US President Donald Trump and his Democratic challenger Joe Biden are battling for the presidency in a sharply divided United States.
Trump has been focusing on “law and order”; Biden has been trying to strike a conciliatory note. The Black Lives Matter movement and whether Trump will release his taxes are among the many issues Americans will consider when choosing their president.
As the hotly contested election approaches, Al Jazeera has been speaking to voters across the US asking nine questions to understand who they are supporting and why.
[Courtesy of Benjamin Rodger]Age: 32
Occupation: Full-time Student and Full-time Shift Supervisor at Starbucks
Residence: Yakima County, Washington
Voted in 2016 for: Hillary Clinton
Will Vote in 2020 for: Joe Biden
Top Election Issue: Democratisation of the American Political System
Will you vote? Why or why not?
“I will be voting in the upcoming election. And I vote in every presidential election, but I feel like this election is just especially important. And obviously this year, there are a lot of barriers. There’s a lot of doubt about the sort of effectiveness of American election systems in the middle of the pandemic. And of course, we’ve seen a lot of efforts by Republican lawmakers to push back against people’s capacity to vote early, [their] capacity to vote remotely, things like that. So there’s a lot of fear about how the election administration is going to go in unprecedented circumstances.
“I would always vote, but I’m sort of especially motivated to make sure that I vote the minute I get my ballot. I’m going to take my ballot into the drop box. I’m in Washington State, so we have all mail-in balloting – but instead of trusting it to the US mail, I’m going to take it directly to a ballot box, the day I get it, so that I’m not running any risks.”
What is your number one issue?
“I have a lot of issues that are really important to me. But I think that the sort of bedrock issue for me is the democratisation of the American political system. There’s a ton of checks, veto points in our system that sort of prevent the public from exercising choice in our democracy. Obviously, the electoral college is the most famous thing.
“In the last 20 years, Republicans have held the presidency for three terms now, and in only one of those terms did they actually win the national popular vote. Currently, they hold the Senate while having received a minority of votes for senators. In recent elections, the Democrats only recently took back the House [of Representatives] after winning electoral majorities in most house elections over the last 20 years. And so we see a system not only that has nonrepresentative bodies in it, but it also seems to be systematically weighted against one particular political coalition, and in favour of another coalition built on sort of rural white voters.
“And that same coalition [is] now about to appoint a sixth member on our Supreme Court, which has a very high degree of judicial supremacy. So what I want to see is the filibuster removed, so that a majority vote in the Senate is enough to pass laws. And I want to see DC and Puerto Rico added as states and some kind of measure taken to reform the Supreme Court.
“And I think that any other issues that people on either side of the political spectrum want to get done, you’re going to have to start with democratisation like that. Because when you have really polarised parties, where either party that elects a majority can’t actually get its project done, that just incentivises people to send more extreme people, thinking that that’s going to be how they get their programme instituted.”
Who will you vote for?
“I’m going to vote for Joe Biden.”
Is there a main reason you chose your candidate?
“The baseline reason is that he’s not Donald Trump. And I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say Donald Trump is an authoritarian president. I think that he’s an ethno-nationalist, who doesn’t respect the rule of law. He has put his own family members in positions of authority, in some instances in contravention of the law. He’s undermined the rule of law and public accountability. And I just think those things are fundamentally dangerous.
“As it happens, Joe Biden also agrees with me on a number of policies. I really like the fact that in one of the primary debates, he said that his administration would not deport anybody who has not committed a felony. I think adding more accountability to our immigration system, which has been the source of a lot of human rights abuses, would be really good. Obviously, climate change — the US taking back a leadership role, globally, in addressing climate change is just critical to the future of the world and a stable global order. So there’s a lot of policy stuff that I really like about Joe Biden, but he wasn’t my candidate in the primary. But when you put him up against someone that I see as sort of an authoritarian fascist, it’s not really a hard choice for me.”
Are you happy with the state of the country?
“Oh, no, not even. I think that a lot of Americans, especially a lot of people who aren’t in the core base of Donald Trump — like moderate swing voters — and a lot of people would probably say they’re not that happy with the current state of the United States. I mean, you’ve got, like I said, a president that narrowly survived, that was impeached, and survived the removal proceedings by a party-line vote after there was really, really clear evidence that he was engaged in corruption and self-dealing in foreign policy. You have children, having been separated from their parents, and just human rights catastrophes at the border, really aggressive policing encouraged, including violence encouraged by the administration. I just think that those kinds of things are just really obviously big problems.
“But I think also on a deeper level, I don’t see enough appreciation in commentary about how [much of a] fundamental problem it is that our institutions just don’t seem set up to tackle ordinary problems — to adapt to things that happen. You see a really, really inept and lackadaisical response to a global pandemic, where we’re the wealthiest country on the planet and we have the greatest number of cases. And we like to tell ourselves this myth that we’re the greatest country on Earth, but then when you try to catch that out and actually [solve] problems and [take] care of our citizens, we just seem incapable of doing it. So yeah, no, I’m not happy.”
