Obama would win the 2020 elections

United States

Prof. Dr. Christian Lammert

Prof. Dr. Christian Lammert

Prof. Dr. Christian Lammert is Professor of Politics in North America at the John F. Kennedy Institute at the Free University of Berlin.

Never before have so many people in the USA cast their votes in a presidential election as in 2020. How did they vote and what challenges does the new administration face? An analysis.

Supporters of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris celebrate the victory of the Democratic duo in the US presidential election 2020. (& copy picture-alliance / AP)

The 2020 presidential elections in the USA were special from various points of view and will go down in the history books: They took place under the conditions of the COVID-19 pandemic, which had a massive impact on both the organization of the elections and the campaign topics (see here and here). What is almost forgotten is that at the beginning of the election year there was also impeachment proceedings against incumbent President Donald Trump, something that has never happened before in US history.
Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th President of the United States on January 20, 2021. To his right his wife Jill Biden. (& copy picture alliance / ASSOCIATED PRESS | Saul Loeb)

The turnout was also steeped in history: never since 190 have so many voters gone to the polls in presidential elections and exercised their right to vote by post: Turnout was 66.2 percent of eligible US citizens (2016 - 59.1%). In many states, the voter turnout was even well over 70 percent, including in particular the contested states of Wisconsin (75.8%), Michigan (73.9%) and Pennsylvania (71%) [1]. In contrast to 2016, in this election the candidate with the most votes could also win a majority in the electoral college (Electoral College) win: Joe Biden received 306 votes and Donald Trump received 232. An absolute novelty in US history was that the loser did not admit his electoral defeat. Long after the election, Trump accused his political opponents of massive electoral fraud without being able to provide any solid evidence.

COVID-19 and postal voting

The corona pandemic had a major impact on the US presidential election. The health crisis and the accompanying economic crisis significantly influenced the topics of the election campaign and incumbent Trump faced increased criticism of his pandemic crisis management. Organizationally, the course of the pandemic and the increasing number of cases also posed major challenges for the practical implementation of the elections. Due to the high risk of infection, in almost all states the options for postal voting and early voting (Early voting) expanded - albeit with different requirements. In the end, 94 million US citizens exercised their right to vote before the actual election day on November 3rd. For comparison: in 2016 there were only 47.2 million and in 2008 only 31.7 million. [2] The pandemic did not, as initially feared, mean that fewer people would vote. On the contrary, due to the expansion of the postal voting system and the positive as well as negative mobilization by Donald Trump, a record turnout became apparent early on. Supporters of the Democratic Party in particular took advantage of this Early voting, or the postal vote. According to the United States Elections Project the Democrats had a clear lead over the Republicans here. In the 20 states that provide information about the party registration of voters in the election analysis, this lead was around 15 percentage points. Since in many states the postal votes were only counted after the actual election day, Trump was still leading in many states on election evening. Only with the later counting of the postal votes could Biden reduce this deficit or even overtake Trump. This was seen most clearly in the two states of Pennsylvania and Michigan. In Ohio, where postal votes were counted first, the dynamic was reversed: Biden was ahead at the beginning and it was only after counting the votes that were cast on election day that Trump secured victory.

Analysis of the election result

The election results of the presidential elections have to be analyzed in two ways due to the electoral system in the USA. On the one hand, with a view to that Electoral College and on the other hand with a view to voter migration and the mobilization of the traditional electorate of the parties. In order to emerge victorious from the elections, a candidate needs at least 270 of the 538 electoral votes. In the vast majority of states, these will appear after Winner takes all Principle awarded in the individual states.

How do you become President of the United States of America? Our explanatory film illustrates the process from the pre-election campaign to the oath of office - so that terms like Primaries & Caucuses, Swing States or Electoral College no longer raise question marks. (© Federal Agency for Civic Education)

Mostly the elections are in a few so-called Swing States decided, in which the candidates deliver a head-to-head race. Trump's surprise election victory in 2016 is primarily due to the fact that he has the so-called blue wall (blue wall) could take: Important states in the so-called Rust belt of the USA, the former steel and automotive industry region, which traditionally voted for the Democrats with a large proportion of working-class voters, fell to the Republicans in 2016. Trump managed to win Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania at the time. Biden was able to recapture these three states for the Democrats in 2020 and also win Arizona and Georgia. The electorate from these partly populous states ultimately secured Biden a clear victory in the elections Electoral Collegeeven if Trump clearly won in Florida (29 electorates), where the Democrats were ahead of the last two elections, and surprisingly for many with a view to the prognosis before the election.

