Although former Vice President Joe Biden has been called the winner of the 2020 presidential race since 7 November by the US mainstream press, the outcome of the election has shown that the Democratic Party's expectations of a landslide victory for its candidate and a massive "blue wave" across the country have not materialised.
Ron Stagg, a professor of history at Toronto-based Ryerson University in Canada, has explained why, despite gloomy election polls, Donald Trump managed to win over 70 million votes – the second highest total in American history – and why it will not be that easy for Joe Biden to win over the Trump constituency if the former vice president assumes the Oval Office in January 2020.
Sputnik: In your recent article, you claim that most pollsters and pundits predicted a large majority for Joe Biden and the Democrats, but Donald Trump once again defied the polls and had a stronger showing than expected, even though he suffered a decisive loss. Can you elaborate more on this? Why is that?
Ron Stagg: Pollsters and pundits predicted on the basis of interviews, which indicated a great deal of unhappiness with Donald Trump, and especially around his handling of the COVID-19 outbreak. However, when it came to voting, other issues, especially the state of the economy, played a larger role than expected.
Those who predicted a Biden landslide and more Democratic seats in the House of Representatives also did not take into account Donald Trump's successful appeals to various groups of voters, Evangelical Christians, disenchanted Democratic supporters, Hispanics, free enterprise supporters, xenophobes, rural and older voters, many of whom were expected to vote Democratic.
Democrats, who for years were seen as the party of poorly educated working people, had lost touch with a good portion of this constituency, and states that used to vote Democratic turned Republican in 2016, and largely stayed that way in 2020. They were seduced by Donald Trump's promise to bring industry back to the United States. With the poorly educated went other voters whose businesses had been hurt by the shrinkage of American Industry.
Sputnik: You also stress that even if a Biden government both takes action against the pandemic and moves to create jobs for those in the economy who have felt ignored for too long, the road to reconciliation will be a bumpy one. Why? What will be the main stumbling blocks?
Ron Stagg: It will be difficult for the Biden government to win back voters because of the way Trump in his four years in office appealed to groups who felt ignored by the government, and dramatically increased the sense of alienation that they already felt. It appears from reading interviews in American media that there are citizens on both sides of the political divide who now see their political opposites as more an enemy, trying to destroy the United States, than a political opponent. Additionally, some of the alienated groups, such as Evangelical Christians and militant xenophobes, will be very difficult to placate, as their ideas are not supported by the majority of the population.
Sputnik: We saw a high turnout in this election. What were the main issues that American voters were fuelled by? Was it the pandemic, social unrest, or economic issues?
Ron Stagg: There were multiple issues in the election. Often they were in opposition to each other, making voting patterns confused. Despite pre-election polls showing the pandemic as the major issue, it was only one important issue, with many voters worried about a possible shutdown of the economy, an issue Trump used to his advantage, or about industrial jobs disappearing.
The Black Lives Matter movement won support on the liberal left of the Democratic Party. However, the violence associated with Black Lives Matter demonstrations, often actually caused by police actions against the demonstrators, or by opponents of the movement disrupting demonstrations, had the opposite effect. Large numbers of voters, particularly rural and older voters, felt that they had to vote for Trump's "law and order" to preserve traditional American society. For many Evangelical Christians and pious Hispanic Catholics, the same feeling of losing an older America society, with its traditional Christian morality, influenced their vote.
Sputnik: The mainstream media has already projected Joe Biden as the winner of the presidential race, while the official results have not yet been released and the Electoral College will convene in one month. Why is that, in your view? How could the final tally change the picture?
Ron Stagg: While Donald Trump is contesting the election results, claiming voter fraud and the use of mail-in ballots, sometimes arriving after Election Day, his legal attempts have, so far, been rejected by the courts. It is highly unlikely that recounts, or legal challenges, will change the outcome. Because of the American voting system, unlike in many countries, the election is not determined by the popular vote, but by the Electoral College, which tallies the number of electoral votes represented by each state, and declares a winner on that basis. Consequently, there can be no winner until the College votes. Technically, the Electoral College could ignore the number of electoral votes and declare Trump the winner, but such a violation of democracy has not occurred in the whole history of the United States.
Sputnik: How likely is it that Donald Trump will run again in 2024, in your view?
Ron Stagg: I really have no idea if Trump will run in 2024. He hates to lose and will want some measure of revenge, but could get it in various ways. He could put himself at the head of a political movement to back right-wing candidates who subscribe to his views, or create a media company to use as a vehicle to criticise the Biden government, or his ego may drive him to run again. The other possibility is that his financial and legal woes may sideline him. He has huge debts coming due, and the Trump brand has been tarnished in overseas markets. Once he is no longer president, some of his actions prior to and during his time as president may result in legal cases against him. He will no longer be protected by his office.
Sputnik: Donald Trump will still be president until January 2021. Could his policy narrative shift during his last months in office if indeed Joe Biden is officially confirmed the winner?
Ron Stagg: It is difficult to say what Trump will do in his final months. Right now he is settling scores by dismissing those in government departments who have not toed the Trump line, and replacing them with loyalists. This will likely continue. He will also continue to stir up his loyal political base among voters to make it difficult for the incoming administration. He may try for a dramatic policy success, or he may lose interest in government beyond causing trouble.
Sputnik: How much influence might the Trump administration’s policies have on the Biden-Harris team, in your view?
Ron Stagg: The only influence Trump will have on the incoming administration is to make them think about how to win back disenchanted Democrats. Other than that, they are developing their own agenda, very different from that of Trump.