What would you like to see change?
“I think that the day-one immediate things I would like to see would be the removal of the Senate filibuster, adding DC as a state with senators and electoral representation in the electoral college as well, and offering that to Puerto Rico—now, it’s a question of whether they vote and choose to join as a state— but offering that to them.”
“There’s a few ways to handle sort of the extremism on the Supreme Court, either by adding seats to the court or just by jurisdiction stripping, which just removes its authority to hear certain types of cases. I think there’s a lot of ways you could go, but we have to do something about that.
“I favour a dramatic expansion in the permissiveness of our immigration system. And I think that for various reasons, I mean globally, I think that’s just a hard sell. I think a lot of the far-right nationalist movements have risen powered by a backlash [to] immigration. And so that’s a tough sell, and it’s not obvious to me that that’s a political winner. But I think from a humanitarian perspective, it’s necessary.”
Do you think the election will change anything?
“Well, I hope so! I think that there’s a few different outcomes. There’s the outcome where Joe Biden wins by a big margin, and Democrats take back the Senate. And I think that given the drastic erosion of norms, I think that there is actually a decent amount of appetite among Democrats for some pretty big changes, and systemic changes and things to hold people accountable and reinforce the rule of law and things like that.
“But I think that it’s actually really an open question if the election’s close. And if it’s not clear on election night, who’s won the presidency, I think that this administration is going to be really aggressive and litigating. I think that one of the times in the last 20 years, when Republicans won the presidency without winning the popular vote, it’s because the Supreme Court just handed them the presidency. And I think with a six-three majority on the Supreme Court, where Donald Trump has appointed three of the six conservative judges, I think there’s reason to be afraid that the Supreme Court will just find some justification to say Donald Trump is president.
“So I think there’s [sic] a lot of scary outcomes, and you read a lot of analysts talk about that this could end in civil war. I don’t think those things are overblown. I think it’s possible. But I think that the best defence we have to that is to deliver a really, really unambiguous election outcome. Because I think that if it’s obvious on election night that Joe Biden has won the presidency, I think our institutions are at least strong enough, that in that circumstance — where it’s really obvious fairly quickly— I think he’d [Trump would] have a hard time subverting that. So that’s my hope.”
What is your biggest concern for the US?
“I think the delegitimisation of mail-in ballots is a really big problem. Especially with the president really talking up the myths that they’re a source of fraud— I think there’s a really big risk that his supporters vote in person. And Democrats will be more likely to vote through mail-in ballots. And if mail-in ballots are counted more slowly than in-person votes, then it might well appear on election night, like Donald Trump is either winning or it’s close. And then if that margin disappears, you know, over the days or weeks after the election, I think that it’ll be covered as an open question whether fraud was involved, and Donald Trump will immediately say that it’s fraud.
“Our federal judiciary — having been packed by far-right, sort of cronies of this administration — I think they’ll look for any reason they can to be sympathetic to that perspective. So that’s the thing I’m most worried about — and that’s why once I get my mail-in ballot, I’m taking it into the drop box, I’m not going to mail it in, because I want it counted as quickly as possible. I want to take no chances.
“And so that’s why I think, because our system is so weird, if you’re in a solidly blue state, or a solidly red state, it can feel, I mean, mathematically, your vote doesn’t count for much, right? I mean it’s unfortunate, but that’s just the way our system is set up: your vote really counts if you’re in a swing state.
“This election, with the undermining of those norms it actually does matter that people, even in solidly blue and solidly red states, do vote, because I think that the way people perceive the legitimacy of the election will be affected by what the actual raw vote totals are on election night.”
Is there anything we haven’t asked about the election that you want to share?
“I think that one of the things that we see a lot in coverage is Donald Trump breaks some extravagant norm, right? He does something really unconscionable — and that menu is long. He’s done a lot of just really, really reprehensible things, and people cover it like, ‘Oh, but does this matter to his base?’, ‘Oh, they don’t care what he does, right?’ Like Donald Trump himself said in the last election, “I could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue, and not lose any supporters.
“But the reality is, that’s actually not true, because the fact is — it’s true that his core base is not going to abandon him, but that’s almost circular. Because his core base, by definition, are the people who won’t abandon him. But they’re also not an electoral majority. And if he’s going to win re-election, it’s going to be because either people who don’t like him stay home, or people who he has offended come back to him. And there actually are people who we’ve seen, like the number of people in surveys who claim that they are Republican, has decreased, and those are probably people Donald Trump has pissed off. So I think it’s really easy to say that none of the rules matter anymore. But I mean, we see even in sort of competitive authoritarian regimes, like politics still exists, and authoritarians still need legitimacy to govern.
“And so I mean, rather than letting him consolidate authoritarian tendencies in the American political system, we just have to beat him now. If we don’t beat him now, I don’t know what that means about four years from now or eight years from now, but we do actually have a window to beat him now. I do believe that.”