In the 2008 US election, Carrie Sheridan slept in her Honda Element as she campaigned across the country for Democrat Barack Obama. On Tuesday, the self-described community activist from the Washington, DC area spent $864 of the last $1,000 in her checking account on a room in Republican Donald Trump’s $200m luxury hotel three blocks from the White House.
“I had to be here,” Sheridan said, as Trump supporters lounging on velvet sofas poured champagne on each other early Wednesday morning to celebrate their candidate’s shock presidential election victory.
“This is rage against the machine.”
Voters in Tuesday’s presidential election were split nearly evenly between Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton, who as of late Wednesday morning was leading in media tallies of the popular vote count despite failing to win enough states to secure the White House.
But by overwhelming margins, voters told a Reuters/Ipsos exit poll they felt the United States’ economic and political systems were tilted against them.
The poll found an electorate burning with resentment against Wall Street, politicians and the news media, increasingly alienated from a country it saw changing in ways it didn’t like.
Some 75 percent of poll respondents agreed that “America needs a strong leader to take the country back from the rich and powerful.”
By a similar margin, voters agreed that the economy is “rigged” to benefit the wealthy, and that traditional politicians and parties “don’t care about people like me.”
Even more -77 per cent – agreed that “mainstream media is more interested in making money than telling the truth.”
A wealthy Manhattan real-estate mogul who travels in his own gold-plated 757 airplane might seem like an unlikely candidate to benefit from this anti-elite sentiment.
But lines had formed at the velvet ropes by 8pm Eastern time outside Trump’s new hotel in between the White House and the US Capitol. A steak at the hotel costs $60 and wine is sold by the spoonful.
“These are shadow voters, voters who have never voted before,” said Preston Parry, 20, who was watching the results with a throng of friends, all of them wearing suits and Trump campaign trucker hats.
Despite his gilded lifestyle, Trump capitalised on working-class fears of a rapidly changing country. Styling himself as a “blue-collar billionaire,” he promised to “Make America Great Again” by bringing manufacturing jobs back to forgotten factory towns and sharply curtailing immigration.
He won a swath of battleground states on Tuesday, drawing overwhelming support from white working-class voters in Rust Belt states like Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
Trump’s scathing characterisation of Clinton as a corrupt career politician also resonated with supporters who chanted “lock her up” at rallies.
Many voters said they were primarily voting against one of the candidates. Some 46 percent of Trump supporters said they backed him because they didn’t want Clinton to win, while 40 percent of Clinton supporters said they were motivated primarily to stop Trump from reaching the White House.
Those who made up their minds in the last week of the campaign were more likely to cite opposition to one of the candidates as their main reason for voting.
“I want somebody that’s going to fight for America instead of other countries,” said John Scherer, a 57-year-old former maintenance worker in Portsmouth, Ohio, who voted for Trump.
Politicians like Clinton are “taking away from what we were as a country and saying we should change because of the people coming in, the immigrants and refugees,” he said.
The Reuters/Ipsos Election Day poll was conducted online in English in all 50 states, including more than 45,000 people who already voted in the presidential election.
Voter dissatisfaction isn’t exactly new. Surveys have consistently found since 2002 that most people believe the country is on the wrong track, a period that encompasses a Republican and Democratic president, two wars, a deep recession and a slow recovery.
Trump supporters were more likely to share this frustration. Some 70 percent who backed the Republican real-estate mogul said they felt the country was on the wrong track, while only 23 percent of Clinton supporters agreed, according to the Reuters/Ipsos tracking poll.
Those figures could quickly turn on their head as the reality of a Trump presidency sinks in. Across the country, Clinton supporters used unusually harsh language when describing the election result.
In Washington, DC, non-profit manager Trisha Postyuk said she saw her vote for Clinton as “a triumph over evil.”
In St. Petersburg, Florida, cafe owner Amanda Keyes, 33, said the country can only move past racist and sexist attitudes when the people who hold them are no longer alive.
“Misogyny will continue to bubble through the country but I can only hope that the old people will die,” she said.
At Trump’s new luxury hotel in Washington, a couple from Atlanta looked at a text message from a friend who had bet them $100 that Trump would lose.
“Please don’t ever text me again,” the message said.