Policy or Personality? The Race for the White House is too close to call

Tonight, Joe Biden has officially received the nomination from the Democratic Party to take on Donald Trump in November’s Presidential election. Again, as in 2016, this election is all but impossible to predict. Opinion polls tend to predict that Joe Biden will defeat Donald Trump in November, but the truth is they are all over the place and this is made no better by the volatility that the coronavirus has brought to politics. However, the poll published in tomorrow’s Sunday Express is significant. Less so because its highlighted the path for Trump to win 270 electoral college votes and return to the White House, but because it has pinpointed key issues for American voters. The key issues that will decide the election.

Perhaps even more so than in the United Kingdom, elections in the United States are fought across a small section of the electorate. The swing states of Florida, Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin were decided by between 0.2% and 1.5% of voters. The Sunday Express found that within these states, Trump has a narrow lead of six percentage points. And despite Trump trailing Biden nationally, the electoral college system would enable the Republican candidate to win the race to the White House, similarly to the elections of 2000 and 2016.  

Trump has suffered a major setback for his handling of Covid-19. His net approval rating over the crisis stands at -4%. Additionally, voters actively dislike many Trumpisms and the personality of the abrasive President, for many, is difficult to stomach. But personality, as Britain witnessed in 1945 and 1979, is not always the most important characteristic in deciding who governs.

The incumbent President was boosted by the support of Americans regarding his response to the protests across all fifty states. Whilst a majority of Americans want justice for George Floyd, they are increasingly worried about the safety of their cities. As this poll showed, by a margin of 2/3 to 1/3, Americans prioritise law and order over improving relations between the police and African-Americans. Therefore, it will come as no surprise that Trump’s net approval rating for his approach to rioting is at a staggering high of 16 per cent.

Biden will also need to be careful with the position of the Democratic Party on law and order. Many of his colleagues have called for defunding of local police departments and this is emphatically opposed by Americans, on both sides of the political divide. The former Vice President also falls behind Trump on one of the most pressing issues of the day, China. Sino-American relations are important to the United States not just in foreign policy but also in their domestic policy. If Trump is considered the man to stand up to Xi Jingping then he may retain important states, especially those in the formerly dark blue, rust belt.

Nevertheless, Biden is more likeable and a majority of those polled said that they would prefer to go to the pub with the former senator for Delaware than with the President. This, of course, cannot be overlooked, but the role of the President is more than just that of a beer drinker. His campaign will hope that he can convince the anti-Trump brigade to come out in force to vote for him.

There are 150 days until Americans go to the polls and the election campaign will completely change the dynamic of the Presidential race. Nevertheless, Trump’s success is pinned on forging the battle lines of the election. If he can make the key policy areas of China and crime the dominant factors of the election, potentially bolstered by a visible return to economic normalcy, then this may prove just enough to assure Americans that policy is more important than the concerns many of them have towards the President’s personality and conduct, and therefore defeat the more popular candidate, Joe Biden.

Who would predict such a tightly contested race?

Not I.

By J Walters

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