On November 3, 2020, Americans will go to the polls to elect a president. The race is between sitting President Donald Trump and challenger former Vice President Joseph Biden. Who would win? Trump, a Republican, became president in 2016 after defeating Hilary Clinton of the Democratic Party. During that election, the Republican Party took over the White House but also controlled both houses of Congress. But in the mid-term election, the Democrats recaptured the House of Representatives while the Republicans maintained the Senate. Some observers thought that the election represented what would happen in the presidential election this year. That is, the Democrats would win the White House. That view may not be true. In 1902, Bill Clinton’s election put both houses in the hands of the Democrats. But in the mid-term election, the Democrats lost the lower House and many pundits predicted that Clinton would lose re-election. He went on to retain the White House, despite difficulties in his first term. The same happened with Obama in his re-election bid. Who are the candidates in this election?
Joseph Robinette Biden, Jr. was vice president under Obama. He entered politics in 1972 as a senator from Delaware. He served six terms in the Senate. He unsuccessfully ran for the nomination for president for the Democratic ticket in the past, including 2008. He was born in Scranton, Pennsylvania to Joseph Robinette Biden, Sr. and Catherine Biden. The father was a used car salesman. Prior, Biden, Sr. was a successful businessman but the business went down due to the economic recession. The family lost their home and moved to live with a family member in an apartment.
Biden, Jr. earned his BA degree from the University of Delaware and a law degree from Syracuse University. In the Senate, he chaired the Foreign Relations Committee and was considered a foreign policy expert. But he was also viewed as an “attacked dog” in debating with his rivals. Many analysts were surprised by his selection by Obama as running mate in 2008. The general thinking was that Hilary Clinton was to get the selection since she was second in line for the Democratic nomination. Moreover, core backers of Clinton, largely women group, demanded that she should get the vice president pick as a condition for their support for the ticket. However, Obama selected Clinton for secretary of state after winning the election.
Biden was an effective vice president. He utilized his experience in the Senate to serve as the go-between the Obama administration and Congress. He headed the White House Taskforce for working families and played an oversight role for the infrastructure spending for the Obama Stimulus Package. He was instrumental in the Senate passage of the 2010 Tax Relief Act and the New START Treaty between the US and the Russian Federation. In 2015, he decided not to run for president in 2016. The opportunity was given to Hilary. Biden won the nomination for the Democratic ticket for this election after a challenge by Senator Bennie Sanders. Although he started slowly in the race, he won subsequent primaries and the nomination.
Donald Trump was a businessman before entering politics. The presidency was his first public elected post. He handily defeated heavyweight Republican politicians for the party ticket in the 2016 primary. Unlike Biden, Trump’s father was a billionaire in the real-estate business. Trump worked for his father upon graduation from the Wharton School of Business of the University of Pennsylvania. He became more popular with his support of the American Beauty Pageant and his reality show called “You’re Fired”. He challenged Obama American citizenship, stating that Obama was not born in America and offered financial rewards to anyone who would confirm his assertion. Many Americans considered the expression to be racially motivated.
As a political candidate, he ran on the platform as a Washington outsider, a non-politician determined to make America great again. He took advantage of the division of the country and the fear of Americans, generally rural White men without a college education. They feared of high crime rate, immigration, and the possibility of losing the country to foreign control. They had no trust in the established politicians. Although Trump lost all the presidential debates and the popular votes to Clinton, he won the Electoral College votes with the support also of Angelical or evangelical Christians, receiving 81% of their votes.
Under Trump's presidency, the US took a strong stance on China and North Korea. He is fearful of China's technological and economic advancement. There has been a trade war and longstanding rivalry between the US and China influenced largely by ideological differences and the fear of economic dominance by either nation. The US and China are the world's largest economies. The imposition of tariffs on goods from each country has somewhat affected the world economy. Trump is viewed as “the most controversial and divisive president in modern American history”. His non-cooperation with the World Health Organization and his put out from the Paris Climate Accord have brought criticism by the UN. Trump's divisive domestic policy is said to have increased racial tension in America as evidence of the killing of George Floyd and Heather Heyer by racist individuals that resulted in nation-wide protests in America. His policy has led to the formation of “Black Lives Matter”, an advocacy group, and the growth of the “Proud Boys”, a far-right White group. His refusal to denounce White supremacy has added fuel to the division and tension. He has completely met only 7 of his 20 campaign promises.
