Playing the US election

Bassem Aly , Monday 2 Nov 2020

Despite leading in polls, Joe Biden has doubts on whether he can stop Donald Trump’s re-election

Playing the US election

Almost a week ahead of the US presidential elections 3 November, Democratic candidate Joe Biden continues to lead polls against Republican rival and President Donald Trump. Biden enjoys an edge of nine percentage points (52 per cent to 43 per cent), according to The Washington Post. Biden is also more popular in key swing states: he is dominating the race with eight, nine, five and one points in Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Arizona and Florida respectively.

But he still has concerns about the final outcome of the elections. “I’m one of those folks, or competitors, it’s not over till the bell rings. And — I feel superstitious when I predict anything other than its gonna be a hard fight. We feel good about where we are. But, you know, I — I don’t underestimate how he plays,” Biden said.

Darren Davis, a Lilly presidential fellow at the University of  Notre Dame, told Al-Ahram Weekly that he agrees with Biden’s statement. “We have seen many attempts in this election to suppress and intimidate voters. I think Biden was perhaps thinking about those efforts and their impact on the election,” Davis said. 

Perhaps this can explain why Biden attempted during the last presidential debate to take advantage of one of Trump’s greatest weaknesses: healthcare. Biden introduced his so-called “Bidencare”, which includes a “public option”. The plan involves maintaining private insurance for Americans, reducing the cost of drugs and creating a “pre-existing condition plan”. 

Biden’s plan, which he said will be worth $750 billion during the next decade, is a new version of the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act, the future of which will be decided by the Supreme Court. 

“Right now, the biggest domestic issue is our health. Right now, Covid. Covid, the way he’s handling Covid is just absolutely totally irresponsible. He’s telling people that we’ve turned the bend, in one of his recent rallies. Well, he’s gone — as my grandpop would say, he’s gone ‘round the bend. I mean, we are in real trouble,” Biden told CBS News’ 60 Minutes on Sunday. 

Trump, who was hospitalised for 10 days after testing positive for Covid-19, has been severely criticised for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and the economic crisis that followed. The economic shutdown pushed a 14.7 per cent increase in unemployment rates. 

Arguably causing even more harm to Trump’s re-election campaign, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows admitted this week that “we’re not going to control the pandemic.” Instead, Meadows stated, “we are going to control the fact that we get vaccines, therapeutics and other mitigations.” 

In the meantime, although his wife and himself tested negative for Covid-19, five people in Vice President Mike Pence’s closest circle caught the virus. Among them are chief of staff Marc Short, aide Zach Bauer and adviser Martsy Obst. 

Pence is the leader of the White House Coronavirus Task Force. 

Shana Kushner Gadarian, associate professor of political science at Syracuse University, argued the Republicans and Democrats have “very different levels of worry about Covid-19 and evaluate the government’s handling of the pandemic very differently, with Republicans being much less worried and more supportive of the president’s handling of the crisis”. 

“Very little in the polling changed after Trump himself was diagnosed with Covid-19 and I don’t expect much to change at this point after Pence’s team was diagnosed. For Democrats, it just cements the idea that this White House is unable to handle the crisis, and for Republicans it will further the idea that this is a disease that is serious but not deadly,” Gadarian said. 

But Gadarian expressed concern about Trump’s “delegitimising many of the core institutions of democracy”, including the electoral system itself. “He has made claims about voter fraud in mail-in ballots without evidence and has called for his supporters to go ‘poll watch’ which is potentially illegal and also dangerous. So, this is what Biden is talking about. It is likely that Trump will claim that the outcome of the election is biased against him in some way if he doesn’t win, and will challenge the outcome of the election through the courts,” she said.

Donald P Green, Burgess professor of political science at Columbia University, said Biden will very likely win the Electoral College vote. The challenge for Biden, Green added, lies in the fact that “some states only start counting mail-in ballots on election day itself”. 

“Since the preponderance of mail-in ballots are cast by Democrats, this counting procedure means that Republicans will seem to have the lead in states like Pennsylvania on the night of 3 November, which potentially gives President Trump an opportunity to declare victory prematurely. That scenario, however, becomes irrelevant if Florida, which counts ballots ahead of time, is called for Biden. It is almost impossible for President Trump to win re-election without winning Florida,” he explained. 

*A version of this article appears in print in the 29 October, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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