2020 Presidential Election and Political Polarization

The 2020 United States presidential election was the 59th presidential election, held on November 3, 2020. The current president Donald Trump ran against former vice-president Joe Biden, who ultimately won the race with the largest share of the popular vote. Held in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the election saw the highest voting rate in 120 years and multiple controversies surrounding its results (Deane & Gramlich, 2020). The differences in public opinion over Donald Trump’s presidency, COVID-19 threat, racial inequality, and law enforcement between Democrats and Republicans have both influenced the election process and increased the polarization of American society.

Covid-19 Pandemic

The election was held in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic that significantly affected its course and outcome. A record number of ballots were cast early and by mail, with some states having moved primarily to all-mail election. This caused serious delays in vote counting and reporting, and the winner could not be announced until November 7, four days after the election. Prior to the election, multiple concerns were raised by both parties regarding the legitimacy of the election, and in several states, the votes were recounted to eliminate controversies. No election in American history has been held under such extraordinary circumstances.

Apart from influencing the election process, the COVID-19 pandemic was an important voting issue that exemplified the divide between the voters. Since the first virus outbreak, the Democrats’ and Republicans’ approach to addressing the pandemic has differed significantly. President Trump focused on economic measures, arguing that although the public cared about the spread of the virus, when faced with job cuts and an unprecedented recession, many voters’ immediate concerns were economic (Rey, 2020). The measures proved to be successful, with the country’s economy having rebound much faster than predicted (Rey, 2020). In contrast to Trump, one of Biden’s main campaign pledges was to protect public health. Democrats have consistently expressed more concerns over the virus itself, while Republicans said the pandemic had been exaggerated and the U.S. had successfully controlled the outbreak (Deane & Gramlich, 2020). Analytics argue that Trump’s success in the election can be mostly attributed to Biden’s “inability to clearly articulate the economic advantages of his approach to the pandemic and the economic downsides of Trump’s” (Rey, 2020). Both the course and the results of the election reflected the divide of opinions over the pandemic and its economic consequences.

Areas of Disagreement

The approach to the pandemic is not the only issue of disagreement between Trump and Biden voters. The elections showed fundamental differences between Democrats and Republicans over the issues of racial inequality and law enforcement, which were the key problems that the country faced in 2020. Around 75% of registered voters who support Biden said in summer that racial and ethnic inequality would be an important factor in their votes (Deane & Gramlich, 2020). Conversely, 74% of Trump supporters said that the issue of violent crime was crucial to them, compared to only 46% of Biden voters (Deane & Gramlich, 2020). In a summer survey, 74% of Biden voters said that “it is a lot more difficult” to be a Black person in the U.S., which is a view shared by only 9% of Trump voters (Deane & Gramlich, 2020). Trump and Biden supporters’ disagreements on the crucial issues of the modern American agenda make it difficult to reach a political compromise and increase polarization, which has become particularly evident during the election.

Trump’s Refusal to Concede

Before, during, and after the election, Donald Trump and his allies attempted to subvert the election, claiming that there had been widespread voter fraud and trying to influence the vote counting process in swing states. On several occasions, Trump declared himself the winner and tried to overturn the results by filling dozens of legal challenges in different states, most of which were dropped or dismissed (Tucker & Bajak, 2020). His allies have been spreading conspiracy theories, falsely alleging fraud, despite the officials in all 50 states stating that there was no evidence of irregularities and the election was “the most secure in American history” (Tucker & Bajak, 2020). Although having ultimately acknowledged Biden as the winner, Trump announced that he had not conceded and intended to continue his fight to overturn the results (Holmes & Herb, 2020). As of the beginning of December, Trump’s administration has exhausted almost all legal options but has not admitted defeat.

Trump administration’s reaction to the election results is an unprecedented situation in modern American history. Although the country has witnessed some poorly contested elections, no presidential candidate has ever refused to concede defeat once all the votes were counted and legal challenges resolved (McKeever, 2020). McKeever claims that Trump’s refusal to concede has negative consequences for the American political system in general, violating the established electoral norms that “helped shore up U.S. democracy even in its most chaotic and divisive elections” (McKeever, 2020). With the country’s political system being based on the idea that its people are bound together by similarities that are stronger than differences, Trump’s refusal to concede marks a stark departure from longstanding practice.