But also under his administration, until early this year, the US economy improved. Unemployment later decreased and manufacturing jobs increased. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 22.7 million jobs were lost from March to April this year. But since then, about 4.4 million jobs have been added. Moreover, while the unemployment rate was under 5% in the Obama administration, it increased to over 14% under Trump before decreasing to the current rate of 7.9%. The country gross domestic product, GDP, has grown relatively, though below the 4% mark he had promised. Trump stimulus package in response to COVID-19 gave financial assistance to individuals and temporally stopped student loan payment. Also, Black unemployment before the disease is reported to have decreased. Nevertheless, the government budget deficit grew unlike in previous years. Additionally, the poverty rates of Blacks and Latinos have increased according to a BBC recent report.
Trump's anti-China policy may have led to his insensitivity to the COVID-19 pandemic, which originated from China and has caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans and millions of people worldwide. Trump saw the pandemic as a Chinese virus, made fun of it, and failed to truthfully tell the American people of its danger. US has the highest rate of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the world about 6.3 million and a death toll of about “700 a day on a rolling seven-day average”, according to reports. Trump’s approval rate is little above 40%, far less than that of Obama. The rate is lower in his handling of the virus. He is the third president in American history to have been impeached, but the Republican-controlled Senate saved his presidency.
WHO WOULD WIN?
Polls or public opinions look at how the electorates feel about their candidates. Polls tell how a campaign is doing and whether or not a candidate stand a chance for victory. While they are good indicators and have been correct in most elections, they are not gospels. The 2016 US presidential election is an instance that polls can be wrong and should be viewed with caution. Clinton was leading in most polls and was expected to win. But that did not happen. Pundits were surprised by the election results.
CNN poll of polls as of October 22 shows that Biden is leading in the popular votes 10%, with 52% to 42%. Two weeks ago, the lead was a little over 10%. He has been leading since early this year. Other media polls indicate that Biden is also leading in most battleground states. He is ahead in Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and North Carolina. Trump won these states in 2016. They enabled him to win the election. Biden’s lead in these states has many political analysts to suggest that Trump’s chances to win the election are low.
“FiveThirtyEight, a political analysis website, says Biden is favored to win and the Economist thinks he is “very likely to beat Mr. Trump”. Trump’s refusal to say that he would accept the results of the election if he loses has others worry if he would allow a peaceful transfer of power. The Supreme Court, which is controlled by conservative Republican judges, could get involved in the election if there is a problem. Indeed the high court decided the election of 2000 giving the presidency to George W. Bush.
As others have observed, Trump has restructured the judiciary system by appointing about 200 Rightwing Republican judges to federal courts, including three associate justices to the Supreme Court. That comprises his recent nomination of Amy Barrett to replace the late Ruth Ginsburg to the high bench against Democrats opposition saying that the appointment should be left with the next president. The Senate has just confirmed the nomination. Certainly reshaping the judiciary system is one of his campaign promises.
Meanwhile, battleground states, sometimes referred to as swing states, are neither Blue nor Red States. The Blue States usually vote Democrat, and the Red States tend to vote Republican. Because of the “neutrality” of the battleground states, presidential candidates tend to focus on them for victory. After his diagnosis of the COVID virus, Trump traveled to Florida while Biden went to Ohio. These states played a decisive role in the 2000 and 2004 elections respectively. According to the New York Times, Florida, which has the highest Electoral College votes (29) in the swing states, has the highest COVID-19 affected cases in the US. Florida and Pennsylvania are the states to watch in this election. If both go for Biden on Election Day, Trump would have a difficult and tough time to retain the White House.
A poll by Dallas Morning News and the University of Texas at Tyler has recently reported that Biden is narrowly leading in Texas by 3%, which is statistically a tie race. Moming Consult survey also shows a similar lead. This does not look good for Trump. Texas is historically and traditionally a Red state with the second-highest Electoral College votes next to California. No Democratic presidential candidate has won the state since Jimmy Carter in 1976. If Biden carries Texas on November 3, the election will be over for Trump.
