Everything You Need to Know About the Presidential Election
The 2020 presidential election will likely go down as one of the most nail-biting and polarizing elections in U.S. history.
The 2020 presidential election will likely go down as one of the most nail-biting and polarizing elections in U.S. history. Amidst a global pandemic, rampant racial and social justice movements, and a particularly divisive political climate, voters cast their mail-in, absentee, and in-person ballots until the night of November 3. In honor of Election Day this past week, we have put together a comprehensive guide to the 2020 election season, ranging from an overview of current U.S. election procedures to an analysis of election results.
Overview of Election Process:
The U.S. presidential election is held every four years, with the Democratic and Republican parties taking center stage in campaigning, primaries, and debates. In primaries, voters state their preferences for presidential nominees and in caucuses, delegates are elected to choose a presidential candidate. After these events, a candidate receives an official nomination during their party’s national convention.
The U.S. Constitution states that a president is elected through an electoral college—a body of electors chosen to formally cast votes—and not directly by the people. If a candidate is elected by the majority in a state, excluding Maine and Nebraska, he or she will receive all the electoral votes from that state. The amount of electoral votes assigned to one state depends on its population. For example, California has 55 electoral college votes while less-populated states such as Vermont only have three.
To win, the candidate needs at least 270 electoral votes out of 538. Therefore, even if a candidate loses the popular vote, he or she could still win the electoral vote and become president. This scenario took place in the 2016 election, when Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by more than three million votes but only received 232 electoral votes. On the other hand, President Donald Trump won 306 electoral votes, allowing him to secure the presidency.
At the start of the 2020 election process, we saw heavy contention within a crowded Democratic field. Of the 24 candidates who qualified to attend the preliminary Democratic Debates in 2019, Elizabeth Warren (Sen. D-MA), Bernie Sanders (Sen. D-VT), and Joe Biden (Sen. D-DE) stood out as frontrunners for the Democratic nomination.
A former law professor at Harvard University, Warren favored more financial regulation and an expansion of government services. She embraced “Medicare for All,” new taxes on the wealthy, free public education, and the Green New Deal, a “ten-year mobilization [effort] to achieve domestic net-zero emissions by 2030,” according to her campaign website. Warren had what is widely considered to be the most detailed and specific policy platform, including eight outlined policies for tax restructuring and relocation of funding. However, after staggering behind in state caucuses, her campaign ended on March 5, leaving Sanders and Biden as the competitors for the Democratic nomination.
Similar to Warren, Sanders is known for being progressive and far-left. His platform’s defining issue was “Medicare for All,” which he introduced to the Senate floor in 2017 and 2019. Per his campaign website, his goal was to “provide everyone in America with comprehensive health care coverage, free at the point of service.” This idea is unprecedented in the United States, as the country relies heavily upon a private healthcare system. Unable to keep up with Biden in the state caucuses, Sanders ultimately ended his presidential campaign on April 8.
While Warren and Sanders appealed to progressive voters, Biden is popular among centrist voters, ultimately allowing him to maintain frontrunner status for the most prolonged period of time. Known for being a moderate Democrat, Biden successfully garnered the votes of mild conservatives who do not support President Trump.
He is also very well-established within the Democratic Party, having served as Vice President of the Obama Administration from 2009-2017, in addition to his 36 years of experience in the Senate. On August 11, after much speculation, Biden announced Senator Kamala Harris—a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate—as his running mate. She is also the first black and South Asian woman to be on a major party ticket in the U.S.
Presidential Debates and Candidate Platforms:
President Trump’s and former Vice President Biden’s campaigns have largely opposing views on major issues.Trump has continued to focus on repealing and replacing Obamacare, curbing illegal immigration, enforcing strict trade policies, locking down on “law and order”—a term he used to declare aggressive action on protesters—and lowering corporate and individual taxes. Above all, economic growth stands as the most defining feature of his platform, and he has even called to halt state lockdowns and reopen the economy amidst the pandemic.
Biden, on the other hand, has sharply criticized the Trump administration’s response to the pandemic, specifically its lack of emphasis on protection measures. Biden’s campaign has also narrowed in on protecting and strengthening the “Affordable Health Care Act,” reversing Trump’s tax breaks, increasing minimum wage, advancing racial equity through economic reforms, and providing immediate Covid-19 relief.
After receiving official nominations at the Republican and Democratic National Conventions, Biden and Trump kicked off the general election with two live debates. The first, hosted by Chris Wallace of Fox News on September 29, saw a hostile atmosphere as the two candidates interrupted and jabbed at one another sporadically. The second, however, saw more self-control from the candidates, as NBC moderator Kristen Welker successfully monitored speaking time, with the help of newly-installed “mute buttons.” Both debates heavily focused on Trump’s responsibility for the spread of Covid-19 and the economy’s downturn. In an effort to redirect the focus, President Trump consistently referenced Biden’s so-called “lackluster” political career and contestable policies, such as eliminating oil subsidies.
After the debates and prior to Election Day, the RealClearPolitics national polling average indicated that President Trump trailed behind Biden by a range of eight to 11 percent. Aiming to learn from the mistakes of the Clinton campaign, Biden and the Democratic Party continued encouraging constituents to vote, hoping to garner enough support from anti-Trump voters in swing states to beat the Republican-favored electoral college.
As electoral votes were reported on and after Election Day, the candidates’ possible paths to 270 became increasingly narrow, especially for President Trump. While he won crucial battleground states—Florida, Texas, and Ohio—Biden managed to flip both Wisconsin and Michigan, key swing states that Trump won in 2016. Biden claimed Michigan by merely 70,000 votes, indicating that state results are feeding into razor-thin margins. More importantly, as of November 4, 8,000 votes separated Biden from Trump in Nevada, based on the 75 percent of votes reported. As of November 5, Biden only needs to win Nevada’s six electoral votes, assuming he claims Arizona’s 11 electoral votes.
The Trump campaign has claimed that it will take legal action in the case of a Biden victory, specifically aimed at certain battleground states. The campaign has already sued Pennsylvania and Michigan to halt ballot counting until recommended representatives can preside over the tallying process. The aim is to possibly discount or disrupt uncounted mail-in votes as they come from heavily-populated,Democratic-leaning districts. Trump is requesting a recount in Wisconsin, which he lost by a slim margin of 19,000 votes. He is expected to take the final election results into the hands of the Supreme Court, which leans Republican in a majority of six to three.
Policies and legislation pertaining to major issues, including the U.S.’s Covid-19 response, climate change, and racial and social justice will be heavily influenced by the winner of this election. The outcome will also probe at the futures of the two political parties; the Republican Party may shift towards Trumpist values, while the Democratic Party may adopt a more centrist political agenda. Regardless of the immediate outcomes, only time will tell the true ramifications of this monumental election.