The media announcing Biden’s victory before Donald Trump was able to exhaust all legal options to overturn the results can be regarded as an attempt to reduce public tension. With society being increasingly polarized, it was a necessary act to prevent further escalation. After Biden’s victory was announced, Donald Trump’s actions started to be considered as desperate attempts to overturn the results rather than a legitimate protest, which had a generally positive effect on the U.S. domestic and international situation.

The Figure of Donald Trump

Much of the controversies surrounding the 2020 election are centered around the figure of the current president Donald Trump. According to approval ratings, he is the most unpopular incumbent ever to stand for reelection, and in the summer polls, many people said that they would definitely vote against him (Liasson, 2020). The four years of Trump’s presidency have been marked by many scandals, and his achievements have been substantially undermined by his impulsive and undisciplined character. However, despite his unpopularity, the presidential race was tight and ended in Donald Trump winning more votes than he did in 2016, and more than any sitting president has ever won in U.S. history (Rey, 2020). According to experts, this was the result of Trump’s focus on economic measures in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic (Rey, 2020) and the general polarization of American society (French, 2020). In the last decades, tight elections are becoming characteristic of the American political system, regardless of the strengths and weaknesses of the candidates running for the presidency.


Polarization, which embodies the tension of binary political ideologies and partisan identities, is a historically common feature in American politics that has significantly increased in the last two decades. It is expressed in people strongly identifying themselves as members of a particular political group and expressing hatred towards the opposing side (Nelson, 2020). According to the Pew Research Center, partisan antipathy is growing “more intense, more personal,” with the (French, 2020). The tendency is becoming a matter of concern for many analytics who are worried about the conservative nature of society hindering political changes.

In his article on polarization, French notes that although 2020 was a hard year for the country, “politically, it’s remarkable how these seismic events have led to very little political change” (French, 2020). According to French (2020), “Americans are by and large entrenched in their political and cultural tribes, and virtually nothing can budge them out of the partisan voting lanes.” When making a decision, voters are guided by “personal feelings of distrust and disillusionment that make the compromise all the more difficult” (Deane & Gramlich, 2020). The 2020 election showed that partisanship continues to dominate the political landscape, and little depends on each particular candidate’s actions and program when voting is concerned.


The 2020 presidential election was unprecedented both in terms of the circumstances and the voting process. The controversies over the ways to address the COVID-19 pandemic, together with the divide of public opinions over Donald Trump’s presidency, have significantly increased the polarization historically characteristic of the American society. The voting process has shown that, when making political decisions, Americans are mostly guided by partisan views, and their opinion on the candidates is shaped by their personal feelings and preferences. The 2020 election has intensified the polarization and brought to light many problems underlying the current political landscape. In order to address these problems, the situation needs to be thoroughly analyzed and reviewed by analytics and politicians.


Deane, C., & Gramlich, J. 2020 election reveals two broad voting coalitions fundamentally in odds. Pew Research Center. Web.

French, D. (2020). It’s clear that America is deeply polarized. No election can overcome that. Time. Web.

Holmes, K., & Herb, J. (2020). Key government agency acknowledges Biden’s win and begins formal transition. CNN Politics. Web.

Liasson, M. What the 2020 election is all about. NPR. Web.

McKeever, A. (2020). No modern presidential candidate has refused to concede. Here’s why that matters. National Geographic. Web.

Nelson, M. Political divide: 2020 election reaffirms polarization in US. WTTW. Web.

Rey, D. (2020). Why did Trump almost win? Prospect. Web.

Tucker, E., & Bajak, F. (2020). Repudiating Trump, officials say election ‘most secure.’ AP News. Web.

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1. DemoEssays. "2020 Presidential Election and Political Polarization." February 21, 2022. https://demoessays.com/2020-presidential-election-and-political-polarization/.


DemoEssays. "2020 Presidential Election and Political Polarization." February 21, 2022. https://demoessays.com/2020-presidential-election-and-political-polarization/.