HAVING seen his theatrical bigotry for four years with disgust, millions in not only the US but also globally hope fervently that the Nov 3 polls will end Donald Trump’s presidency. Joe Biden leads in national polls by double-digit margins. But since Hillary Clinton led similarly in some national polls at this time in 2016, caution still abounds.
Biden’s average lead in national polls is around nine per cent which is 3.5 per cent higher than Clinton’s lead in 2016. However, US presidential elections are not won through the national vote count. Instead, candidates must win in enough of the 50 US states to get 270 electoral votes nationally, with each state’s victor gaining electoral votes in line with its population. About 40 states vote predictably for one party in each election. Victory depends on the outcomes in 10-12 battleground states which have flipped party often in recent elections, such as Florida, Michigan, Ohio, etc.
Biden leads on average by about 5pc in such states too. But this edge is close to the margins of error of most polls. Ominously, Biden’s average lead in these states is a bit smaller than Hillary Clinton’s lead in these states in 2016, which of course vanished on election day. To retain the presidency, Trump must win all the states where he currently leads in polls by safe margins of 6-plus per cent. He must also win around half a dozen states where is he is trailing by between 0.pc to 4.5pc then one to two states where he is trailing by 5pc or more. In contrast, Biden just has to win states where he is ahead now by at least 5pc. If this looks daunting for Trump, it is wise to recall that he did pull something similar in 2016.
Thus, on polls alone, it is unwise to write off Trump. However, what gives one hope is the vastly different context today compared to 2016. Back then, he was a challenger without a track-record to defend. Today, he is a president being blamed widely for botching the response to Covid-19, which has killed over 220,000 Americans and caused the worst recession since the 1929 Depression. The press recently leaked his long-hidden tax returns which paint a bad picture of him. He also botched the first debate, refused to participate in the second one virtually and ended up contracting Covid-19 by ignoring due precautions. He has lost the support of crucial groups like seniors. Thus, it’s a much tougher task today.
Biden not only has to win but win by large margins.
However, these minuses are nullified partly by the quirks of the US political and electoral systems and the willingness of Trump and the Republican Party to exploit them unethically. Unlike elsewhere, US elections are not managed by a single federal agency but by thousands of state and local public agencies, each with slightly different and often unclear procedures, especially related to early and mail voting. This issue is more crucial in this election due to the high numbers of voters, especially Biden ones, who will vote by mail given the Covid-19 crisis. Republicans are already trying every legal gimmick to suppress such votes and those of low-income minorities which vote mainly for Democrats.
Thus, Biden not only has to win but win by large margins to forestall Trump’s unethical attempts to legally challenge his win. Trump’s bid to do so will be facilitated by the Republican hold on the residency, the US Supreme Court, possibly even Congress, and several governorships, legislatures and state courts in battleground states. Thus, the US may have a highly contentious election outcome with the victor unknown for weeks, as in 2000. Some fear this could fatally undermine US democracy and lead to major street violence.
Even if his presidency ends, there is the broader question of whether Trumpism, ie bigoted nationalistic politics, will end in the US. With his big Twitter following and even bigger bruised ego, he may continue to roil and influence US politics for long. In fact, given his maverick instincts, he may even attempt a comeback in 2024, for he will only be as old then chasing a second term as Biden is today chasing a first term. And then there is his clan aiming to join politics.
Will the outcomes affect Pakistan? Given the emphasis of Democrats on human rights, Biden may rhetorically be warmer towards Kashmiris but probably not practically. He may also ask tougher questions from us about our own poor human rights record. Again, the probing is unlikely to go beyond rhetoric. Overall, ties will remain lukewarm. He may press the Afghan Taliban on human rights too. On Palestine, Biden will be less supportive of Netanyahu’s expansionist aims and may even curb them. Certainly on global issues like climate change, pandemics and multilateralism, Biden will be much better than Trump. So one hopes Trump loses and is also convicted for some obvious crimes he has committed so that we see the back of both Trump and Trumpism.
The writer is a political economist and heads INSPIRING Pakistan, a progressive policy unit.
Published in Dawn, October 20th, 2020