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Anxious Americans vote in highly polarised election

Policy issues, Trump's anti-minority rhetoric help mobilise voters
Polling locations often have large amounts of yard signs promoting local candidates (MEE/Jacob Powell)

AUSTIN, Texas - As millions of Americans cast their ballots in the presidential election on Tuesday, several voters told Middle East Eye of their anxieties about a polarised, divided United States.

“I think everyone is pulled apart in separate directions,” said Pat McNilly, a mother of a young daughter. “I’ve seen friendships be destroyed through this election. I just hope whoever is chosen unites the country.”

“We need a change in direction, and to get people together,” said Stephen, a 23-year-old who echoed McNilly’s sentiments.

This election is one of the most polarised in recent US history. In 2014, the Pew Research Center said that the split between Republicans and Democrats along ideological lines has been more divided than at any point in two decades, and voters MEE spoke to have all said they felt that voting is important despite the schism.

Voter turnout is expected to be high (AFP)

There has been a high turnout across the country and in Texas - partly from Republican contender Donald Trump’s rhetoric, experts say. 

“We’ve been seeing a turnout surge across the state and particularly in urban areas and in places with high Latino density, but we don’t have the data yet to say ‘these are black and brown voters’. All signs indicate given the surges of the areas of turnout that we’re seeing more Democrats,” said Dr Victoria DeFrancesco Soto, a government professor at the University of Texas in Austin and MSNBC contributor.

DeFrancesco Soto added that Trump’s inflammatory remarks towards American minorities have helped mobilise voters.

“I think it’s an increase of mobilisation by the Democrats," she said. "I call it mobilisation by anger, because of the Latino community being so large of a percentage of the Democratic vote in Texas, and Donald Trump making a lot of inflammatory statements about Latinos. I think that has helped get people interested that otherwise wouldn’t have."

Alexandria, a 49-year-old woman, is a testament to DeFrancesco Soto’s claims. She voted for the first time, saying it was extremely important to take part in the electoral process this year.

“Today was my first time voting, and I have never ever voted in the past. I feel better, I feel good,” she said.

"Trump is a bully. People come here from different countries for opportunity and a better life. The vast majority of immigrants that arrive aren't ISIS [Islamic State] or drug dealers. Donald Trump only sees evil in people. I know that [Hillary Clinton] is trying to do the right thing, and I know that the other presidential nominee – I don’t like the ugliness that’s coming out of him. The prejudice that he’s got, I don’t know what’s going to come of our future.”

Anthony, 41, is an African-American who said he voted for Clinton based on two issues: police brutality and foreign policy.

"ISIS greatly scares me. What happens over there in the Middle East could happen here. Hillary is the only person who I see can bring peace in that region.

"Hillary is also the only person who can solve civil matters here in America, particularly with the police," he added.

Pat McNilly, who hails in the Republican-leaning district outside of Austin but did not disclose who she voted for, told MEE that national security is her number one concern.

“As a mother, the most important issue that is we’re safe. We cannot have a terrorist attack on our soil.”

But when asked if she was happy that the election has finally drawn to a close, she exclaimed, "Absolutely!”

"It’s been a doozy, but it’s not the first time that elections have been like this. There’s always something big going on, even when [Ronald] Reagan was elected," she added.