Disclaimer: Views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of UPF Lund and The Perspective.
The 2020 presidential election is approaching the United States in the middle of massive protests against police brutality and a ravaging pandemic. Is there enough enthusiasm for Joe Biden to avoid a repeat of the 2016 election result?
November 3rd, the date for the United States 2020 presidential election, is fast approaching. The USA is currently experiencing massive protests and civil unrest ignited by the killing in late May of George Floyd. Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic is wreaking havoc. The USA currently has the highest death toll of any country. The sky-rocketing unemployment caused by COVID-19 is now threatening to produce another domestic pandemic, that of homelessness as the federal ban on evictions expire.
In the middle of this extreme turmoil, a new commander-in-chief shall be chosen. Former Vice President Joe Biden is now the Democratic Party’s nominee, challenging President Donald Trump. From the outset, Joe Biden has relied heavily on his legacy as a part of the Barack Obama administration, often referring to these experiences in campaign speeches.
Despite Joe Biden’s affiliation with Barack Obama, he has failed to garner the kind of support that the 2008 Democratic campaign achieved. Barack Obama’s slogan was “Change we can believe in”, alluding to his agenda which included providing affordable health care, combating climate change and improving the social safety net. These goals attracted and mobilized millions of Americans eager for systemic change. Unfortunately, these issues remain unsolved and at the forefront of the political discourse.
The Perspective spoke to Kajsa Boglind, Washington correspondent for Sveriges Radio, about Joe Biden’s ability to bring voters to the polls this upcoming election:
I spoke to several young protestors about this. Many of them would have preferred Bernie Sanders as the Democratic Party’s candidate but all of them planned to vote for Joe Biden anyway. They believed that the most important thing was to remove President Donald Trump.
Joe Biden is considerably experienced within the realm of politics, having served as a U.S. Senator for thirty six years and two terms as Vice President. However, Joe Biden’s five decades of political experience is not always interpreted as something positive. Populist rhetoric has a tendency to equate political experience with being a servant of the shady “establishment”.
Prominent Republicans, including President Trump, have attacked Biden’s lengthy political career, arguing that his current ambitions and proposals are a result of not getting anything done in the past. On the other hand, more substantial and potent criticisms have been levied against his actual political contribution like advocating for the 2003 Iraq War and co-authoring a comprehensive crime bill in 1994.
The 1994 “Violent Crime and Law Enforcement Act” massively increased funding for prisons and also aimed to provide one hundred thousand new police officers. This bill and its impact is a hotly debated issue. Left-wing pundits often argue that it served as a catalyst for an era of mass-incarceration, disproportionately harming minority communities, while others have praised it for being tough on crime. Nevertheless, it is a contentious point on Joe Biden’s resume, especially during the current protests against police brutality.
Kajsa Boglind believes Joe Biden’s experience will be seen as beneficial at this point in the race:
His career and experience were seen as negative aspects during the primary elections. Bernie Sanders seemed to have been on the “right” side of history regarding many issues that are important to young voters. President Donald Trump will try to exploit this as much as possible. But I also think that Joe Biden can present himself as a “Back to normal” alternative, which many Americans long for. He has been a part of politics for a long time and has therefore made some mistakes but still, he is probably seen as a more stable alternative, for example in the realm of foreign policy.
Bernie Sanders managed to mobilize many young voters, both in the last election cycle and this one. Yet he lost both nominations to more moderate, centre-aligned candidates. A much debated phenomenon has been the so-called “Bernie or Bust” – referring to voters who claim that they will abstain from voting in the national election if Bernie Sanders isn’t the candidate. In the aftermath of the 2016 election, many articles were published debating whether or not this caused the Democrats to lose. The Perspective asked Kajsa Boglind about the risk of this happening again:
Some will stay home. But Bernie Sanders will put a lot of effort into getting his supporters out to the ballot boxes. I think many left-leaning Democrats are feeling motivated and hope that they will be able to influence the Democratic Party in the future with rising stars like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
A recent poll conducted by Pew Research Center examined respondents’ main reasons for voting either for Joe Biden or President Donald Trump. Fifty-six percent of those who support, or are leaning towards Joe Biden, stated that their main reason is simply: “He is not Trump”. A mere nine percent – not even one in the double digits – said that their main reason for voting Biden is his issues and policy positions.
These statistics may be the result of a lack of passion for the Joe Biden candidacy, which could spell trouble in terms of voter turnout. Four years ago, both Hillary Clinton and President Donald Trump were deemed to be historically disliked candidates for the presidency. Ultimately, Hillary Clinton’s decades in the public eye did not seem to work in her favour. Many saw her as a continuation of the establishment with which they were disaffected, yet a better alternative than Trump.
When people are voting for “the lesser of two evils”, there is a glaring lack of enthusiasm. They are less likely to participate in local fundraising, organize carpools on Election Day, campaigning by going door-to-door and other actions that increase the voter turnout.
Kajsa Boglind believes that Joe Biden could be placed somewhere in between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in terms of popularity among the people:
Many Americans were annoyed with Hillary Clinton. We will continue to discuss for a long time whether it was because the country wasn’t ready for a female President or if she was simply a weak candidate. Joe Biden is a person whom many have a better perception of from the outset. Many, including Republicans, see him as likeable. However, he doesn’t have Barack Obama’s ability to create that electric enthusiasm for his campaign – and that is not only due to the pandemic. Joe Biden is somewhere between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton when it comes to being able to mobilize the voters.
Joe Biden has been slightly ahead of President Donald Trump in the polls the past month. However, Hillary Clinton was also ahead in the majority of polls conducted during August 2016. President Donald Trump famously won the last election despite most polls predicting the opposite until Election Day.
The Perspective asked Kajsa Boglind about the risk of this scenario repeating itself this November:
There is absolutely a risk, or chance, that Trump wins again since the margins are so small in American politics – the parties are so even. The polling institutes claim that they have improved their polling methods. Among other things, they claim to have invested in conducting polls of higher quality in the important states, called swing states, where the parties are closely tied.