RACE TO THE FINISH LINE: U.S PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS
A brief history into this year’s landmark Presidential elections; its analysis and popular global expectations.
“Voting is the expression of our commitment to ourselves, one another, this country, and this world." - Sharon Salzberg
A Cursory Overview
The 59th quadrennial presidential election in the United States of America, more commonly known as the 2020 United States Presidential Election is scheduled to take place on November 3, 2020. The voters and Electoral College will vote to either elect a new President and Vice President or reelect the office incumbents Donald Trump and Mike Pence for the respective roles.
From the outbreak of the Coronavirus to music rapper Kanye West announcing his Presidential candidacy just 7 months before the General Election, this Presidential Campaign has been one for the books. As the country approaches the final stages of the process of choosing its 46th President, here’s a look at the basics of the election process in one of the world’s most influential country; what has happened so far in this election season, and what this year’s election could mean for the country.
After The Thirteen American Colonies - a group of colonies of Great Britain on the Atlantic coast of America founded in the 17th and 18th centuries- declared independence and formed the United States of America, the founding fathers of the U.S. created a system wherein people had the ability and responsibility to elect the leaders who would run the country. Although initially only men who owned property were allowed to vote. Almost 2 centuries later, suffrage was granted to all those above the age of 18.
Eligibility Criteria - who can run for President?
Article 2 of the United States Constitution specifies that a candidate running for the Presidential Elections must be -
A natural-born citizen of the US
At least 35 years old
A United States resident for no less than 14 years
The 22nd Amendment to the Constitution also places a term limit - a candidate cannot be elected as President for more than two terms (8 years).
Further, the 12th Amendment stipulates that a Vice President must meet all qualifications of being a President.
The procedure of the Presidential Elections of the United States is a highly decentralized process and can be consolidated into four major steps:
1. Primary Elections and Caucuses
If a candidate meets all the eligibility requirements, he/she can now stand in the Presidential Election. However, to do so, they need to win the favour and support of their party members first. Candidates indulge in extensive campaigns to win the support of their party members.
Primary Elections: More commonly known as Primaries, these are state-level preliminary elections where party members vote for the best candidate to represent them in the General Election. Candidates selected in the Primary Elections then compete against each other in the General Elections. Primary Elections are held in 34 U.S. states.
Caucus: A caucus is a local meeting of all registered members of a political party in a city, town, or county where they gather to vote for a party member to represent them. Although it is run differently, it serves the same purpose as a Primary Election - to choose select delegates for the National Party Convention.
2. National Party Convention
Each party holds a National Party Convention to choose upon a Presidential nominee to represent their party in the General Elections. The selected delegates vote for one party candidate and the candidate with most delegates’ votes is chosen as the Presidential nominee. At the convention, the Presidential nominee also chooses a running mate (Vice-Presidential candidate).
The end of the National Party Convention marks the beginning of the General Election.
Following the end of the National Party Convention, these Presidential nominees begin extensively campaigning throughout the country via debates, advertisements, and rallies.
3. General Election (Popular Vote)
In this stage, voters across the country cast their votes for their preferred candidate for President.
What most voters don’t realize is that they are not directly casting their vote for the President; in fact, they are voting for a group of people called Electors who form the Electoral College. These electors are “authorized constitutional members in a presidential election.” These electors, appointed by the states, are pledged to support the presidential candidate the voters have supported. To win the election, a candidate needs 270 or more electoral votes.
4. Electoral College
The U.S. President is firmly elected in December by an institution known as the Electoral College. The intent of the framers behind forming the Electoral College was to filter public opinion through a group of a wiser and experienced group of people. Each state assigns a certain number of electors based on their total representation in Congress. Each Elector possesses one vote post the General Election.
If no candidate receives the minimum 270 electoral votes needed, the United States House of Representatives elects the President from the three candidates who received the most electoral votes, and the Senate will select the Vice-President from the candidates who received the two highest totals.
The political landscape of the U.S. is dominated by two major political parties - the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. Various small parties like the Libertarian Party, Green Party, and Constitution Party also exist but hold minor offices at the local and state levels.
The 2020 Presidential Campaign started with 28 Democratic and 4 Republican Presidential nominees. But as the campaign progressed, 27 Democrats dropped out of the race to show their support for former Vice President, Joseph R. Biden.
