The future of American politics

Image Credit: Laoise Tarrant

With four years of a Biden presidency on the horizon, Grace Donnellan discusses where American politics is headed.

In the aftermath of the results of the US Presidential election, a myriad of narratives have emerged. As the first results were counted, many began to assume this would be another victory for Trump. In the weeks following the election, Trump’s campaign team have clutched at straws in order to change the story to one of election fraud. However, looking at the final results it is clear that Biden won the election with an impressive total. Biden clinched 306 electoral votes to Trump’s 232, the exact same margin by which Trump beat Hillary Clinton in 2016. After the 2016 election, there was a lot of soul searching, with many wondering what direction America was heading in. While November’s results paint a more positive picture of the state of American democracy, it is still important to examine what the full picture can tell us about US politics.

Progressive measures on the ballot in a number of states did surprisingly well. In Florida, where Trump succeeded, 61% of voters supported a measure to increase the minimum wage to $15. The historically red states of Montana and South Dakota voted to legalise recreational marijuana, with Mississippi supporting a measure to legalise marijuana for those with a prescription. Oregon, a state with a reputation for being left-wing, voted to decriminalise a wide variety of drugs and use the law-enforcement savings to support addiction treatment. In another red state, Colorado, voters approved the creation of a family and medical leave system. It is apparent even in deep-red states that progressive ideas resonate with voters, and yet, the Democrats did not perform as well down the ballot as anticipated. Entering the election, some optimistically believed that Democrats could take control of the House and Senate. However, the GOP firmly held on to their House majority. The fate of the Senate lies in a January runoff election in Georgia, where the best possible outcome would have the Democrats winning the two seats up for grabs and gaining a very slim majority in their coalition with Independents.  While a lot of the post-election discussion has revolved around how to make the Democratic party a place where Trump voters can feel they belong and what the best ways to reach out to them are, it may be a doomed strategy for Democrats to move further to the right. There is an obvious appetite for progressive proposals across the US. Ilhan Omar decisively won her seat, with many crediting her for getting the Democratic vote out in Minneapolis. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez has received consistent support from her constituents and Stacey Abram’s efforts played a large role in turning Georgia blue. This best strategy for the Democrats, when looking to the 2022 midterm elections, could be for them to listen to these elements of their party.

This election also revealed a changed electoral map. Previously, Ohio was considered a major swing state. 2020 was the first time since 1964 that the state did not vote for the eventual President-Elect. This seems to symbolise a gradual reddening of the state. Florida is another stereotypical swing state. In the run-up to November, both the campaigns and the media put a huge emphasis on the state. Many anticipated a Biden victory. However, the state voted once again for Trump. In contrast, Georgia, a state that has voted for the Democratic candidate only 3 times since 1972 when a southern Democrat was on the ticket, swung for Biden. While Texas did not swing Democrat, it showed promising results for the Democratic party, with many urban areas moving firmly to the left. It is likely that when the 2024 election rolls around, the money and energy pumped into states such as Florida and Ohio may be a thing of the past. Instead, Georgia and Texas may have become the swing states of the future. With 38 electoral votes, Texas is an important player in Presidential elections, making it one to watch over the next 4 years.

Despite a Biden campaign heavily focusing on voters in the historically white suburbs, these demographics seemed to have endorsed the Republican party. While there was a shift left in some suburbs, compared to Clinton’s performance in 2016, this was not enough for Biden to win states such as Ohio and Iowa. It was Black voters, particularly in states such as Michigan, Arizona and Georgia who gave Biden the edge he needed to win the election. Many of these Black voters supported Biden despite reservations regarding his political record and support of busing during the Civil Rights Movement. These Black voters will be essential in order for the democrats to win the Presidential election in 2024. While Biden has pledged to tackle the problems stemming from racial inequality in the US and explicitly thanked black voters during his victory speech, it will be interesting to see how much he will actually listen to the very real concerns and demands of Black voters.