Election 2020: What's Even Happening

I think we can all agree 2020 has been plagued with raw, unfiltered chaos. International and domestic disputes, a global pandemic, and the worst global recession since the Great Depression have rocked the world, leaving damage, destruction, and trauma in their torrential paths. Reality has become illusive, enigma-like; almost every aspect of our lives has been affected, turned upside-down on itself.

One thing that hasn’t changed?: election day is still November 3rd, and the 2020 presidential race is still very much on. We’re on the homestretch, and America is quickly approaching the big decision. With everything that’s going on, it’s easy to find yourself lost in the whirlwind that is our current reality, but don’t fret – this is a baseline summary of everything that’s going on to get you started on your Election 2020 decision making process.

Election 2020: What’s even happening?

Both parties just wrapped up their national conventions, which function primarily as decorative pieces of the race cycle designed to drum up party support for the candidates and for party delegates to formally ‘decide’ on the nominee and what the candidate’s official platform will look like. Over the past forty years, the conventions have morphed into more of a publicity event than anything, and now serve as a means to gain mass exposure for the selected candidates and their platforms.

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The Democrats kicked off their virtual festivities on August 17th and presented viewers with messages of unification, resilience, acceptance, and progressivism. High profile speakers – Michelle Obama, Bernie Sanders, Andrew Cuomo, and John Kasich, to name a few – urged viewers to vote blue, painting Biden as not just the right choice, but the only legitimate choice for America. The Democrats also invited others to the (virtual) stage: Rodney and Philonise Floyd, who hosted a moment of silence for their brother George Floyd, and Kristin Urquiza, who delivered an impassioned speech placing the blame of her father’s death from Covid-19 on the “irresponsible actions” and “dishonesty” coming from the White House (with regard to the handling of the Covid-19 pandemic). Democrats (and Republicans) used Trump’s widely criticized approaches to pressing issues, most notably the nation-wide protests against systemic racism and spiking Covid-19 infection rates, as reasons why voters should turn away from the incumbent and lean into change. The change?: Biden, who appears to be running on one of the most progressive platforms in Democratic history, and Kamala Harris, who happens to be the first black woman to be on a major party’s ballot.

The Republicans took their turn on August 24th, hosting events around Washington D.C. and Charlottesville. Speakers included several high-ranking Republicans, including those within Trump’s own family: Ivanka Trump took to the stage to commend her father’s unorthodox approach to the role of president, stating “Washington has not changed Donald Trump. Donald Trump has changed Washington.” The convention was centered around the portrayal of the incumbent president as a “kind and decent man”, most likely providing a more positive contrast to the caricature “most” Americans typically associate with the president. RNC organizers made sure to showcase the president’s capacity to appeal to Americans beyond his voter base: the president helped to conduct a naturalization ceremony for five new American citizens, pardoned an ex-inmate, and touted his role as devoted patriarch by having his family stay by his side as he waved goodbye to his crowd of supporters on the White House lawn. The convention has been met by criticism, with House Democrats calling for a probe into potential Hatch Act violations during the RNC; the Hatch Act prohibits certain executive branch officials from participation in partisan politics, and Democrats allege that certain RNC events saw the act bent and violated by different cabinet members. This allegation is contested and the specifics are still developing.

Donald trump at a rally Photo by Gage Skidmore from Flickr

After the conventions, the candidates would traditionally tour from sea to shining sea, sharing their platforms and rallying the masses behind their visions for the country. This is where things get a bit complicated; seeing as physical “rallying together” is quite literally prohibited, the candidates and their parties will have to get inventive to produce opportunities for the candidates to proliferate public support and secure votes. Trump has made remarks that indicate he may not be holding rallies, and given the latest metrics on Covid-19 cases in the US (spoiler: it’s not looking great), it’s hard to imagine any in-person rally event would be worth the trouble or potential controversy. With data indicating that the voter turnout for the 2020 presidential election will be the highest it’s been in nearly a century, it’s crucial candidates find methods of communication to constituents to attract the new groups that are expected to flock to the polls.

