-educated white voters in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania

In key states such as Michigan and Wisconsin, Mr Biden made his biggest gains, compared to Hillary Clinton in 2016, in counties with a higher share of college-educated white voters.

Other factors could help account for this shift, such as the fact that many counties with highly educated white populations have become more racially diverse over the past four years.

2. Demography may no longer be destiny

The expectation that the long term trend towards a more racially diverse America will play in Democrats’ favour looks like it may be oversimplified. Mr Trump made slight inroads with non-white voters this year compared to 2016, though the vast majority still voted for Mr Biden.

The data also suggest level of education is becoming a more important divide, and is clashing with racial identity as a driver of voting patterns. College-educated non-white voters, who favour Democrats, were broadly unchanged in their voting patterns compared to 2016. But non-college educated minority voters increased their support for Mr Trump from 20 per cent to 25 per cent.

Chart showing that in key states, Trump made his biggest gains in Hispanic communities

Mr Trump’s relative success with Latino voters, particularly in Florida and Texas, demonstrates the fallacy of treating broad racial groups as blocs. Latinos as a whole voted for Joe Biden by a margin of more than 30 points, but Florida’s anti-socialist Cuban community backed Mr Trump by 55 per cent against 42 for Biden, according to data from the pollster Latino Decisions.

Latino voters shifted towards Mr Trump by around 8 percentage points nationally since 2016 according to an average of data from Edison Research, the Associated Press and Latino Decisions, upending expectations that they would desert the Republicans in response to the president’s harsh policies on immigration.

Black voters have also appeared to move very slightly towards Mr Trump, although the 2020 surveys do not agree on how much. This group reliably votes overwhelmingly for Democrats, however, so voter turnout is key here.

Data is not yet available to show whether black turnout played a pivotal role in key states like Georgia, although almost a million more votes were cast in the state than four years ago, a 21 per cent increase compared to a national rise of 16 per cent.

3. Trump lost support among low-income voters, but gained with the rich

Voters from wealthy households swung further towards Mr Trump in 2020. Just over half of those whose family income was more than $100,000 a year supported the president, compared with 45 per cent in 2016.

By contrast, those making family incomes of less than $50,000 voted Democratic by an 11.5-point margin (55 to 43), compared to an 8.2-point Democratic margin in 2016 (50 to 42).

Voters cast their ballots in Louisville, Kentucky, on election day © Darron Cummings/AP

4. Trump lost ground with older voters, but not with younger ones

In the months leading up to election day, older Americans — who are at greater risk from the virus — showed signs of disapproval towards the president’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

This year, President Trump won the senior vote, but by a substantially smaller margin than in 2016. Voters aged 65 and older supported him 53-44 four years ago. This year, it was 51-48.

The data on younger voters is less robust because they make up a smaller share of the electorate, but on average the numbers suggest that the 18- to 29-year-old group, already heavily Democratic, did not significantly shift towards either party in 2020.

Voters cast their ballots in Soldier Township, Kansas © Evert Nelson/The Topeka Capital Journal/AP

5. Biden did much better with men, and about the same as Clinton with women

Mr Biden made substantial gains with men, despite some pre-election polls that had pointed to a historic gender gap with men favouring president Trump. In the end, some 47 per cent of men supported the Democrat this year, compared to 42 per cent who supported Mrs Clinton in 2016.

Among women, however, Mr Biden’s lead improved over Mrs Clinton’s by just 2 points. Academic research published in the years following the 2016 election had suggested sexism played a heightened role in Mr Trump’s success among men, especially among less educated whites.

6. America continues to become more geographically polarised

The exact shifts in voting patterns among different demographics will continue to be debated for months, but one pattern will certainly hold: the growing polarisation of place in American politics.

Chart showing the hollowing out of American politics: America continues to grow more polarised by place, with fewer evenly contested areas and ever more ultra-partisan counties

When Bill Clinton won election to the White House in 1992, two-thirds of votes were cast in counties that were fairly even split between Democrats and Republicans, with the winning party securing less than 60 per cent of the vote. Less than one per cent were in ultra-partisan counties where one side won 80 per cent.

Since then, the middle has been steadily hollowed out of American political geography. This year evenly split counties accounted for only around 40 per cent of votes, while one vote in 13 was cast in a deeply red or blue county where supporters of the winning party outnumber their opponents four-to-one or more.

Additional reporting by Billy Ehrenberg-Shannon in London

Methodology: How we analysed voting patterns

For our 2020 estimates of voter trends, we treated the data from the national exit polls as preliminary. To get a more robust picture, we averaged these figures with the new VoteCast survey from the Associated Press and the American Election Eve Poll co-sponsored by several organisations that focus on voters of colour.

We have a more complete picture of 2016 from extensive studies of the electorate published over the past four years. For these figures, we pooled data from the 2016 national exit polls with the Co-operative Election Study, the Election Eve Polls from the African American Research Collaborative and Latino Decisions, the Pew Research Center’s validated voter tables and a study by the Center for American Progress.

