In the 2020 elections, voter turnout was highest in over a century. Almost 67 percent of those eligible to vote took part. With some votes still to be counted, Joe Biden received 50.5 percent of the population’s vote, compared with 47.7 percent for Donald Trump, a difference of about 4 million votes. This is a significant, but much smaller margin than predicted in the national polls before election day. Voting in the electoral college is still being finalized as several states complete the ballot counting, but Biden has passed the crucial 270 mark with 279 votes over Trump’s 214 at the time of writing. Trump has posed legal challenges in several states, but these are unlikely to advance or question the outcome of the race.
The Democrats were hoping for a “blue wave” of support to give them control of the Senate and a stronger majority in the House. Instead, the Senate Republicans have firmly held onto seats considered competitive in states like Maine and Iowa and are well on their way to maintaining a slim majority in the chamber, with the final numbers pending on two expected runoff elections in the state of Georgia for January 5th. Most Democrats can hope for a 50:50 split at this point, with Vice President Kamala Harris as the tiebreaker.
Despite being on track to maintain a majority in the House of Representatives, the Democrats have lost at least four seats, including several of the Trump-sponsored districts they won in 2018, sparking a debate between moderate and progressive House Democrats over the relative appeal of triggered their respective approaches. Additionally, the Democrats couldn’t even flip a legislature as the Republicans retained control of the state chambers in Texas, North Carolina, and Florida, giving the GOP a distinct advantage in setting restructuring and political agendas at the state level.
Biden’s most striking contrast with Trump will be in his tone and approach, which restores messages of national unity, moderation and compromise. But there will also be sharp political differences.
In the short term, we can expect a significant shift in Covid-19 policy under Biden. He is already starting a task force to lead a public health-based response that will focus on widely available testing, contact tracing and vaccine development, and he will urge Congress to pass a robust package of aid that benefits workers, small businesses and financially supported -strapped states. The response to the pandemic has been linked to Biden’s other political priority of protecting and building on Affordable Care Act to cut costs and remove barriers to health care.
Eventually, there will be a sharp contrast between Biden and Trump on climate policy; Biden has pledged to invest in green infrastructure and industries to bring the US to zero carbon emissions by 2050, and his transition team is already exploring how to reintroduce over 100 environmental measures that the Trump administration has reversed.
However, Biden’s ability to translate his agendas into politics largely depends on which party ultimately controls the Senate. A divided government, while not guaranteeing a standstill, makes it very difficult to enforce ambitious legislation. With Biden’s 36-year history in the Senate as a pragmatic compromise-maker, however, he could exert more influence than others in his party in overcoming the bipartisanism that has shaped Washington over the past decade.
As with domestic policy, Biden’s foreign policy will differ in style and substance from Trump’s. In contrast to Trump’s “America First” doctrine, we can expect a multilateral approach to international relations, including re-entry into the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Paris Climate Agreement, confirmation of US commitment to NATO, and renewed engagement with allies on the JCPOA (the Iranian nuclear deal). As we improve relations with allies, we also expect a rejection from authoritarian strong men who have benefited from Trump, including Russia’s Putin and Saudi Arabia’s Mohammad Bin Salman.
Even in areas where the Biden administration’s policies may be somewhat in line with Trump’s, such as maintaining a tough stance on China, we can expect a less escalating and more diplomatic approach that engages allies rather than pressuring them. With security-related decisions like the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan and the Middle East, Biden will most likely avoid Trump’s premature decision-making in favor of more traditional consultation with military, defense and State Department officials in order to allow for a more stable and predictable foreign policy decision.
Even with the Biden victory, the election was far from rejecting the Trumpism that Democrats had hoped for. With over 70 million votes for Trump, the election illustrates the polarization of the country between two political and increasingly social areas. However, it’s important not to turn polarization into a self-fulfilling prophecy, especially since research shows Americans appreciate that members of the other party disagree or disagree with it twice as much as they actually do. While it is tempting to view the country as severely divided between liberal and conservative states, there are significant differences in opinions and ideologies within the regions, so it may be wiser to revise the map as different shades of purple rather than crisp red or blue .
It is also important to note that despite strong party political identity, there have been some small but notable shifts in these elections that indicate a mess of traditional Democratic and Republican bases. As expected, Biden led Trump overall among female voters; Black, Hispanic / Latino, and Asian voters; Voters with university degree; urban voters; and voters under 45. However, according to polls on the exit, Trump actually made gains in most populations except white men, including modest but unexpected increases in white women, black men and women, and Hispanic men and women. Particularly among the Cuban-American and Venezuelan-American voters in Florida, the contribution to Trump’s victory in that state has been credited, even if Hispanic votes remained stable for Democrats in states like Texas and Arizona. These shifts underline the importance of both parties to recognize the diversity within the communities, which is often discussed homogeneously, and also make it difficult to characterize “Trumpism” as being attractive only to white men.
As the slight demographic changes show, support for Trump may be more nuanced than previously thought. Both parties should look beyond the surface-level assumptions to better understand the problems and grievances that became 7 million More Voters to Trump in this election as of 2016. However, not all ballots cast for Trump were necessarily full affirmations of his personality or politics; 2020 was clearly an atypical year with a plethora of crises, and polls showed that the majority of Trump voters largely voted on economic issues. Others likely voted in line with party loyalty and support for conservative platforms rather than directly accepting Trump. And the fact that Trump left the GOP congressional candidates behind in voting rounds shows that his personal politics could only go so far, even within his own party. But Trump’s populism, a mixture of nationalism and rejection of “elites”, has clearly resonated with a number of voters, suggesting that “Trumpism” will continue to matter in US politics.
Trump’s post-election statements, pointing to widespread election fraud and election theft, were unprecedented and, to many observers, seemed rightly undermining American democracy. It is noteworthy, however, that both Democrats and Republicans, as well as media outlets including Fox News, were quick to denounce and scrutinize the president’s comments, with the big three news networks actually cutting off some of his most misleading comments. Additionally, the fact that courts in Michigan and Georgia have brought lawsuits over Trump’s unsubstantiated fraud allegations in those states should restore confidence in the integrity of American institutions, even amid Trump’s fire and false rhetoric.
Other questions about American democracy beyond the competition between Biden and Trump remain open. The proximity of this election in the election vote will undoubtedly lead to further discussions about reconsidering the electoral college, despite Biden’s clear victory in the referendum. And the over 300 complaints related to postal ballot and early voting procedures raise important questions about future efforts to facilitate voter access and prevent voter suppression. Both parties will also face greater challenges in terms of their own paths: to what extent will the Republican Party orientate itself towards or away from Trumpism? How do Democrats maintain a viable coalition between moderates and progressives?
At this point, after months of divisive campaigns, days of grueling counting, and a year like no other, Americans and the international community can view this election as one that affirmed democracy, rather than demeaning it. In both the presidential election and the voting, Americans have shown a clear preference for courtesy and moderation, and the high turnout underscores that the majority of Americans still believe primarily in the robustness of the electoral process, even in times of crisis. Despite the high levels of tension, the pre-election and election day voting was peaceful and the country has not turned into violence as predicted. While the elections have sparked thousands of Americans, Biden and Trump supporters, in peaceful protests and demonstrations, these should be seen as an expression and embrace of democracy rather than a threat to it. That choice has tested American democracy, but it has proven resilient.
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