Let’s talk about the campaigns…

Trump

The incumbent has been running on a campaign that almost directly mirrors his successful 2016 run; the president expects cult-like support to bring him a victory, relying on the same “silent majority” of voters that won him the 2016 election. His current platform, rhetoric, and methodology all invoke memories of Trump’s momentous debut to the political scene four years ago, but some Republican party members fear that applying a recycled campaign strategy for an entirely different election in a year where everything has changed is risky. Republicans fear that Trump is alienating voters - his refusal to change direction despite the hits his credibility as president has taken (i.e. the economic downturn, his botched response to the COVID-19 pandemic) is brave, if not brash, and top Republicans argue that the president’s current campaign strategy could end up working against him.

donald trump speaking at a rally Photo by Gage Skidmore from Flickr

“This campaign’s problem is the president is alienating so many people that their pool of potential voters is getting dangerously too small to win,” said Brendan Buck, a Republican who advised former House Speaker Paul Ryan. “Until that changes, good campaign management is going to be insufficient.”

This fear isn’t baseless criticism; in a study conducted by Fox, Trump trailed significantly behind Biden in almost every polling area. Biden took the lead in categories like favorability, perceived intelligence and mental soundness, and judgment, with the biggest disparity being a 20-point lead Biden holds over Trump in the area of compassion. When the 1,104 randomly chosen voters were asked who they would choose if they were voting that day, respondents chose Biden (49%) over Trump (41%).

Republicans also fear that voters that find themselves ‘alienated’ by the president’s perceived refusal to adapt his campaign to be more fitting for the 2020 election cycle could find themselves in Biden’s voter pool. Trump’s currently in the midst of a game of risks and he’s hoping he can pull an ace, much like he did during his first presidential election. There’s no denying the president does in fact have a very much cult-like following and that his campaign strategy in 2016 did secure him the win, but there is an argument to be made that Trump has miscalculated the sustainability of an antiquated campaign. 2020 is not 2016; public trust in the federal government has eroded and voter bases are expected to shift (more on this in a bit), and polls so far demonstrate he’s trailing Biden in several states where he had won in 2016, which could indicate that his idea of a repeat victory may be faulty.  

Trump has switched out his campaign manager in a move that some believe to be an acknowledgement of the president’s less than favorable polling numbers. Bill Stepien, a veteran on the political operative scene, took the reins of the reelection campaign in July, shortly after the incumbent’s “sparsely” attended Tulsa rally made national headlines for being an “upset” and an “embarrassment”.

As for campaign promises, Trump’s 2020 objectives are similar to those of his successful 2016 run: conservatism, isolationism, and ‘keeping America great’. Hardline anti-illegal immigration policies have been the promises he’s best delivered on: he’s ramped up domestic anti-immigration policies (increasing raids and deportation efforts), declared a national emergency to secure billions of dollars for the building of a border wall, and has repeatedly tried to force controversial changes to the immigration system through congress (including a travel ban on middle eastern countries in an effort to reduce terrorism importation).

Donald Trump beside man in black suit History in HD/Unsplash

He also vowed to cut individual corporates taxes and regulations, and to end trade deficits. He’s fulfilled these promises, cutting regulations across multiple sectors, and cutting taxes on corporations and high/middle class families. Millions of jobs have been created during his term, and the economy has seen growth. He’s also engaged in a costly “trade war” with China in the name of closing trade deficits, though many experts criticize the use of tariffs to accomplish trade goals seeing as US citizens and corporations across multiple sectors have lost millions and billions of dollars to steepened prices on imported goods and lack of purchasing on the Chinese side.

Biden

Joe Biden entered the race last April and has recently been officially named as the Democratic nominee. Biden is a familiar face in the political arena; he served alongside Barack Obama during his two-term presidency and had been a senator for over three decades before that. The former vice president has made his long career one of the focal points of his campaign: he hopes to portray himself as a “steady, seasoned hand”, a direct contrast to the anti-politician lens Trump has outfitted for himself. Biden is a centrist Democrat and a vocal advocate of bipartisanship, yet his platform is arguably one of the most progressive in Democratic history.

Joe Biden smiling at outdoor event Photo by Gage Skidmore from Flickr

The Biden camp hopes to receive the full support of the Democratic party (Biden’s position as centrist should – in theory – appeal to virtually all liberals) and has recently honed in on targeting Republicans who feel ostracized by Trump’s campaign. From offering Republican speakers headliner spots at the Democratic National Convention to a $47 million digital campaign revamp designated primarily to reaching military families and personnel (typically considered a part of Trump’s voter base), Biden is aggressively trying to establish a foothold amongst more moderate Republicans.

