The 2020 US Presidential Election May, Like This Year Has Been, Throw Up A Surprise

by Priyank Pandey - Oct 24, 2020 04:51 PM +05:30 IST
The 2020 US Presidential Election May, Like This Year Has Been, Throw Up A SurpriseUS President Donald Trump (left) and Democratic Party’s presidential candidate Joe Biden. (Illustration: Swarajya Magazine)
  • The country is more polarised than at any time in recent memory, but the election starts and ends with bread and butter issues for many key voting blocs.

The most important issue in US Presidential elections has traditionally been the economy and there is no difference this time around.

Rounding out the top five issues most important to voters are national security, the response to the Coronavirus, Healthcare and Education.

The Democrats are traditionally seen as stronger on the latter two while Republicans are seen as better stewards of the economy and stronger on national security.

Trump's response to the Coronavirus has been widely criticised with polls usually having his core support of 37 - 40 per cent approving of his handling of the pandemic.

With the above, the Biden campaign may have a slight edge on the issues.

While the above are mostly recurring themes in every Presidential election, there are a few issues that make this election unique:

  • Supreme Court nomination: In the US, the sitting President makes a nomination for a vacancy in the Supreme Court. The Senate, currently controlled by Republicans, confirms the nominee for his/her lifetime. With the death of the liberal Ruth Bader Ginsburg just a few weeks ago, Trump is looking to confirm his conservative appointee in late October, right before the election. This will tilt the ideological bend of the court to an unassailable 6-3 in favour of conservatives. The issue is riling up Democrats, but there's nothing that can be done about it if the confirmation takes place before the election (which the Senate has indicated it would be). If this confirmation does take place, look for a mild deflating effect on Democratic turnout.
  • Law and order/the silent Trump voter: A curiosity out of the 2016 Presidential election was the polling which consistently showed Trump behind by several percentage points, even in the battleground states, but pulling off an easy eventual victory. While there are many factors to this phenomenon, a key one is the 'shy' Trump voter who will not admit their support for Trump to pollsters. Expect this voter to be key, especially in the light of protests and certain rioting that has taken place over the summer and early fall, including in the suburbs of key cities. The suburbs are a coveted demographic that can tilt an election (see battleground state section below).
  • Trump's corona scare: The US leads the world in Covid fatalities and after seemingly minimizing the threat for so long, Trump is predictably and proudly pounding the drum of his recovery from the virus. This can only be a positive for the Trump campaign as it highlights his strength, especially in relation to Biden, whose own age and health are an election issue (either candidate would be the oldest ever to be inaugurated as President).

The states to watch and what the polls say

The widely respected American TV anchor, Tim Russert, summed up the 2000 Presidential election by his famous quote that the election was all about "Florida, Florida, Florida".

While that may not be the case this time around, the uniqueness of the American electoral college system means that just a handful of states tend to decide the election.

The other battleground states are the midwest states of Wisconsin, Michigan, an almost mid-western one, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina and Arizona.

All of these states went Trump's way in 2016, sometimes with razor-thin margins.

The issues in these states are generally aligned with national topics, but with some nuances.

  • The Green New Deal - The energy on the Democratic side comes from the progressive Left which has made a reengineering of the economy based on renewal energy a key part of their agenda, the Green New Deal. In certain mid-west states that have already been gutted by the loss of manufacturing, the Green New Deal is seen as a threat to 'fracking' and other fossil-based fuel extraction.
  • Hispanic vote - Hispanics are the largest racial minority in the US and while there is no single Hispanic voting bloc, there are segments within this group that can sway key results. In Florida, there are large numbers of immigrants who have fled socialist regimes in Cuba and Venezuela, and are wary of the Democratic party's embrace of socialistic policies. This is reflected in the polling as Clinton beat Trump 59 per cent - 36 per cent among Latinos in Florida in 2016 while Trump and Biden are neck and neck with this demographic. Even more worrying for Biden in the Battleground states is that while he's still leading in the polls in these states, he's officially behind where Clinton was at this point in the campaign.
  • Law and order versus racial justice - In most states, the large cities and urban areas lean heavily Democrat while the remainder of the state is usually Republican. The battleground states often come down to how the suburbs, including educated white voters (the 'suburban moms'), vote. The issues of racial justice spurred on by the George Floyd cold-blooded death at the hands of the police will be top of mind but so will the Republican message of law and order. Whoever wins this battle in the mind of the suburban voter will more than likely emerge victorious.

An assessment of each campaign and a prediction

Trump's bombastic style, twitter tirades, and generally divisive language have turned off a certain segment of the 2016 Trump voter. However, the pull further left of the Democratic agenda has had a similar effect on the Democratic side. Also like 2016, the polls have Biden as the clear front runner.

The country is more polarised than at any time in recent memory, but the election starts and ends with bread and butter issues for many key voting blocs.

In modern US history, only Jimmy Carter and George Bush Sr. have lost re-election bids and both did so in times of recessions.

While the current US economy has been kneecapped by the Covid-19 outbreak, the stock market, unemployment, and other measures show an economy on the mend.

For all of Trump's divisiveness, he currently has a 51 per cent approval rating on his handling of the economy.

Additionally, politics 101 dictates that voters need a positive message and the Biden/Harris duo has failed to deliver on this part.

2020 has been full of surprises, look for the US election to deliver another one with Trump claiming four more years as President.

Priyank Pandey is a US-based healthcare executive with interests in global affairs and the coming healthcare revolution

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