When Jim Jackson contemplates November, he cringes at what he sees: a defeated President Trump refusing to leave the White House and his warring supporters to keep him there.
“The militias and white supremacists … they’re going to call for arms,” said Jackson, 73, who lives in the conservative suburb of Milwaukee and has voted Republican for 52 years, but not for Trump. “It’s my worst nightmare.”
Jeanine Davis shares her concern, but for different reasons.
Sitting by the Huntington Beach Pier, wearing a red “Keep America Great” hat, the Trump supporter suggested Democrats would do whatever it takes to elect Joe Biden and revolt if they fail. “It will be like a war between citizens,” said Davis, an executive recruit in her 50s.
Candidates often say that a presidential contest is the most important ever, telling voters to act as if their lives depend on it and the country’s future is on the line. Dozens of conversations with voters across the country – from the West Coast to the Upper Midwest to the East – suggest that, this time, a lot of people really believe it.
Punished by the pandemic, hampered by economic hardship and torn by relentless partisanship, America faces an election unlike any in modern times, a vote clouded by threat and fringed with paranoia – largely fueled by the occupant of the Oval Office, which constantly works to undermine confidence in the outcome.
“He’s basically trying to pull off a coup,” said Frank Dudek, a 70-year-old retiree, after voting at an early voting center in Arlington, Virginia, just outside the nation’s capital.
Some voters are worried about the severing of family ties. Others see the whole country collapsing. A significant number view threats and violence as a reasonable way to resolve partisan differences.
“You have all of these things – the pandemic, the protests, the counter protests, black versus white, right versus left,” said Allison Trammell, 60, an Atlanta social worker who supports Biden. “It’s almost like everything is happening at the same time and there is no balance. There is no common ground.
In addition, many act on their fears, anticipating all manner of chaos, up to and including armed insurgency. They are flooding gun stores and shooting ranges, stockpiling ammunition and stocking up for a post-election dystopia.
“We hope for the best. We are preparing for the worst.
Ashley Avis, 36-year-old nurse and Trump supporter in Pinellas Pines, Florida.
Ashley Avis, a 36-year-old nurse, had recently gone out with her father and 2-year-old son to Pinellas Park, Fla., To buy plywood to close their windows in the event of civil unrest. She also plans to secure an alternative water supply, lest public works around Tampa Bay be taken out of service.
“We hope for the best,” said the Trump supporter. “We are preparing for the worst.”
Across the country, in a working-class neighborhood in eastern Las Vegas, Michael Martinez said he too plans to provide additional food and water “in case there is a disruption in our delivery systems.” food and so on.
“I wouldn’t pass some people” if Trump lost, said Martinez, 69, a retired union carpenter and Biden supporter. “This is how they will try to disrupt the economy, to try to disrupt the way we live now.”
Not everyone sees election day as the dawn of a coming apocalypse.
Dave Gorrasi, who owns Blue Hook Aquatics just outside of Cincinnati, says he thinks talk of widespread upheaval is a device both sides are using to gain support.
“I think there is going to be less trouble once the elections are over because then we can get back to normal, ”said the 41-year-old independent politician, still undecided.
Jackie Dodd, a financial loan officer from Mableton, Ga., Suggested people are still restless around election time and don’t see the political climate getting worse after November 3.
“We have violence now,” the 60-year-old Trump supporter said during a cigarette break outside her Atlanta office. She pointed to the closed Centennial Olympic Park, where most peaceful protesters converged over the summer. after George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police.
Months after the vandalism of CNN headquarters and the burning of police cars, some downtown storefronts are still closed out of concern.
“Look at what happened four years ago,” Dodd said. “It’s no different. Any election, someone is going to disagree. “
As brutally as the country is divided, a poll for the Democracy Fund Voter Study Group, a group of experts from all political backgrounds, found that the overwhelming majority of Americans believe there is no room for violence in the country’s political system.