Biden supports subsidized college policies, like The College for All Act, which calls for state-funding to enable lower-income students to be able to attend institutions of higher learning tuition-free. It also allocates funding for secondary schools with low-income student populations and community colleges and fixing debt-relief systems and programs. Critics point out that this policy would be difficult to implement, with questions of where the funding for the multiple costly facets of the plan would come from casting doubt on the applicability of the program.

Another distinguishing feature of the Biden campaign is the climate policy – the stated goal is to make the US carbon neutral by 2050 using alternative forms of energy generation and taxing carbon emissions. The methods for which the US will steer away from fossil fuels have been criticized for being unrealistic according to Biden’s plans (like the proposed pivot towards nuclear power), but many in the climate policy community believe his proposed climate plan will receive a rewrite from the supporters of the Green New Deal. This is another clearly defined contrast between the two candidates: Trump prioritized cutting climate regulations during his time in office, fulfilling his promise to deregulate business, a move that was met with criticism because of the consequential dangers posed to the environment.

Biden also supports tighter gun control, proposing measures like voluntary buyback programs, universal background checks, and a national firearm registry. He supports citizenship for Dreamers (who have seen their rights to permanent citizenship limited under Trump’s anti-immigration policies) and calls for the maintaining of current illegal entry statures in place for undocumented immigration.

Why this election is significant

Saying any election is a ‘big deal’ is a tired cliché (and I completely acknowledge my verbal hypocrisy while writing this) but it would be shortsighted to ignore the elements that are unique to this election, especially considering the power they hold to sway the election result.

First of all, we are currently facing the most severe public health crisis in recent history, and Covid-19 certainly plays an important role in the current political arena. The US is now the global epicenter with more than 6.5 million Covid-19 cases countrywide. For better or for worse, Covid-19 has become a political issue, with both camps weaponizing the pandemic in a bizarre take on traditional mudslinging; Biden has publicly decried Trump’s “disgusting” and “almost criminal” handling of the epidemic while Trump has labelled the former vice-president’s approach to the pandemic “unscientific” and has mocked Biden for wearing a medical mask during public appearances. Biden and Harris have released their 7-point plan which includes ramping up testing and personal protection equipment, placing an emphasis on science-based approaches and transparency. The Trump administration has stressed the importance of reopening America, and has formulated their Opening Up America Again plan, which is a three-phased approach that is geared towards preventing spread in order to help states with “reopening their economies, getting people back to work, and continuing to protect American lives”.

Photo by Vera Davidova on Unsplash

Another defining factor of this election is the conversation surrounding race: following the death of George Floyd in late May, Black Lives Matter protests have been held around the country to protest systemic racism and police brutality. The protests are the “broadest” in history, cropping in cities and suburbs alike (even those with deeply conservative tendencies), and have seen the most diverse participation of any racial protests in the US ever. Two-thirds of American adults say they support Black Lives Matter, and activists are rallying behind Biden and Harris in hopes of a greater push for racial equality and representation in politics at the federal level.

This election also marks the beginning of Generation Z’s presidential voting career; Gen Z (everyone born after 1996) will now make up roughly 10% of the electorate. This is significant: Gen Z is much more racially diverse more progressive than previous generations. On key issues, like race, even conservative Gen Z members are more likely to take a progressive perspective than older generations. Only 22% percent of Gen Z approves of Trump, the lowest approval rating amongst all voting generations. Currently, Gen Z is on track to vote left come November.

Something else worth noting: 2020 is expected to draw out record numbers of voters. Voters are much more likely today to “think seriously” about the election, and many more voters are interested in politics today than they were just two decades ago. Factually speaking, American politics have polarized under Trump more than they’ve ever polarized before, and voters perceive the two candidates as more opposite than candidates in previous presidential elections.

“I expect voter turnout to be exceptional, perhaps the highest in over a century, since 1908,” said Michael McDonald, the director of the US Elections Project “I sometimes refer to it as the ‘storm of the century’.”

In conclusion…

Go. Vote.

Every single vote matters. For many of you reading this article, this might be the first big election you vote in. That’s amazing! Use your vote, use your voice. We are fortunate enough to have the right to vote, to voice our opinions, and to use our decisions to make institutional change.

Original Illustration Created in Canva for Her Campus Media

Inform yourself, inform others, and determine the method of voting that works best for you. Whether you vote by mail or cast your ballot in-person (no in-person polling places have announced plans to shut down), be sure you get out there on Tuesday, November 3rd and make your mark in history.

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47

Photos: Her Campus Media