(Photo: NBC News)
By Luke Jones – Contributor
With the contenders narrowed down to two main candidates, the United States Presidential election on 3rd November is on the horizon. This contest presents a highly consequential choice for America’s future to the electorate – whether or not Trump should be a two-term President.
An aggregate of the leading polls puts Biden in a 5.5% lead at 47.6% and Trump at 42.1% of the popular vote. However, this is subject to the Electoral College and a volatile path to the White House in an unpredictable time. If 2016 taught us anything, it is to not treat the polls as gospel. In addition to the policy proposals on display, a knowledge of the Electoral College, a hallmark of American federalism is a must to understand the path to the White House.
In this breakdown of the 59th US presidential election we will explore the voting system used and the political platform of the two main opponents, detaching how they both conduct politics.
The Rules of the Game – The Electoral College
Created by the Founding Fathers to prevent the “tyranny of the majority” of a pure democracy, no other electoral system functions in the exact same way as in the United States. Voters do not directly elect the President and Vice President quadrennially, but instead vote for electors who pledge to vote for the candidate who wins their state. Over 58 elections, 165 electors have broken this pledge, dubbed “faithless electors”, but none of which have changed the outcome of an election. The US voting system consists of 538 electors which represent each of the states and the District of Columbia (Washington DC). The number of electors allotted to each state equals its number of Representatives plus two for its Senators in Congress. It is a first past the post system; the winner of a state takes all of its electoral votes (excluding Maine and Nebraska which split electoral votes). The magic number of electors needed to be elected is 270. Forecasters will identify swing states, states which often change party hands, and safe states, states which do not, on the electoral map. In the two-party system it is the electoral vote that counts, not the popular vote. Five Presidents – John Quincy Adams in 1824, Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876, Benjamin Harrison in 1888, George W. Bush in 2000 and Donald Trump in 2016 – all won the electoral college, and thereby the election, without the popular vote.
Trump took three of the eighteen “Blue Wall” states – Michigan (16), Pennsylvania (20) and Wisconsin (10) and an electoral vote from Maine (1) – which had voted Democratic since 1992, in 2016, bringing a new set of battleground states into the 2020 election. Biden will need to regain these lost blue electoral votes, whilst Trump must be able to retain them, as well as preventing Republican erosion in the “Sunbelt”, the southern tier of the US.
Meet the Contestants
Donald Trump ~Republican Party~
As with many incumbents, voters can gain a good understanding of what a second Donald Trump term will look like by looking at his first. Immigration has been a key issue for the 45th President and real estate tycoon hoping to: (1) legalise Dreamers (persons who immigrate as undocumented minors); (2) increase funding for border security; (3) end the diversity visa lottery (4) restrict family-based immigration. Additionally, he has issued executive orders enforcing a travel ban on select countries while in office. With a rally slogan of “build the wall”, Trump declared a national emergency and promised to build some 500 miles of substantial wall on the US-Mexico border. After the longest ever government shutdown, the President diverted funds from the Pentagon and other budgets for the wall in an attempt to stem the flow of illegal immigration and drug trafficking across the 1,933 mile southern border. Trump’s “America First” strategy aims to reduce the US trade deficit, specifically with China, by imposing tariffs on foreign goods. The US-China trade war may reach new heights with the President touting a new one-trillion dollar tariff on China to procure the costs of the coronavirus. The administration favours bilateral to multilateral trade agreements felt at home with the ongoing UK-US trade talks.
The President has legislated tax cuts and deregulation, hallmark GOP policies. The 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act cut the corporate tax rate from 35% to 21% and most income tax brackets. Trump’s pledge to “drain the swamp” has been met with massive red tape cutting. In addition, Trump has appointed two conservative judges, Gorsuch and Kavanaugh, to the Supreme Court and cut funding for Obamacare.
Whilst increasing military spending, the President’s foreign policy, his freest hand, is transactional. Evident in, amongst other things, his demand for NATO countries to meet the 2% GDP target for defence spending and his courting of former enemies, such as North Korea, with friendship.
Joe Biden ~Democratic Party~
Joe Biden, six-term Delaware Senator and Vice President to Barack Obama, has cast himself in contrast to Trump, as the ‘steady hand’ and ‘consensus builder’, placed firmly in the mainstream of his party and the political establishment. Convincing three moderate Republicans to vote for a 2009 stimulus package, Biden fashions himself as a moderate deal maker. That said, the nominee, who is yet to choose his running mate, backs tripling the Child Tax Credit to $6,000 PA, free college and a $15 minimum wage – all “progressive” ideas. He supports adding a public option to the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare”, and defends the liberal order and America’s role as a world leader. The former-Senator highlights that he was among the first to introduce a climate change bill to the Senate floor, the Global Climate Protection Act of 1986. He promises to re-join the Paris Climate Accord and has unveiled a $1.7 trillion climate plan to end carbon emissions by 2050, avowing to pay for it by reversing corporate tax cuts.
Although not as sweeping as Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren’s proposals, the Tax Policy Centre predicts Joe Biden’s tax plan would raise $4 trillion over a decade by targeting top earners – financing the aforesaid climate plan, a $750 billion health plan and a $750 billion education plan.
Biden has lionised Obama’s presidency, referring to himself as an “Obama—Biden Democrat” and treating his campaign as a third term bid, but their politics are not identical. Unlike Obama, as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee he supported the Iraq War and opposed expanding American forces in Afghanistan as VP. That said, his proposals are broadly similar to Obama’s.