But how did the parties manage to mobilize voters and cause any voter migration that could explain Biden's election victory? One of the special features of the 2020 presidential election is certainly that both campaigns were able to significantly expand their voter base compared to 2016. One of the surprises, however, is that, contrary to what surveys had predicted, there were no significant shifts in most demographic groups. Rather, the decisive factor was how successfully the two campaigns mobilized and exhausted their own potential voter base. This can be seen from the fact that very few districts have switched from one party to the other: Whereas 237 districts changed colors in 2016 (blue = Democrats; red = Republicans), in the current election there were only 72 districts. Of these, Biden won 59. [4] The strong mobilization of voters ultimately also led to the fact that no president with such a large number of votes has been elected to the White House: Joe Biden received 81,283,098 votes. But the loser Trump was also able to set a record with his 74,222,958: never before had an incumbent win so many votes. When he won the election in 2016, just under 63 million US citizens voted for him.

Overall, Biden's electoral success can primarily be explained by the greater mobilization of their own electoral base and less by major demographic shifts. Biden has particularly successfully mobilized in the ideological center, i.e. among the moderate voters. Even with the Independents, i.e. those voters who have not registered as Democrats or Republicans, Biden was able to significantly improve the election result for the Democrats compared to 2016. On average, Biden has gained twelve percentage points here, while Trump has lost five percentage points in this group compared to his election victory in 2016. [5] Biden and the Democrats were able to mobilize particularly well in the suburbs, but also with many African-Americans in the metropolitan areas. Overall, the Democrats are still stronger in the urban areas, while the Republicans are dominant in the rural areas. [6] This was particularly evident in the embattled states of Pennsylvania, Michigan and Georgia and then ultimately led to Biden's clear victory Electoral College.

Trump has also been very successful in mobilizing Republican supporters. Here it was able to increase by six percentage points compared to 2016. Around 94 percent of Republican supporters voted for Trump in 2020. For comparison: in 2016 the value was 88 percent. This is also an indicator of the extreme polarization of political parties among voters in the USA. Even if Biden won this election because of the great support from the Latinx [7] and Afro-Americans, Trump was also able to do well in this group of voters. Trump has increased his share in this group by six percentage points compared to 2016. Trump was able to win particularly among black men: from 13 percent in 2016 to 19 percent in the 2020 elections. Only Pennsylvania has to be mentioned here as an exception. Here Biden was able to repeat Hillary Clinton's very good result in the 2016 elections, and in the case of black men, he was even able to gain six percentage points.

The Latinx were arguably the most interesting group of voters in these elections. In addition, this group is becoming more and more relevant because the proportion of Latinx in the total population in the USA is continuously increasing. It became clear how heterogeneous this group is with regard to their voting behavior. Overall, Biden was able to achieve significantly more votes than Trump and thus repeat Hillary Clinton's good result. However, Trump was also able to significantly improve his result at the Latinx in two states. In Florida, Trump was only five percentage points behind Biden in this group of voters, which partly explains his surprising victory in the state. In 2016 Hillary Clinton still had a lead of 27 percentage points here. The success can primarily be attributed to Trump's good performance among the Cuban-Hispanics, where he was even able to achieve a majority of 56 percent. Cuban-Hispanics are generally considered to be very conservative in terms of values ​​and the US policy towards Cuba plays a dominant role in their voting decision. And here Trump was able to score with his anti-Cuba policy. In Texas, too, Trump was able to increase his voting share in Latinx from 34 percent (2016) to 41 percent.

Overall, however, it has been shown that the electoral coalitions of both parties have remained relatively stable. Biden won the elections because of the higher level of mobilization and because of some regional characteristics. In Arizona, for example, there has been a shift in power politics for some time due to demographic change. This is due on the one hand to the growing proportion of Latinx in the population, but also to the influx of many young, well-educated people as a result of the good economic development. That ultimately strengthened the Democrats in Arizona. In Georgia, the other state that surprisingly won Biden, the Democrats have implemented an intensive and successful strategy of voter mobilization - especially in parts of the African American population - that has paid off.

The results of the 2020, 2016, 2012 US presidential election

In the congressional elections held parallel to the US presidential election, the Democrats' balance sheet is rather mixed, especially with a view to the actual expectations and also on the basis of the prognoses, which have predicted a far better result for the Democrats here. In the House of Representatives, the demo cards were still able to secure a majority (222: 211), but they had to lose seats. In contrast to the 2018 midterm elections, the Democrats lost 9 seats to the Republicans. In return, the Democrats in the Senate were able to increase their number of seats to 50 (+3), although surveys had also forecast an even clearer victory. This means that there is now a 50-50 stalemate in the Senate, in which the incumbent Vice President Kamala Harris then has the decisive vote according to the constitution. This means that both the executive and the legislature are under the control of the Democrats, which will make governing significantly easier in the context of massive polarization and little non-partisan cooperation until the mid-term elections in two years' time.

