Millions of Americans turned out Tuesday to decide whether to send Hillary Clinton to the White House as their first woman president or to put their trust in maverick populist Donald Trump.
As dusk fell on the East Coast, there were long lines in front of voting places in many areas, despite exit polls suggesting that many voters were not enthused by the choice between the veteran Democrat and the billionaire Republican.
Clinton went into the day with a slim opinion poll lead and a more obvious route to winning the key states that will decide the electoral college, but the first early results were not expected until 7:00 pm (0000 GMT Wednesday).
A survey conducted by CNN found that 54 percent of voters approve of the job incumbent president Barack Obama is doing, and only four in 10 were optimistic his successor would do any better.
As the world held its collective breath, the winner’s name was not expected to be known before 0300 GMT Wednesday, and if polls are close, the wait could go long into the night while western states count ballots.
From crowded Manhattan to Virginia horse country to balmy California, long lines snaked into the streets outside polling stations.
“Hillary, she has a history,” said Charmaine Smith, 50, an African-American retail manager as she cast her ballot in Harlem. “All Trump has is the bullying.”
But R. Raju, a 70-year Indian immigrant from Staten Island, New York, cast a confident vote for the Republican and his promise to reclaim power from a corrupt Washington elite. “Trump would be a great president,” he said. “Not good, great. He’s like a Ronald Reagan.” An hour’s drive north, a crowd of admirers chanted “Madam President” as Clinton and her husband Bill, the former president, voted near their home in Chappaqua, before emerging to shake hands and chat with the crowd.
“So many people are counting on the outcome of this election, what it means for our country,” the 69-year-old secretary of state said.
“And I’ll do the very best I can if I’m fortunate enough to win today.”
– ‘Don’t let up’ –
Trump, 70, cast his ballot alongside wife Melania in a Manhattan school gymnasium.
“Right now it’s looking very good,” he told reporters — paying no heed to protesters who welcomed him with chants of “New York hates you!”
But as the clock ticked down towards the close of polling, the Republican issued a last-minute appeal to voters, especially in key battleground Florida — without which his path to the presidency is slim at best.
“Don’t let up, keep getting out to vote – this election is FAR FROM OVER! We are doing well but there is much time left. GO FLORIDA!” Trump tweeted — looking to garner 11th hour votes.
– Marathon campaign –
The 2016 race was the most bruising in modern memory.
Obama’s election eight years ago as the nation’s first black president had raised hopes of uniting Americans, but the current contest has only highlighted the country’s divisions — and the fact that voters are not necessarily happy with their options.
Exit polls by ABC News and NBC News found that both Clinton and Trump are seen as untrustworthy by majorities of voters, while most find Trump’s temperament unpresidential.
Most voters told ABC that the economy was the most important issue or them, but were evenly divided on which candidate would handle it better, so the final result may come down to turnout.
The exit polls, and reports coming in from polling stations around the country, suggested that Latino turnout was high and that this would favor Clinton over the anti-immigration candidate, Trump.
Trump’s campaign spooked world markets seeking stability after the recent global slowdown, but stocks rose for a second straight day Tuesday on the expectation that Clinton will prevail.
At the closing bell, the S&P 500 closed up 0.4 percent.
– ‘La Senora’ –
A polling average by tracker site RealClearPolitics gave Clinton a 3.3-percentage point national lead, but Trump had the advantage in several of the swing states that he must conquer to pull off an upset.
Early voting has shown particular enthusiasm among Hispanic voters, an increasingly influential voting bloc whose strong turnout could shape Tuesday’s results. In the heavily Latino neighborhood of East Los Angeles, Mexican-Americans Margarito Salinas, 88, and friend Guadalupe Cobian, 64 said their choice was an easy one.
“That guy is a Nazi,” Salinas said of Trump. “My vote is for La Senora.”
Clinton conducted six radio interviews in the lull after casting her ballot, when candidates suddenly have hours of downtime following a non-stop campaign that ended in the early hours of Tuesday.
She has urged citizens to vote for a more “big-hearted” America.
“I hope to be remembered as someone who began to help heal our country, to overcome the divide, the very unfortunate feeling that a lot of people have that this election was very much filled with nastiness and negativity,” she told WOKQ.
– Nevada legal challenge –
Trump pressed his message with voters who feel left behind by globalization and social change, wrapping up with a flourish in Michigan after midnight and predicting a historic upset.
“Today the American working class is going to strike back, finally,” he said.
Even then, questions remain. Trump has repeatedly claimed Democrats and the media are seeking to rig the race and said last month that he may not accept the result if he thinks voting is unfair.
Asked at his voting location whether he would concede if networks call the election for Clinton, Trump said: “We’ll see what happens.”
In a sign that Trump is preparing a legal challenge, his attorneys filed suit in Nevada alleging that the Clark County registrar of voters kept early voting stations open hours beyond the designated closing time.
A sense of disbelief among top donors has however given way to a sense of resignation that the presidency has slipped away from Hillary Clinton.