(The quiet of the last decades is a relatively recent phenomenon. Violence around elections was not uncommon in the 19th century, and lynchings, to keep black voters away from the polls, continued into the 20th century, says Jeffrey Selinger. , researcher at Bowdoin College.)
Yet 16% of those polled at the end of 2019 said that using violence to advance political goals would be “somewhat” justified. The number, essentially equal among Democrats and Republicans, rose to 21% when respondents were asked to consider the possibility of losing the 2020 election. That equates to millions of Americans who would tolerate the use of force, even if they do not act personally.
Given the country’s greenhouse atmosphere, some who renounce violence worry about those who won’t.
“If Trump gets reelected or Biden wins, who can say what’s going to happen?” said Shad DeLacy, 43, a political independent who runs a men’s clothing store on the main shopping street in Kenosha, Wisconsin. He waved to buildings across the street, jailed as a precaution after days of unrest after the August shooting of Jacob Blake, a black man, by a white policeman.
“It surprised me. It’s not who we are in Kenosha, ”DeLacy said. “So I can’t even imagine what it will be like if the wrong person is elected. I cannot trust humanity at this time. “
He does not intend to vote in November.
Many of those planning to vote are concerned about the integrity of the election and the fairness of the process, which undermines their confidence in the outcome. Supporters on both sides have found reasons to question the integrity of the other.
Mary Copps, 74, a retired occupational therapist who is considering voting for Trump, said she had received several mail-in vote requests at her home in Mequon, a predominantly white suburb north of Milwaukee. Wisconsin is verifying that ballots are only sent to registered voters, but Copps was still skeptical, echoing the president’s attacks on the legitimacy of postal voting.
“I guess I could fill them with… who knows,” she said. “Several names?”
Sarah McCabe, in her 50s, has long believed that presidential elections were unfair because they were decided by the electoral college rather than the popular vote, giving disproportionate weight to more conservative and less populous states. But the Biden supporter is particularly concerned about this election and the COVID-19 pandemic which has made many Democrats prefer to vote by absentee.
“I’m concerned about the mail slowdown and … the potential to contest postal ballots,” McCabe said as she waited outside a barbershop in downtown Holland, Mich., While her daughter was getting cut. “I am particularly amazed that we are concerned about our post office. They took our mail sorting machines to Grand Rapids. Of course, this is done for the benefit of the president. “
Some go beyond simple worry.
In a new research paper, UC Riverside economists Bree Lang and Matthew Lang found a record 3.9 million gun background checks were carried out after protests swept through the country following the murder of Floyd by the police. There was no statistical difference in the push between the Republican and Democratic-leaning states.
A separate study by a trade group found that the biggest increase in gun sales was among black Americans, who grew nearly 60% in the first six months of the year.
Aldrin Eusebio, 30, a gun owner queuing outside Turner’s Outdoorsman in Pasadena, said he wanted to “protect me and my family from the riots and whatever is going on.” They are already saying that if Trump wins, they won’t accept it.
“It’s been 3 and a half years since we have been dealing with this fake History of “ collusion with Russia ” and three and a half years of fake news, ”said the medic who plans to vote for Trump’s re-election in November. “So I’m just worried about what will happen if he wins again. They will find an … excuse “to try to kick him out of the White House, he said.
Even some without fear of violence wonder how – and if – the country will come together after being so violently torn apart. In some cases, it’s personal.
McCabe, an office worker in a doctor’s office, comes from what she described as “a blended family.” A sister like her supports Biden. Their other sister supports Trump.
McCabe said she dreaded Thanksgiving.
Barabak reported from Las Vegas and Jarvie from Atlanta. The Times Writers Tyrone Beason in Kenosha, Wisconsin, Brian Contreras in Arlington, Virginia, Michael Finnegan in Pinellas Park, Florida, Melissa Gomez in Huntington Beach, Arit John in Santa Clarita, Melanie Mason in Waukesha, Wisconsin, Seema Mehta in Holland , Michigan, and James Rainey in Cincinnati contributed to this report.