The ‘Idiots’ Guide to the United States Election 2020


Harrier political editor Josh Candler-Jones, provides an in-depth analysis of the American election and the complexities of the voting system.


THIS year has been a turbulent one to say the least. With COVID-19, the Black Lives Matter movement, global lockdowns and economic turbulence what better way to end the year than with a presidential election. After many months of campaigning around the country, Americans went to the polls and posted their ballots when polls closed on November 3. This election is expected to be divisive and the highest turn-out for any election on record. So, as we edge closer to a result here is a general breakdown of the 2020 presidential election. 

First let’s breakdown the political parties. America relies on two party politics. The Democrats are a left leaning liberal party whereas the Republicans are a right leaning, conservative party. Each party has a colour that represents them, the Democrats are designated blue and the Republicans, red. There are also other third parties such as the Libertarian party and the Green party but unlike in the UK elections the third party doesn’t hold the balance of power. For example, if there was a hung parliament, a third party could hold the balance of power seen in 2010 when the Conservative Party formed a coalition government with the Liberal Democrats. This wouldn’t be the case in the US as the third party has never received enough votes compared to the main political powers. 

A president is elected and can serve for two terms worth eight years. After his first term worth four years, both parties put forward a candidate to stand for the election again. However, the incumbent who is looking for re-election is rarely contested for his place. 

Let’s say that the incumbent president has served his eight years and that both parties need to put forward a candidate for the election. How do they select their nominee? To become the presidential nominee, a candidate typically must win a majority of delegates (a representative of a group of people) There are usually multiple candidates trying to win the primary nominee place for both parties. The magic number a candidate needs is 1990, this means if you have a majority of delegates you would have won the primary to become the party’s nominee. Once the candidate has been selected, they need to find a potential vice president otherwise known as a running mate. Running mates are often people who ran in the primaries that the nominee agrees with in some form and other times go through the vetting process. Vetting is the process of rigorous examination of a political candidate’s public and personal history to ensure there is minimal to no derailment later in the political campaigns. 

But how does the electoral system work? Voters do not directly elect their presidents. Instead, the United States elects their presidents through the Electoral College. This is the name given to a designated group of people that cast each state’s official votes for president. This group is made up of 538 people, each state has a different amount of electors’ dependent on the amount of representatives in congress. For example, states such as Florida or Texas have more votes than North or South Dakota. 

The number that a candidate needs to reach for a victory is 270 electoral votes. But even if a candidate was to win the popular vote that doesn’t guarantee they will win. This has happened in the last two out of five elections. In 2000 Al Gore won the popular vote by over 500,000 but George W Bush won more electoral votes at 271. This happened again most recently in 2016 when Hillary Clinton won almost three million extra votes than Donald Trump, but he won 304 electoral votes. 

IMG 2052

2016 Election result

Donald Trump has been a controversial president to say the least and is looking to the American people to get him re-elected for his final term as president. A president’s chances of re-election are usually determined by how successful they have been during their time in office. Firstly, Trump’s biggest claim to fame during his first term is the economy. Now yes, while the economy was doing well prior to the pandemic it is a continuous trend when looking at the provided graph and does not greatly differ from the Obama administration’s economic performance.

Democrats argue that Trump is taking credit for the work done in the previous administrationOne of the most memorable things Trump vowed to do when running for his first term was to build a border wall which will be paid by Mexico to decrease the amount of illegal immigration into the country. There has been no movement or discussion of a wall being built since Mexico refused to pay for a barrier and appears to have been dropped by the current administration. Trump has also failed to deport all illegal immigrants and lower the national debt. Instead, it ballooned in October 2020, hitting $27 trillion. It is expected that this will rise even further once the damage done by the pandemic becomes clearer.  

US Election GDP

Graph showing economic growth in the United States under the Obama and successive Trump administrations – Graph designed by Joshua Candler-Jones

He has however been able to keep some of his promises. Trump has increased the amount defence spending throughout his presidency although overall levels remain lower than the beginning of the Obama presidency. He also kept his promise to bomb the so-called Islamic State and takes credit for driving out IS out of parts of Iraq and Syria even though this process was in motion under Obama. 

In terms of what he is offering the country if given another term by his base, he is running a very similar campaign to that of 2016, without any notable change in policy other than branding himself ‘the candidate of law and order’. However, the world has changed massively in the last four years. Trump is being criticised for his lacklustre response to the pandemic as-well as comments made in response to the Black Lives Matter movement which he has branded “a symbol of hate’ and a ‘Marxist group’. 

His opponent, Joe Biden has served as a senator from Delaware since 1973 until he took the role of vice president for eight years and has also run for president in 1988 and 2008. Biden has been described as a moderate Democrat and relatively centrist and announced his bid for President on April 25 2019.   

Biden is in favour of passing a Green New Deal which is a crucial framework with dealing with the climate emergency. On November 3, The US pulled out of the Paris Climate Agreement. If elected, Joe Biden has said he will re-join it the day of his inauguration. He has also stated that along with the move towards energy power comes an economic opportunity to create more jobs in the energy sector.  

Biden’s views on gun control are well known and are part of the reason he has been in the mainstream of the Democratic Party. Republicans have often said that Biden wanted to scrap the Second Amendment which allows the right of the people to keep and bear arms. The plan for the democrats, should they take office, is to enable background checks and the proposal of banning the sale of assault rifles which he calls “weapons of war” 

On Crime and Policing, there have been calls for Biden to tackle with reforming the justice used against criminals such as the use of lethal chokeholds which was used on George Floyd, whose death reinforced the Black Lives Matter movement for justice for black Americans.  Biden opposes the defunding of the police and has called for enhanced training to help the police avoid the use of force where possible. 

Healthcare has been associated with Biden when the Affordable Care Act otherwise known as Obamacare was passed in 2010. Trump has repeatedly called for this bill to be scrapped without a clear alternative in its place. Biden has called healthcare a right but has stopped short of the more radical healthcare for all platform that some more left leaning Democrats have been calling for. 

Lastly, on taxes, Biden wants to repeal the Trump tax cuts which considerably benefit the wealthy as opposed to the working and middle classes. Biden is promising to make sure the corporations and the wealthy pay their way and said he won’t raise taxes for those making under $400,00 a year. 

As we go to press with this article, Joe Biden is in the lead with 253 electoral votes to Donald Trump’s 213 and we are on the cusp of an election that could reverb around the world whoever wins. It is bound to have a resounding impact not only in America but on the entire planet as all eyes remain firmly fixed on America.  





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Joshua Candler-Jones

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