A lot has been written about 2016’s exit polling misses, in particular their undercount of the non-college educated white population — a problem state pollsters faced as well. To control for this, we ran a set of analyses excluding the national exit polls to ensure the trends outlined in this story remained unchanged.

The main difference was the shift in college-educated white women’s’ vote: without the exit polls, the analysis shows they moved much more substantially to the left between 2016 and 2020.



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Analysis

Iranian TV action thriller delivers warning to Zarif

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It is hardly surprising that Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister and nuclear negotiator, is not a fan of Gando, a popular television drama that depicts an incompetent minister who scuppers nuclear talks with world powers by hiring dual nationals who turn out to be spies for MI6.

The series — made by an institute believed to be affiliated to the elite and hardline Revolutionary Guards — “is a lie from the beginning to the end” that “damages foreign policy more than me” by fuelling public mistrust, Zarif said.

By focusing on the nuclear talks, the Guards’ motive goes beyond creating compelling drama, reformist analysts say. Iran is in discussion with western powers about reviving the nuclear deal, a key reformist achievement, and hardliners want to deter the popular foreign minister from declaring his interest in the presidency in what is a crucial election year.

“I’ll be grateful to Gando-makers to let us continue our current job,” Zarif said this month, and commented that he would not run for the presidency.

The possibility of nuclear talks with the US and other powers has complicated an already fraught Iranian political scene ahead of the June election. Many reformists are pinning their hopes on Iran’s top diplomat to reinvigorate the nuclear deal and boost support at the ballot box. Hardliners might prefer to negotiate the deal themselves after the election. The polls are also seen as particularly crucial in case supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, 81, dies during the next president’s term.

Pendar Akbari, left, and Ashkan Delavari, right, in a scene from ‘Gando’
Pendar Akbari, left, and Ashkan Delavari, right, in a scene from an episode of ‘Gando’. The series title refers to an Iranian crocodile able to distinguish its friends from its enemies © Bahar Asgari/Shahid Avini Cultural and Artistic Institute via AP

The purpose of Gando, which refers to an Iranian crocodile able to distinguish its friends from its enemies, “is to tell Zarif that should he dare to announce his candidacy, he will be destroyed immediately,” said one reformist analyst. “When the intelligence service of the Guards truly believes in the Gando plot lines, it means even if Zarif decides to defy such warnings, he will not be allowed to run.”

Centrist president Hassan Rouhani is due to step down this year after two terms and it is not yet clear who the presidential candidates will be. Politicians register as late as May and then have to be vetted by the Guardian Council, the hardline constitutional watchdog, which can disqualify nominees. Potential hardline candidates include Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, the parliament speaker and a former guards commander; Ebrahim Raisi, the judiciary chief; and Ali Larijani, a former speaker of parliament. On the reformist side, speculation has centred on Es’haq Jahangiri, first vice-president, Hassan Khomeini, a grandson of the founder of the Islamic republic, and Zarif.

A US-educated career diplomat widely respected in the west for his pragmatism, Zarif was instrumental in the historic deal in 2015, under which Iran curbed its nuclear activity in exchange for the lifting of sanctions. But Donald Trump abandoned the accord in 2018, imposed sanctions, including on Zarif, and said he would pursue a new accord to contain Iran’s regional and military policies. The US move emboldened hardliners, confirming to them the untrustworthiness of the US.

Zarif’s background in the US both as a university student and as Iran’s head of mission at the UN — during which he met US politicians including then senator Joe Biden — has long made him a source of suspicion for hardliners.

This wariness of both Zarif and the west is evident to viewers of Gando, as is the heroism of the Revolutionary Guards. Mohammad, the action hero protagonist, warns that western negotiators may sabotage refineries as part of nuclear talks. Mohammad works out of elaborate facilities akin to those in a James Bond film. The fictional foreign minister is advised by a media adviser, the main culprit, “to enter into direct talks with the US and accept the conditions of the leader of the global village”.

Vahid Rahbani in a scene from an episode of ‘Gando’
Vahid Rahbani in a scene from an episode of ‘Gando’. State TV abruptly stopped broadcasting the series that was less than halfway through its 30-episode run © Hassan Hendi/Shahid Avini Cultural and Artistic Institute via AP

The dramatic scenes reflect, in part, the worldview of some of Zarif’s critics. “Reformists, Mr Zarif and his lobby group in Washington [Iranian dual nationals] should be wiped out from Iran’s politics,” said an aide to a senior hardline politician who is a potential presidential candidate. “We have to get rid of this cancerous tumour once for good.”

Gholamali Jafarzadeh, a former conservative member of parliament, said Zarif “is not a good statesman and should not run for president” while “reformists should know that their choices have no chance to be allowed to run”. 

This month, state TV abruptly stopped broadcasting the series that was less than halfway through its 30-episode run. Local media said broadcasts would resume when the presidential race was over. Iran’s centrist president Hassan Rouhani, whose signature achievement is the nuclear deal — alluded to the show on Wednesday and said “people’s money” should not be spent on “fabrication of the truth” and “distortion of facts”.

