All bets are off: it's a US election year

All bets are off: it's a US election year
2020-02-27

A US Presidential Election isn’t a single day event.  Well, it is – in that voters have one day in which to cast their ballot for the president.  But the contest begins well in advance of the November election, and this year is no exception.  No sooner had Donald Trump been sworn in as the 45th President in January 2017 were battle plans being drawn up by Democrats on how to beat him in 2020.  And now 2020 is here, can they put those plans into action?

We’re a long way from knowing how the election will go in November.  President Trump has been impeached by the Democrat-led House of Representatives (the lower house) for ‘high crimes and misdemeanours’ after alleged attempts to get Ukrainian officials to investigate the son of one of his potential Democratic opponents.  The Republican majority in the Senate – the upper house of Congress, where the impeachment trial was held – meant that his acquittal on these charges was largely a foregone conclusion.  Nevertheless, Democrats will feel they have wounded the president, and hope the allegations will have an impact on his re-election chances.  We wait to see whether that will indeed be the case.

The race to be the Democratic challenger to President Trump in November is just getting started.  A field of almost thirty candidates began campaigns a year ago – and even as the primary season is only just beginning, that field has narrowed considerably.  Of the twelve or so candidates that remain active, the choice appears to be between four of them: Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, representing the more leftist wing of the party; and former Mayor of South Bend, Indiana Pete Buttigieg and former Vice President Joe Biden, who have more centrist positions.  At this stage – with very few convention delegates awarded – there is no clear frontrunner.  However, what is clear is that whoever the Democrats select as their candidate, they will have a difficult task to overcome the president in November.

In an election year, Americans tend to prize two things: stability abroad, and an economy that is in good shape.  Everything else is secondary.  With the US presence in the Middle East more limited than in recent years, and unemployment at its lowest rate in 50 years, many Americans are crediting President Trump with these achievements.  Everything else that is going on, the impeachment trial, the Twitter tirades, diplomatic faux pas and all the rest, is window-dressing.  To put it mildly, President Trump may not be everyone’s cup of tea – and there are legitimate questions being asked about his fitness to hold that office – but he is presiding over an America which is doing well economically and, as he recognised in his State of the Union address, has disentangled itself from a number of international obligations and conflicts. 

These are significant advantages for a sitting president in an election year.  The Democratic challenger – whoever that is – will have their work cut out if they are to evict Donald Trump from the White House this year.

Published by The School of Social Science, University of Aberdeen

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