This year’s race to 270 electoral college votes is set to be historic as candidates are facing many pressing issues. These issues include the Black Lives Matter Movement, voting suppression and a lack of trust in polling, all of which have been either created or exasperated due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
To discuss these salient issues leading up to the election, the UConn Department of Political Science hosted a panel titled “Road to 270: The 2020 Presidential Election” that invited alumni in the field to share their thoughts on how this year’s presidential election is shaping up to be one for the history books.
The panel was moderated by David Yalof, professor and head of the Political Science Department at UConn, who asked important questions that touched on each of the main issues candidates are facing leading up to election day.
The COVID-19 pandemic is a leading issue that has caused a lot of panic and unrest throughout the country. After downplaying the severity of the virus, President Donald Trump has now directly felt the effects of the virus after battling COVID-19, himself. Even before the pandemic, Trump’s approval ratings were not very high, and current polls show he is trailing his opponent, Joe Biden, by double-digits.
It is interesting to think of what this election might have looked like without the virus as a main factor. According to the panelists, Trump was already in trouble.
“The race has obviously blown open because of COVID,” Stu Rothenberg, senior editor at Inside Elections, said. “Even in the first quarter of the year, the president was in trouble.”
Other panelists echoed this notion and said Trump would have been in trouble no matter what, and the pandemic only exasperated his already mediocre job approval ratings.
So why do voters continue to support Trump?
“The supreme court issue is huge for his base … To get three judges in a single administration is something that is huge for his followers,” Randy Serrano, a Washington correspondent for Telemundo, said.
The recent nomination and court hearings that are underway for Judge Amy Coney Barrett have momentarily helped Trump maintain his base of support. His voting bloc is made up of primarily White, conservative voters who are in favor of Barrett’s nomination as it would swing the court in their favor.
In the midst of a pandemic and a Supreme Court Justice nominee hearing, the country also has witnessed a resurgence in the fight for social and political justice for Black Americans. The Black Lives Matter Movement has led the fight against police brutality and other forms of racially motivated violence and has been a big factor in the election.
“Black Lives Matter injected social justice issues into this campaign and the entire election,” Rothenberg said.
This issue has been especially difficult for the Trump campaign to navigate, and most recently, during the first presidential debate, he failed to condemn White supremacy. Other actions Trump has taken, including barring racial sensitivity training for federal workers, attacking the 1619 program as anti-American propaganda and portraying largely peaceful protests in a negative light has led critics to claim he is using race to further polarize Americans.
“The campaigns were immediately impacted by this,” Cheyenne Haslett, 2020 campaign producer and reporter for ABC News, said. “It was something that if you weren’t speaking on it, spoke louder than what you weren’t saying.”
Another main concern among the public is voter suppression. The pandemic has resulted in a significantly higher percentage of Americans opting to vote by mail, which opens up many possibilities that votes might be rejected or not counted.
“The definition of voter suppression has changed rapidly in the last eight months,” Haslett said.
Voting by mail has historically been a safe and reliable practice, but Trump has undermined its credibility by raising concerns among voters whether their ballots will be counted. This will also be the first time that many peoples are voting by mail which can further lead voters to feel overwhelmed by the differing opinions that each party has on the subject.
Haslett said if Democrats continue to encourage the public that mail in voting is safe, they must go further and offer additional assistance on the exact steps for how to ensure that their ballot is correctly filled out and counted.
A final issue that has raised concern leading up to the election is polling.
Lydia Saad, director of U.S. Social Research for The Gallup Poll, put it simply: People don’t trust the polls. Following the 2016 election, in which a major misconception was held by the public that the polls were wrong, many people are skeptical about whether this election cycle will produce similar results.
With only a few weeks left until election night, there are many ways this election can go. Whether we see an incumbent win or a change in party leadership, the 2020 presidential election has established itself as a historic race to the White House.