Jr. Donald Trump had also gained 3 Republican challengers, but he too ended his campaign. Thus, the two major contenders for the Oval Office are now -
Republic Party: Donald Trump for President and Mike Pence for Vice President
Democratic Party: Joseph R. Biden Jr. for President and Kamala Harris for Vice President
A few third-party nominations and independent nominations include:
Libertarian Party Nomination: Joe Jorgensen for President and Spike Cohen for Vice President
Green Party Nomination: Howie Hawkins for President and Angela Walker for Vice President
Constitution Party: Don Blankenship for President and William Mohr for Vice President
Birthday Party: Kanye West for President and Michelle Tidball for Vice President.
Kanye West’s Twist:
Famous American rapper, producer, and fashion designer, Kanye West announced his candidacy for the 2020 U.S. Presidential Election via Twitter on July 4, 2020. His campaign filed a Statement of Candidacy with the FEC on July 16, 2020. On why he chose to call his party “Birthday Party”, West said, “when we win, it’s everybody’s birthday.” West has selected Michelle Tidball, a Christian preacher from Wyoming to be his running mate. West, 43, has no prior experience in U.S. Law.
Al-Jazeera has described West as having “a Republican-leaning, pro-Black religious platform.” This statement isn’t out of context as the “Heartless” singer stated in July 2020 that if Trump wasn’t running for Presidency, he would have affiliated with the Republican Party.
West has put forth strong political positions. Unlike Trump (whom he supported up till now), the rapper encourages the entry of immigrants. His stance on abortion is that it should be legal since “the law is not by God anyway”, but proposes to provide a financial incentive to women who do not abort their babies. Having a negative perspective on vaccines, he stated that vaccinated children become paralyzed and that "the humans that have the Devil inside them" want to implement microchips into people, therefore preventing them from entering Heaven. He has voiced his support for the legalization of marijuana and opposition to capital punishment. He also supports gun ownership in the country. Lastly, he has called for a restructuring of the education system and listed “ending police brutality” as one of his priorities.
Committed to forming a presidency modeled after the fictional nation of Wakanda (from the movie Black Panther), West has certainly failed to impress the majority with his ideas and views. In the first week of August, West missed the deadline to appear on the ballot in the vast majority of states. West won't be on enough state ballots to get 270 electoral votes, so he cannot essentially win the presidential election. But it remains to be seen if his celebrity status and huge fan base can help him make a mark in the General Elections as a third party candidate.
A Comprehensive Look at the Front-running Parties:
The Republican Party
The Republican Party is one of the two major parties in the U.S. Its ideology is based on American Conservatism and supports lower taxes, free-market capitalism, restrictions on immigration, increased military spending, gun rights, restrictions on abortion, deregulation, and restrictions on labor unions.
What do the Republicans promise in the 2020 Presidential Elections? Mr. Trump has promised a permanent cut to the payroll taxes that fund Social Security and Medicare if he wins reelection in November. He has also pledged to release tax returns.
Presidential Nominee: Donald Trump - Formerly a businessman and television personality, Trump won the White House in 2016. Trump began his campaign for the 2020 U.S. Presidential Elections unusually early and filed his candidacy within weeks of his election. He has confirmed his running mate to be Mike Pence. In his first term, he focused on issues like immigration, taxes, border security, and international trade and undoing the policies of the Obama administration.
An Overview of Trump’s Presidency
While he lost the popular vote, Trump managed to win the Electoral College, thus becoming the 45th President of the U.S. During his election campaign, he made several promises to his voters including tax cuts, the Mexican-American border wall, temporary ban of Muslims from Islamic countries entering USA, trade agreements, and repealing Obamacare.
Some other promises that were made by President Trump during his campaign were -
“Dramatically scale back the Environmental Protection Agency” - Partially delivered
“Create a health savings account” - Promise broken
“Renegotiate the Iran deal” - Promise broken
“Defund Planned Parenthood” - Promise delivered
“Eliminate wasteful spending in every department” - Promise broken
“Ensure funding for historic Black colleges” - Promise delivered
“Limit legal immigration” - Promise delivered
“Deport all illegal immigrants” - No progress
“Bombing ISIS into obliteration” - Promise Delivered
It doesn’t particularly help his case that he was impeached last year, has faced sexual assault charges, has repeatedly made racist, sexist, and other inappropriate comments.
The Democratic Party
The other major political party in the U.S., The Democratic Party is a liberal and left-leaning party. Historically, the party has represented farmers, laborers, labor unions, and religious and ethnic minorities as it has opposed unregulated business and finance and favored progressive income taxes.
