Originally Published 2020-10-21 10:59:01 Published on Oct 21, 2020
The US election is just two weeks away. While it is still unpredictable, the probability of Trump winning is getting lower due to a variety of reasons
The last lap of America’s Presidential polls

As the D-Day—November 3—approaches, over 18 million American voters have already cast their votes in the most contentious presidential election in recent history. For the first time, an US presidential poll is being fought during a raging pandemic, caused by the Chinese-origin coronavirus, with the American economy in a deep dive. The virus did not spare even President Donald Trump and he had to take time off from the campaign due to being rushed to Washington’s military-run Walter Reed Hospital on October 2. Trump has since recovered and is back on the campaign trail, but there is no way to know if he will be in full flow and what impact the virus has had on his health. Two aides of Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden’s running mate, Senator Kamala Harris, were also infected.

Biden is leading in the polls by an average of 6-7 points, with around 50% of American voters intending to vote for him. At around 44%, Trump’s national approval ratings are reasonably good and fairly steady. Trump seems to have defied his earlier unpopular ratings and bounced back, though he has been losing out on women’s votes due to his attitude and actions against them. But the polls, which are avidly followed, are hardly infallible. In 2016, Hillary Clinton was ahead of Trump in them but lost, though she polled three million more votes than him nationwide. She could not muster the required majority in the Electoral College.

The Electoral College system is unique to the US, wherein each state is allotted a certain number of electoral votes, depending on the number of members it sends to the Senate and the House of Representatives. The total Electoral College votes amount to 538, making 270 the magic figure for winning. If a candidate wins the popular vote in a state, all the electoral college votes of that state are allotted to them. Hence, candidates spend a lot of time campaigning in the “battleground” states that have more electoral votes.

The first TV Presidential debate was a bad-tempered encounter. Running mates Vice President Mike Pence and Senator Kamala Harris also clashed in their debate over the handling of the pandemic by the Trump Administration. Polls have put Biden-Harris marginally ahead of Trump-Pence in the first and only debate so far, out of the three normally scheduled. Biden kept his cool under a barrage of comments and interruptions. One TV channel counted 73 interruptions by Trump while Biden was speaking. At one point, Trump questioned Biden’s intelligence; Biden called him a clown and asked him to “shut up” several times. Trump’s behaviour was not dissimilar to his social media comments, which are often insulting and offensive. The mud-slinging, par for the course for boisterous democracies like the US and India, must be making the emperor for life of the Middle Kingdom, Xi Jinping, choke on his noodle soup and direct the PLA to be ready for war.

On foreign policy issues, Trump’s mantra was “America First”; more recently, he is projecting himself as an international peacemaker after successfully getting the UAE and Bahrain to establish formal diplomatic relations with Israel. This will certainly please the powerful Jewish lobby in the US. Trump has also claimed success in building the wall along the Mexican border, cajoling NATO members to cough up more funds for defence spending and bringing back American troops from abroad, particularly Afghanistan.

Biden has highlighted his intention of rebuilding the relationship with allies and mocked Trump’s America First as “America Alone”. Biden’s foreign policy theme is re-engagement with the world and promoting multilateral institutions. He has also promised to hold President Putin to account for “interference” in American elections. He echoed Trump in ending wars but wants to keep Special Forces globally deployed for international peace and stability. He has promised to rebuild the diplomatic service, seen to have been severely undermined by Trump’s policies, rejoin the Climate Change Accord and push China on reduction of carbon emission.

The current Presidential election has another unique feature, with both parties wooing Indian-American voters. While Kamala Harris’s part-Indian origin is a factor, the more substantive reason is the rising influence of the Indian-American community. Speculation about a Biden-Harris administration adopting a less accommodative attitude towards India on issues like human rights and Jammu and Kashmir has led to expectation that Indian-American voters may start to drift towards the Republicans. The special relationship between President Trump and PM Narendra Modi has been factored into this conclusion.

A recent Carnegie Endowment survey has, however, concluded, with the usual margin of error, that Indian-American voters continue to gravitate towards the Democratic Party and there is hardly any defection to the Republicans. The core issues in this election are not India-US relations but the plummeting economy and handling of the pandemic. Indian-American voters will also find Trump less appealing due to his immigration restrictions on H-1B visa applicants, students, etc.

The Carnegie survey notes that the Indian-American community grew by 150% between 2000-2018. Today, it is the second largest immigrant community in America, with educational levels and income much higher than the American average. These factors make the community a target for recruitment in order to raise funds.

Biden has raced ahead in fund-raising, collecting $365 million and spending more in campaigning than Trump in the battleground states. In separate TV appearances on their campaign trail, the two candidates have continued their sparring. Trump’s income tax details have created a furore. His handling of the pandemic has been shredded to pieces and will cost him votes due to cuts in healthcare among others. His constant rhetoric is that if he loses the election, it would be due to rigging; his own FBI director has denied his claim.

The attack on Biden has focussed on him and his son’s corrupt dealings with foreign governments and businesses, though the evidence being circulated has been far from authentic. Biden is comfortably placed. Both Barack and Michelle Obama have come out strongly in his support. Meanwhile, Trump’s Republican party Senators are displaying a sense of unease with his maverick and reckless approach to the pandemic. The Republicans enjoy a majority a 53-47 in the Senate, with 35 seats going to the polls in November.

If Trump loses, then it will affect the voting for the Senate. The Republicans may then lose their majority, which is very important to control legislation and crucial appointments, particularly in case of a Biden victory. Campaign finance monitors have confirmed that Democratic candidates for the Senate are raking in higher campaign funds than their Republican rivals. The Presidential race is still unpredictable, but the probability of Trump winning is getting lower, with Biden arguing that the “soul of the nation is at stake”.

This commentary originally appeared in The New Indian Express.

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Pinak Ranjan Chakravarty

Pinak Ranjan Chakravarty

Pinak Chakravarty was a Visiting Fellow with ORF's Regional Studies Initiative where he oversees the West Asia Initiative Bangladesh and selected ASEAN-related issues. He joined ...

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