After three years of sanctions, many voters are disillusioned by the infighting and the prospect of real change, whatever the outcome of the election. “Whether Zarif or a figure more senior than him runs or not, I’m not going to vote,” said Hamid, a 40-year-old engineer. “Let the Guards win the election as they are the ones who are running the country anyway. Why shall I make a fool of myself?” 



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Rising inflation complicates Brazil’s Covid-19 crisis

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After seven months in lockdown, Michele Marques received some unwelcome news when she returned to work: while she was away the prices of almost all the products she uses as a hairdresser had soared.

“A box of gloves rose 200 per cent. Colouring products increased at least 100 per cent,” said the 37-year-old from São Paulo, underlining how costs were rising while her revenue had collapsed. “I had to raise the price of my services, too.”

It is a dynamic that is playing out across Brazil, adding an extra layer of complexity to the country’s coronavirus crisis, which has already claimed the lives of almost 350,000 individuals and pushed hospital services to the brink.

With much of Latin America’s largest economy being shuttered, inflation is surging to its highest level in years, fuelling a silent scourge of hunger among poorer citizens that has run in parallel to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The high price of staple foods — rice and beans, for example — has led to the disappearance of these items from the table of millions of Brazilians,” said Ana Maria Segall, a researcher at the Brazilian Research Network on Food and Nutritional Sovereignty and Security. In the 12 months to the end of March, the price of rice increased 64 per cent and black beans 51 per cent.

“In Brazil currently food inflation has penalised the very poorest, preventing them from having adequate access to food and in many situations leading to hunger,” she said, adding that rising unemployment and the curtailment of social programmes were also contributing factors.

Volunteers hand out food in São Paulo © Alexandre Schneider/Getty Images

Less than half of Brazil’s population of 212m now has access to adequate food all the time, with 19m people, or 9 per cent of its inhabitants, facing hunger, according to a recent report by Segall’s group.

“I’m doing some odd jobs, but it’s not enough to keep us going,” said Jonathan, a 28-year-old who lost his job in the kitchen of a Chinese restaurant in São Paulo when the pandemic began. He said he now struggles to provide enough food for his three young children and pregnant wife.

On a 12-month basis, inflation in June is expected to surpass 8 per cent, far above earlier estimates. In the 12 months to March, food prices jumped 18.5 per cent, while the price of agricultural commodities in local currency surged 55 per cent and the cost of fuel increased almost 92 per cent.

Line chart of Percentage increase over past 12 months showing The price of rice in Brazil is soaring

The developments pose a fresh challenge to President Jair Bolsonaro, who is already under fire for his handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. Across Brazil’s biggest cities, graffiti has sprung up labelling the populist leader “Bolsocaro” — a portmanteau of his name and the Portuguese word for expensive.

The rising prices are also likely to provide useful ammunition to leftist former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who returned to the political fray last month and may challenge Bolsonaro in elections next year.

“Bolsonaro is to blame for the increase in food prices, he is to blame for everything. They have to remove this guy,” said Maria Izabel de Jesus, a retiree from São Paulo.

Armando Castelar, a researcher at the Brazilian Institute of Economics, said the government had underestimated inflation both in terms of the numbers and also “how much a concern it should be”.

He attributed the rising prices to the devaluation of the Brazilian currency, triggered in part by the stimulus packages passed by the US government — which helped to bolster the dollar and led to higher Treasury yields — and the brighter economic outlook outside Latin America.

“You have a situation where commodity prices are going up because the global economy is going to grow a lot this year. With the growth in the US, interest rates are going up and the dollar is strengthening. This puts a lot of pressure on the exchange rate in Brazil and emerging markets in general,” he said.

As the spectre of inflation loomed last month, the Brazilian central bank raised its key interest rate by 75 basis points, higher than the half-percentage point many economists had expected. A further rate rise is expected next month.

“The central bank acted correctly, but it cannot stop there. It is important not to be too lenient in dealing with this,” said Castelar.

Silvia Matos, a co-ordinator at the Brazilian Economy Institute, also pointed to Brazil’s weakening currency as a contributing factor to inflation. But she said the slide in the real was triggered by investor concerns over Brazil’s deteriorating public finances.

Following the creation of two separate stimulus packages to mitigate the impact of Covid-19, government debt has risen to about 90 per cent of gross domestic product, a high level for an emerging market economy.

The rollout of the second of these packages began this month, with 45m Brazilians set to receive $50 a month for four months.

Critics said, however, these stipends were not nearly enough to keep people both fed and at home in lockdown.

“It is essential that the emergency aid is of a greater value, so that people do not leave the house but no one also stays at home starving,” said Marcelo Freixo, a federal lawmaker with the leftwing PSOL party.

“We need to reduce the circulation of the disease. Brazil is already experiencing 4,000 deaths per day. We will reach 500,000 total deaths by the middle of the year.”

Matos says that inflation had hit poorer citizens much harder than middle-class and rich Brazilians because a larger portion of their income was dedicated to food, the price of which has increased substantially.

“The only thing that could help right now is to get out of this pandemic,” she said.

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Can CVC pull off a $20bn ‘deal of the century’ at Toshiba?

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Proposed management buyout looks like an improbable win for the Japanese conglomerate’s embattled CEO



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