What do the Democrats Promise in the 2020 Presidential Elections?
Key issues include rebuilding the middle class, investing in federal infrastructure, and tuition-free public universities.
Presidential Nominee: Joseph R. Biden Jr. - Biden, who has run for president twice before, began his presidential campaign on April 25, 2019. Because he was a former vice president, Biden entered the election with high, universal name recognition and thus emerged as the presumptive Democratic challenger to Mr. Trump. Biden has committed to choosing a woman for the vice presidential nominee. If he does select a woman, and the Democratic Party wins the election, she would be the first woman in the history of the U.S. to serve as the Vice President.
Bernie Sanders drop out
Bernie Sanders is a self-proclaimed Democratic Socialist. He gave up his candidacy in support of Mr. Biden saying, “I cannot in good conscience continue to mount a campaign that cannot win and which would interfere with the important work required of all of us in this difficult hour”.
Fig: 2020 Presidential election forecast model, as predicted by The Economist
The Biden-Sanders Joint Policy Task Force
A 110-page document of policy recommendations was released by Mr. Biden’s presidential campaign. The idea of a Joint Task Force came from Mr. Biden and Mr. Sander’s promise to unite the Democrats before the November elections and the policy recommendations will be personally reviewed by Mr. Biden before the National Convention next month.
The Task Force made policy recommendations under six main heads - Healthcare, Criminal Justice, Climate Change, Economy, Education, and Immigration.
Controversies in this election season
· The Iowa Democratic Party (a third-party in the U.S.) was initially unable to collect and announce the results of the primary elections due to a technical failure in the mobile application that was used to collect the votes. Although the results were released later, they have been subject to scrutiny with the Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez advocating a “re-canvassing of the votes.”
· Due to the coronavirus pandemic, Tony Evers (Governor of Wisconsin) moved to delay the primary elections on grounds of how all voters were expected to shelter in place to minimize the spread of the virus. The Wisconsin Supreme Court did not allow this. The U.S. Supreme Court also ruled that the elections would take place as per schedule, not taking into consideration the fact that only 5 out 0f 180 polling booths would be operational due to lack of poll workers.
· On June 22, 2020, President Trump expressed fears regarding rigging of the elections, saying that the 2020 Presidential Elections “will be the most rigged election in our nation’s history” referring to a rise in the use of mail-in ballots because of the coronavirus. He even went on to say he will not leave office even if he loses. Political commentators feel that Democrat supporters, who are mostly educated and situated in urban areas are expected to vote via this method, while Trump could lose out on votes as most of his supporters are middle and rural Americans who prefer to vote in person.
· Joe Biden is facing sexual assault allegations from his former Senate staffer, Tara Reade. Although Biden’s campaign has denied the allegations, Biden himself has not yet released a statement denying/accepting the allegations.
Impact of COVID-19 on the 2020 Elections
The pandemic has come across as a unique determinant in the Presidential Election. Though it isn’t enough to completely sway the votes of people, it can still have a huge impact on how the citizens of America now choose to vote.
For Trump, the pandemic has brought both opportunities and challenges. His approval rating has improved considerably since January. This increase can be attributed to the fact that about half of Americans feel that the President’s response to this unprecedented crisis has been satisfactory and effective. The continuous criticism of the Democrats and the dramatic increase in death tolls and unemployment rates, along with other civil issues could undermine his campaign. Since the pandemic is an urgent situation, Mr. Trump’s continuous response to it, how his opponents voice their concerns about his measures and the simultaneous progress of the situation could greatly affect how the citizens view him as a president, now more than ever.
For Biden, as also mentioned in a report by China Global Television Network (CGTN), two factors come into play due to the coronavirus crisis.
First, if Trump’s policies against the coronavirus are sufficient. If Trump’s measures do nothing to curb the spread of the virus, it could result in voters losing faith in him and he could lose their votes.
Second is the effect of the virus on the voter turnout of African-Americans, low-income groups, and young people, who are vital supporters of the Democrats. If the crisis is not controlled effectively, it could give the Republicans an upper hand just by virtue of low voter turnout.
While the return of Trump to the presidency is not an unlikely event, he faces a strong contender in Biden. His failure to deliver on as much as 50% of his promises along with damaging the global image of the country has undoubtedly made his standing in the election very critical. However, most of his supporters remain loyal which can be proved by his strong approval rating.