Too close to predict but US Election 2020 will define America’s future path

Americans will elect their next president On November 3. American voters are confronted with the choice of advancing Trumpian policies or accepting the centrist agenda of Jo Biden. In many ways, this election is likely to determine the long-term direction of the US.

US President Donald Trump has been feverishly campaigning and predicting his victory. Trump returns to Grand Rapids, Michigan on Monday night for his final rally in an effort to recreate the 2016 surprise victory.

Trump is touring four states before the end of the campaign. His rival Joe Biden will address two rallies in Pennsylvania, another critical state to win. More than 95 million or 70 per cent of those who voted in 2016 have cast their ballots ahead of Election Day. In 2016, more than 138 million votes were cast.

Us Election 2020: Trump Vs Biden

On November 3, Americans will elect their next president, but this is not a traditional electoral contest. In many ways, this election is likely to determine the long-term direction of the country. American voters are confronted with the choice of advancing Trumpian policies or accepting the centrist agenda of Jo Biden, the nominee of the Democratic Party.

While both candidates have contrasting approaches to issues of national concern from civil liberties to climate change, and from the coronavirus to healthcare this election is a moment beyond the ongoing economic and public health crises.

In the words of Joe Biden, this is about the “soul of America.” The civil society and the media in the US echo this sentiment but they are faced with the Herculean challenge of addressing the concerns of communities that have found a formidable voice in President Trump, his worldview and policies.

Joe Biden has been ahead of Donald Trump in most national polls since the start of the year. He has hovered around 50 per cent in recent months. FiveThirtyEight, a political analysis website, says Biden is "favoured" to win the election, while The Economist projects he is "very likely" to beat Trump. Several polling companies have Democrats up several percentage points. A University of Southern California election poll released on Monday had Biden up 11 percentage points nationally, ascribing to Biden 53 per cent and to Trump 42 per cent. The Independent polls reveal a 10-point lead to Biden.

Narrowing Lead

The lead, however, seems to narrow as revealed in recent polls. Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s lead over President Trump has narrowed a touch to 8 points from a 10-point advantage in early October, according to a Fox News national survey.

Biden is ahead by a 52-44 per cent margin. A survey conducted for Investor’s Business Daily pointed to a three-point (49%-46%) advantage for the former vice president over Trump, with third-party candidates grabbing 3 per cent.

The national polls merely guide the elections but not necessarily predict the results of the election. In 2016, the polls were far less clear and just a couple of percentage points separated Trump and his rival in the days before the election.

Joe Biden’s narrowing lead over Donald Trump doesn’t guarantee his victory. In 2016, Hillary Clinton also had a clear lead but she ended up losing in the electoral college. As the 2016 experience shows, the number of votes won is less important than from where they’re won. The primary battlefields are the swing states where the election will be won and lost.

Not A Simple Election

By now, more 90 million votes have been cast. There will be a high turnout but this is not a simple election. The threat of disinformation looms large not to mention the perverse involvement of big-tech conglomerates. Boston Review has highlighted four key vulnerabilities: flawed infrastructure, organically generated conspiracies and public outcry, vulnerability to low-cost, unattributable system hacks, and susceptibility to trolls and bots. Altogether, these weaknesses jeopardize the integrity of the electoral system.

The reliability and transparency of the election system is questionable as heightened concerns on hacking, disruptions and technical glitches persist. The lapses in security could allow someone to tamper with and compromise the results, thereby subverting elections. Donald Trump has repeatedly hinted about potential rigging, thus fanning mistrust of the election infrastructure. It is also notable that machines, not voters, register the ballots.

Furthermore, due to the coronavirus, staffing for polling stations may be insufficient. With systems breaking down, people could carve out conspiracy theories as to “what might have happened” during polling, just like the rumours that echoed soon after the 2016 elections and Iowa Caucus. This year, it is feared that there could be prolonged delays in the reporting of results because counting mail ballots could take days or even a week in certain cases.

Be it climate change or the coronavirus, President Trump has downplayed science-based projections, exaggerated Covid-19 “progress” and mocked masks, while Biden has come forward with a “Let Science Drive Our Decisions” narrative on the virus, which by far remains the foremost issue in the presidential race.

In addition, climate change policy, immigration, civil rights, economy (primarily employment) and healthcare are major issues that could determine electoral behaviour. The real unknown remains the rural votes in many swing states where economic stress has only increased in the last few years.

The ‘Trump’ Factor

For decades, the US has enjoyed its contentious status as a ‘leader’ of democracy across the globe. But since Trump’s ascension into power, there have been abundant fears and predictions about the fall of democracy and the rise of authoritarianism. History is replete with examples of the decline of democracies into despotism with limited space to reverse engineer the trajectory, if timely interventions are not made.

Trump has been pushing a narrative asserting that if he loses, it must be due to rigging — thus sowing seeds of distrust in institutions and election system, both of which are hallmarks of democracy. “There won’t be a transfer”, he said answering a question about the peaceful transfer of power. “I don’t think so” is how he exhibited nonchalance.

This raised many an eyebrow within Republican circles, though right-wing politicians are careful not to directly mention President Trump in their criticism.

During the first presidential debate, President Trump did not condemn white supremacists and militia groups when asked to do. “Stand down, Stand by” was his response after facing backlash for not explicitly denouncing far-right groups.

Earlier, in an exchange with a Fox News reporter on September 30, he had claimed that he had not heard of the white supremacist group Proud Boys. "You'll have to give me a definition because I really don't know who they are” he said. A large number of U.S. commentators believe that Trump’s presidency has been marred by an unprecedented, scandalous trail of misplaced statements, strained civic liberties and free speech, calling journalism “fake news,” and avoiding tough questions. Independent groups have warned about the prospect of weakening democracy within the United States.

Freedom House, a nonprofit human rights watchdog that monitors democracy globally, raised questions in its 2020 annual report about American democracy: “In recent years, its democratic institutions have suffered erosion, as reflected in partisan manipulation of the electoral process, bias and dysfunction in the criminal justice system, flawed new policies on immigration and asylum seekers, and growing disparities in wealth, economic opportunity, and political influence.”

The road of democratic decline is not always an inevitable path that ends with a strongman regime. The current elections have witnessed an extraordinary turnout. Many Americans realise that it’s an election that won’t just affect their country, but the world.

This November, America’s democratic future, the prospects of building a congruous society, and that fabled global ‘standing’ are all at stake.

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