The U.S. 2020 Election: Can Biden Dethrone Trump?

By: Emelie Eriksson

Tuesday, November 3rd marks the ultimate showdown between the Democratic and Republican parties heading into this year’s United States general election. A repetition of Trump’s 2016 victory could prove disastrous for the state of democracy in a nation that was once considered to be “liberty’s clear champion”. The success of the Democratic party nominee Joe Biden is all but guaranteed and hinges on Bernie Sanders supporters’ willingness to compromise on issues like the economy, social security and healthcare. While Sanders held massive support in many liberal circles, the key issue for this nomination appears to have been electability; could Biden dethrone Trump? Despite immense polarization in the political arena, Biden has garnered the support of many highly regarded Republican representatives, not to mention former Trump allies [1] [2] [3], which speaks to a very promising ability to unify both Republicans and the Democratic party against a common enemy. An enemy who, in this case, happens to be the leader of the free world.

Why now?

The former Vice President Joe Biden announced his candidacy in the 2020 election on April 25th of last year. He first ran for president back in 1988, and for the second time along former President Obama in 2008, but despite being respected and well-liked, “it just wasn’t his time”. Biden’s third attempt, on the other hand, was initially met with enthusiasm and received further concretization by means of high primary polling results. It is also marked by a set of international experiences from his eight years as Vice President, but these factors might prove to be relatively insignificant compared to the generally perceived desire to  “return to some kind of normalcy”. Biden in this case being referred to as a conductor of ‘normal’ politics is a remark that emphasizes the need to withdraw from political extremes. It highlights the urgency of mending any societal wounds caused by Trump’s four years in the White House, but also the fact that “a return to normalcy” has to come before any sweeping revolution of the sociopolitical system like the one Sanders speaks of.

Biden could bridge party divisions

So why does Joe Biden have a better chance of beating President Trump, come November, than Bernie Sanders (or Hillary Clinton for that matter) did? Essentially because he, as a moderate Democrat, makes up the ‘middle ground’ between Bernie’s far-left (socialist) politics and Trump’s respective far-right, and does therefore in theory have a better chance of unifying sympathizers from both sides of the aisle. Since Bernie and Trump represent opposite ends of the political spectrum, it would be reasonable to assume that Bernie’s progressive left-wing supporters would prefer to back a centrist Democrat like Biden over a far-right extremist. (The same principle would not likely hold true to as great an extent if Bernie had been the nominee and moderates were left to decide between extremely liberal and exceptionally conservative). Similarly, Republicans who hold an unfavorable view of Trump would presumably be more likely to consider casting their vote on a Democrat if the policy proposals of said Democrat were less progressive and not entirely inconsistent with their own political views. A viable candidate could sway independents and, more importantly, might garner the support of some portion of traditional Republicans who voted for Trump in 2016. 

Simply put, persuasion seems to be a matter either of compromise or of being given a better alternative, as opposed to what many in the previous presidential election considered to be a choice between the ‘lesser of two evils’, namely Trump and Clinton. In that sense, the so-called swing states that are neither consistently Republican nor Democratic (such as Florida) are likely to determine the outcome of the election. While I believe that Biden, better than any other candidate, could sway Republicans to the extent he needs, there remains a possibility that a larger radicalization of the Republican party has taken place, especially considering the growing influence of alternative media in the Trump era, which would impede Biden’s chances. 

Party loyalty and polarization have become more central to politics in the U.S. in general (which is a major contributing factor not only to inefficacy but to lobbying and, by extension, democratic backsliding). This has certainly become evident through a wide array of polls conducted over the last four years, which have shown a consistently low approval of the Trump administration among Democrats and consistently high ones in Republicans. What this indicates is that people with a strong sense of party affiliation are unlikely to change their minds. Therefore, the likelihood is admittedly small that any significant portion of Republicans will vote against their party, even in an extreme case like this and even if they had indeed been displeased with how members of the party conduct themselves.

What the numbers say

Another important factor to consider is that there are certain demographics other than those related to political affiliation where Biden had trouble racking up support during the democratic primaries. Most notable was the lack of support among the young, who decisively voted in favor of Bernie Sanders, while older voters were more likely to get behind Biden. One major concern with young Americans has been Biden’s vote “in favor of authorizing military force against Iraq” in 2002, which 42 percent of respondents aged 18–29 suggested makes them less likely to support him. The disagreement on this issue, however, appears to be trumped by the dislike of Trump, seeing as Biden now has the support of 68 percent of this demographic, compared to 48 percent in the population aged 65+. A different poll from the same source confirms that most voters will be casting their ballots not for Biden but against Trump – a response observed in 84 percent of people aged 18–29 and 82 percent of those who supported Sanders in the primaries. A suitable expression of this occurrence was made by Bernie when he suspended his campaign and endorsed Biden in April, saying “it’s Biden or bust”.

Judging by the general polling data, Biden has been rather consistently far ahead of his opponent since January. Worth to consider is that although national presidential polls can be useful indicators, they do not necessarily reflect the outcome of the election due to the use of the electoral college. This holds true in part because votes carry different weight in different states depending on how many people (relative to the state’s population size) actually vote, but also because of how vital it is to win votes in the right places. Hillary Clinton was polling ahead of Trump back in 2016 but, despite winning the popular vote, did not receive a large enough share of the public vote to win electoral votes in several key battleground states (also branded swing states). Per the BBC, though, Biden leads the polling averages in 11 out of 14 of these states (seven of which by five percentage points or more) and is tied with Trump in another, while Clinton won four by a fairly small margin in the 2016 election.

What happens if Biden loses?

Trump recently suggested he might choose not to accept the election results or leave office willingly should Biden win. Much like Turkey’s Erdogan and Belarus’ Lukashenko, Trump has been undermining the legitimacy of the election process in the eyes of his supporters. Experts worry that this could entail mass violence spurred on by Trump in the event of defeat – something they call “the precursor of civil war”. Whereas this extreme outcome is considered unlikely, Staffan I. Lindberg, who is a political scientist at the University of Gothenburg in charge of a project surveilling democratic backsliding, believes that another Trump victory could mean that democracy in the U.S. “is gone”. [Seeing as the issue is too complicated to be covered within the scope of this article in any satisfactory way, consider reading this research article for a more in-depth look at democratic backsliding in the U.S. and “why the West should care”.]

This election, if any, certainly should transcend party loyalty since the outcome is pivotal in the nation’s very future as a democracy, but the question is how many voters realize it. While Joe Biden’s chances of beating Trump are good – by my estimates and according to several experts’ predictions [1] [2] – it has previously proven difficult to make forecasts in this political climate. Remember, most people considered it unlikely that Trump would win the first time.

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