American Election Results
December 10, 2020
An American election really does seem like the perfect way to end this year, especially an election as confusing, polarised, and consequential as this one. Between allegations of voter fraud, slim margins in key states, and the antiquated trainwreck Americans call an electoral system, it might be worth taking a step back and starting from the beginning of the process.
The traditional life cycle of an election is, ostensibly, fairly straightforward: two candidates face off against each other and, on the first Tuesday of November, American voters decide on who becomes their next president. Or so we might imagine. The 2020 election has complicated this process considerably, and in a number of ways.
Donald Trump is a historically unpopular president in a historically divisive period in American history. The Republican party is rapidly losing popularity as their base (rural whites) is becoming less of a majority in the country. Consequently, the past few decades have seen a consistent and deliberate effort from the Republican party to disenfranchise poor people and people of colour, using methods like gerrymandering, voter ID laws, and shutting down polling places in densely populated inner cities. These efforts are often disguised as means of preventing voter fraud, something which has never existed in the US (this becomes relevant later).
Some of these efforts to prevent people from voting have been blocked by the courts (as was the case with a voter ID law in North Carolina), but many states still have restrictive policies on voting which allow Republicans to hold power while being a minority in the country.
These efforts have been compounded by the coronavirus: many people were (justifiably) wary of voting in person this year, so before the election, states received a massive surge of people asking for mail-in ballots (these are ballots that were sent in by mail, rather than filled in at a physical polling place). It might be worth noting here that presidential elections in the US are primarily organised by individual states, not the federal government. This means that, while some states were prepared, some states (and some important ones too) were woefully under equipped to process the mail-in ballots in time.
Given that America is a developed nation, and that they were warned about the increase in demand for mail in ballots months in advance, it might seem strange that many states were so entirely unprepared for this occasion. This state of affairs was, once again, brought about by the Republican Party. The US Postal Service (the organisation which is in charge of collecting US postal votes) has been in financial trouble for decades now, but the Trump administration has refused to increase its budget after they asked (which would allow for the situation to be handled better), and appointed Lois DeJoy, a billionaire Republican donor with money invested in direct competitors to the Postal Service, head of the Postal Service.
According to the Republicans, these budget cuts were necessary to prevent the increased likelihood of voter fraud that comes with mail-in ballots. However, as mentioned earlier, there is not and has never been any evidence of widespread voter fraud in the US (and certainly not enough to sway an election). These actions are better explained as an effort to prevent mail-in ballots (which tend to lean Democrat by a 3 to 1 margin) from being counted, or at least to delegitimize them in order to get them potentially thrown out in court.
These efforts, nonetheless, seem to have been in vain. As expected, although the initial vote on November 3rd indicated a Trump victory, the mail-in ballots that came in over the next few days swung crucial states towards Joe Biden. The Trump campaign’s efforts to get these ballots thrown out in court have failed (he’s currently running a 30-1 ratio of failed to successful lawsuits), and some of the most important ones were dismissed by Republican-appointed judges. Ultimately, Trump all but conceded the election a few days ago when he gave the Biden team access to the necessary information and funds which would begin a transition from one president to the next.
The most interesting part of this election, however, remains to be seen. In many ways, this was one of the most consequential votes in modern American history. To start, Joe Biden’s presidency doesn’t begin until January 20th. When this happens, many of the decisions he will be able to make depend on the outcome of two key senate races in Georgia. To win the senate, Democrats would have to win both of these, something which seems pretty unlikely at the moment.
Without the senate, Biden would have to rely almost entirely on executive action, which means that his powers as president would be severely limited. There are a fair amount of executive orders which he has announced already, such as reentering the Paris Climate Agreement and rejoining the World Health Organization (WHO), but the orders made are limited compared to what Joe Biden would be able to do with a blue senate. It appears that Biden’s first few years will be like Obama’s last: a Republican senate forces the President into dealing primarily with foreign policy and nothing much gets done (at least until 2022, when the Senate is up for reelection).
That is, except for the coronavirus response. This has primarily fallen under the purview of the president, so a Biden White House might have the leeway to take significant action there.
The second consequence of this election is its effect on the Republican party: with Trump gone, they have no central figure to unite around, since no-one shares his level of popularity. Whether the GOP (the Republican Party) continues down their current drift towards right-wing populism, or whether the more centrist, corporatist elements take back control, remains to be seen.
The final consequence is its effect on the American people, both in America and around the world. This has been the most divisive election in modern American history, and has resulted in, seemingly, the creation of two different realities. Even now, 70% of Republicans believe that the election was in some way tampered with, despite the fact that every attempt to prove so has been laughed out of court.
This degree of disunity within America will have immeasurable consequences in the decades to come.Healing these divisions will be a significant challenge for the Biden administration, and for whoever comes after him. The solution is probably going to be a bit more complex than the standard Democratic party unity speeches.
In any case, US politics have an international effect. Trump’s words and actions as president, from pulling out of the Paris Climate Change Agreement, to the intense isolationism and protectionism he has engaged in, affect us not only in our relationship with the US, but also in the way he inspires people like him around the world. From Bolsanaro in Brazil to Orban in Hungary and Modi in India, the rise of right-wing populism around the world is a phenomenon that affects all of us very deeply.