Trump doubts the election result

Trump had already announced in the run-up to the election that he would not automatically accept an election defeat. The specifics of the choice described above - z. B. Early voting and postal voting - used Trump to question the legitimacy of Biden's election victory. However, numerous recounts and investigations could not prove any election fraud or manipulation. Nevertheless, Trump and his supporters continue to speak of electoral fraud, spread conspiracy ideologies and false information, for example by suggesting manipulation of the electronic counting machines or claiming that additional votes for Biden appeared on election night or that numerous deceased people voted by postal vote. Trump and his team were unable to provide evidence of these allegations. Overall, Trump failed in all of his lawsuits against the election result in the courts. He can, however, record one success: In the meantime, over two-thirds of Trump supporters believe that there was extensive election manipulation. A heavy burden for the 46th President of the United States, who will move into the White House on January 21st.

Biden's policy agenda and his cabinet

New President Joe Biden faces great challenges. Biden differentiates between initiatives that he wants to implement on the first day of office, if possible, and projects that require longer-term implementation. Biden can withdraw some reforms of the Trump administration at short notice via executive orders. For example, Biden has announced that the US will withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement shortly after the inauguration. The fight against the corona pandemic and the associated economic problems also require swift action.


An outlook on politics under Joe Biden

The long-term projects of the Biden administration include climate and energy policy. Here the fight against global warming is at the center of the reforms. Biden plans to implement a two trillion US dollar investment program over the next four years to convert the US economy more towards renewable energies. To this end, the US energy system should be free of carbon emissions by 2035 and greenhouse gas emissions should be reduced to zero by 2050. In immigration policy, too, Biden plans to withdraw many of the Trump administration's initiatives. The immigration ban is to be lifted again and the money for the construction of the wall on the border with Mexico is to be stopped and instead invested in increased digital surveillance of the border. The number of refugees permitted annually is also to be increased significantly from the current 18,000 to 125,000. In addition, the Dreamers, i.e. those around 660,000 undocumented immigrants who came to the USA as children are protected from deportation. Another 11 million undocumented immigrants should be given citizenship.

In terms of tax policy, Biden wants to tax higher incomes above an annual salary of US $ 400,000 more in order to finance the reform initiatives. The top tax rate is to be increased again to 39.6 percent. In 2018, the Republicans in Congress lowered the rate to 37 percent. The corporate tax is also to be raised again from 21 to 28 percent. In order to safeguard the social security systems, the social contributions for high earners are to be increased and income from capital income is to be taxed in the same way as income from wage labor. In health policy, Biden relies on the reform of the Obama implemented in 2010 Affordable Care Acts (Obamacare) and wants to expand this reform project of the Obama administration. One of the central initiatives here is lowering the age for receiving benefits Medicare from 65 to 60 years and the introduction of state health insurance (public option) to be offered as competition to private health insurance programs. So far, state health insurance programs have only existed for retirees and those in need.

In foreign policy, according to Biden, the USA should take a pioneering role in global climate policy.In addition, Biden wants to strengthen the US engagement in international organizations and the multilateral world order again. To this end, the USA is to rejoin the World Health Organization (WHO) and the international agreement on the Iranian nuclear program is to be reactivated. Fewer changes are likely to be seen in trade policy, particularly with China. China is to be brought to a change in its trade practices, albeit in cooperation with its European partners. Trade unions and environmental associations are to be more closely involved in future negotiations on trade agreements.

The whole thing takes place in an extremely polarized political context, which makes any policy-making in the US difficult. In doing so, Biden must also face the demands of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, which has gained more and more influence in recent years and calls for an even further restructuring of the economy and a more active role for the state. Since the Democrats won both of the state's Senate seats in the Georgia runoff elections, they now have a wafer-thin majority in the Senate. This means that the Republicans can no longer block possible appointments to the ministerial posts.

The planned Biden cabinet in pictures

Looking at Biden's previous nominations, two dominant patterns emerge: expertise and diversity. Biden has nominated many candidates with whom he has already worked for a long time and some of whom can refer to many years of political experience. This applies in particular to his closest employees in the White House. On the other hand, with the nomination of Loyed Austin and Deb Haaland, Biden shows that his cabinet should reflect the multicultural reality of American society better than in the administrations before.