Also, some polls have Biden ahead in the Electoral College votes, which determines the winner of the presidency. Each state is given a vote number based on its population and number of members in Congress. Larger states have more votes while smaller states have fewer votes. There are 538 Electoral College votes. To win, a candidate must have a minimum of 270 votes and must win “the absolute majority votes of the state to carry that state”. The Financial Times polls have Biden with 279 Electoral College votes and Trump with 125. CBS polls of October 25 gives Biden 279 and Trump 163.
In the Clinton-Trump election, the race was close. But in this election, the challenger is leading by double-digits in some states. Though the first debate was disappointing and was considered a draw, Biden’s poll numbers increased after the exchange. In other words, the debate seemed to have benefitted Biden. The second but last debate held last week was considered better and cordial than the first, despite the viewers were less compared to the first. Debates seek to convince undecided voters because most voters have already made up their minds and debates do not matter. While each candidate claimed to win the debate, some viewers expressed that Trump was on the defensive. Others said that both candidates did better than previously. Nevertheless, CNN and other polls say Biden won the debate. CNN instant poll has 53% Biden and 39% Trump. Two other polls, including YouGov, have Biden winning by 19% and 11% respectively. Considering Trump’s standing in the polls, he needed a knockout in the debate. Unfortunately, he did not. The debate may not change the polls. Most winners of recent debates lost the presidency. Hilary Clinton, John Kerry, and Al. Gore are examples.
However, as stated earlier, one should view polls with some skepticism. They are not always consistent. Several factors can cause their swift: a prevailing event in the final days of an election, and an overlook of social elements are some of the factors. An unexpected event caused either by human or nature in October and affect opinion polls in an election is generally referred to in America as “October Surprise”.
For instance, in 2012, Hurricane Sandy positively affected Obama’s approval ratings. The storm occurred in October and killed over 100 people in several states. Though the race was close, Obama suspended campaign activities, visited the affected states, and provided assistance. Americans in general about 81% liked his handling of the hurricane and considered him as a leader who cared. Despite his poor economic record, he defeated Mitt Romney in that election.
Another example happened four years ago. FBI Director James Comey’s revelation in October of Clinton's email saga caused a decline of Clinton in the polls and made the race to get tighter. In this election, the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly the news of Trump's contraction of the disease negatively impacted his already poor standing in the polls.
In the 2016 election, pollsters earlier overlooked the role of conservative social groups in their analysis of the election. They did not seriously consider in their forecasting less-educated rural Americans in swing states. Further, it was thought that Clinton would do well with minority voters. That was wrong. Election results indicated that she received less Black and Latino votes compared to Obama. This thinking contributed to incorrect projection.
Nevertheless, while Trump is down in the polls, his core support base remains strong. The evangelicals still support him. This group together with less educated, older rural White men voted for him in 2016. In some battleground states where the race is tight, they could make a difference and possibly give him the election. Before the coronavirus, Trump was rated positively in his handling of the affairs of the country. Americans like a leader who is strong and does not mince his words. Further, they vote by their pocketbook. Trump was doing well with the economy. Hence, they could see the pandemic as an element beyond his control and forgive him at the polls. Moreover, born again Christians, as they have done in previous elections, could carry out door to door campaign in the final days of the election for Trump.
Robert Cahaly, a Republican pollster who correctly predicted the victory for Trump in 2016, has forecasted that Trump would be re-elected, according to the Independent. He based his projection on what he called the “hidden votes” or voters, Trump supporters who the national polls did not count or who chose not to participate in polls. He stated that they will come out to vote for Trump on Election Day.
The Independent also reports that Biden’s lead is narrowing and Trump is up 5% “among White voters without a college degree”. But Biden is up among “women, young people, and college-educated voters”.
One thing among the many factors in this election is that more Americans have voted early and many have voted by mail. This was because of the COVID virus. Accordingly, over 61 million Americans so far have already voted, representing 48 states and the District of Colombia. This could make a difference favoring the Democrats. Turnout is another element, which could impact the results. A high turnout of voters on Election Day would benefit the Democrats while a low turnout would help the Republicans.
A recent survey by CNN indicates that Biden is ahead in early voting. In its poll published October 26, Yahoo News/YouGov count has him with a 56% lead in the early voting and a 12 points lead nationally, representing his biggest mark with few days left to the election. But the CNN study also indicates that Republicans lead among likely voters on Election Day particularly in Florida and that they are more energized to vote than the Democrats.
BY DAGBAYONOH KIAH NYANFORE ll