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US 2024 presidential elections: A stocktaking
It seems like the 2024 US election is riding on issue-centric campaigns, given the limited impact of persona from either party.
With state primaries spread between early March and September next year, the United States (US) has entered its crucial year of presidential election. Despite few adults in the US wanting a Biden-Trump rematch in 2024, it looks like the most potent plausibility. In the Republican camp, Trump leads his nearest rival Ron DeSantis by a 46-percent margin. Some projections estimate a buoyant Nikki Haley to overtake DeSantis soon for a second spot in the Republican race. Trump’s absence from all the Republican party debates till now has not affected his prospects. If anything, it has insidiously led to ‘Trumpism without Trump’ in the Republican party. In the Democrat Camp, Biden is leading a lone battle and has predicated his run specifically on countering Donald Trump. As for issues, the Republicans have attacked the Biden administration for the poor handling of the southern borders, and misdirecting federal spending, especially through its climate and infrastructure deals and ‘wokism’. Biden has planked his campaign on propping up the economy through ‘Bidenomics’, restoring democracy, focusing on the working class and assuring allies and partners across the world.
"The Republicans have attacked the Biden administration for the poor handling of the southern borders, and misdirecting federal spending, especially through its climate and infrastructure deals and ‘wokism’."
Battle for the soul
The 2024 US election is riding on issue-centric campaigns, given the limited impact of the persona from either party. Between Biden and Trump, the latter may have more ability to garner votes based on image. A septuagenarian is fighting an octogenarian while both garnering bad press for being not so ‘clean’. Donald Trump is facing a possible conviction which is expected to hit his popularity in polls and Biden has tried to distance himself from the multiple charges his son Hunter Biden faces. A large number of registered independent voters that has grown over the years also shows that issues could trump personalities in 2024. Yet, presidential personalities have been a key component of the political narrative building in US elections. In the 1993 elections, then President George H.W Bush who oversaw the fall of the erstwhile Soviet Union and victory in the Gulf War of 1991 was defeated by a relatively new Democrat Bill Clinton. In the current election, there is a centring focus on Biden’s ‘weak’ leadership, despite his many successes. Among the voters, there have concerns regarding the ability of President Biden to run for another election. In a survey conducted by the New York Times and Sienna College, as in another poll in the primary swing states of Ohio, Georgia, and Arizona, the voters overwhelmingly raised the concern over President Biden's age. Biden is trailing Trump in 7 swing states—Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.
Looming questions over political and social stability in the US are a major issue in the 2024 presidential elections, even as President Biden is cautioning against “Make America Great Again” (MAGA) and the lingering shadows of the 6 January Capitol Hill riots. The rhetoric of the election fraud and stolen elections, the 6 January insurrection and anti-vaxxers dominate Trump’s campaign. Republicans have questioned Biden on similar issues. The division over the issue is considered as hyperpartisanship last seen in the elections of 2016 and 2020. The problem of urban disorder has added to the American political conundrum with sharp divisions between voters on racial killings, sanctuary cities with rapid crime and gang violence. Biden has pivoted his campaign on a ‘battle for the soul of the nation’. Oppositely pitted campaigns like the Black Lives Matter versus All Lives Matter and the rise of antisemitism across public spaces and universities in the background of the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza are tearing American society at its seams. Increasingly, these issues have carved their space in the domestic politics of the US and are likely to impact the 2024 elections. For instance, one poll finds that Biden risks losing youth votes in 2024 over delaying the ceasefire in Gaza. The Democratic party has been emphasizing progressive domestic matters, notably on issues like abortion. During the 2022 midterm elections, abortion rights became a focal point in various critical states. This was evident in Ohio where voters approved a constitutional amendment to guarantee abortion and reproductive rights and in the elections of Georgia and Pennsylvania where the issue remained central as well.
"The problem of urban disorder has added to the American political conundrum with sharp divisions between voters on racial killings, sanctuary cities with rapid crime and gang violence. "
The influx of immigrants in the US is a pressing issue, with a massive surge at the Southern border bringing a record number of asylum seekers. Immigration has returned to be a decisive issue between the Republicans and the Democrats and is currently the main reason for dragging the Ukraine aid bill. Biden at the start of his presidency reversed Trump’s immigration policies which was construed as a soft approach and saw a massive surge. The situation is overwhelming with the decision by the Biden administration to build some portion of the wall and increase in the number of border agents.
The Biden administration has been able to pass key policy initiatives including the bipartisan Infrastructure Deal, the American rescue plan, and the CHIPS and Science Act. However, the issue of inflation and foreign policy decisions, especially the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, has weighed heavily on Biden’s poll ratings. Rising energy prices have historically impacted presidential elections in the US in significant ways, perhaps most consequentially when it cost Jimmy Carter his presidency in the 1980 elections, losing to Ronald Reagan. Energy politics is likely to be front and centre once again with ongoing wars in the Middle East and Europe, and the Republicans taking a sceptical view of Biden’s green deal.
Domestic issues within the US are intricately intertwined with foreign policy, with China being a prominent concern. This concern has not only shifted among policy elites but also among the American public, where a significant 59 percent view China negatively, perceiving it as either an enemy or an unfriendly nation amidst escalating military and economic tensions. Addressing the Chinese threat has become a pivotal issue, prompting both parties to advocate for a more hardline approach.
"One of the key challenges lies in offering alternatives to Chinese-led investments highlighted at the Americas summit."
In Republican debates, discussions have revolved around bolstering naval power by increasing the number of warships to counter China, especially amidst rising tensions in the South China Sea and over Taiwan. One of the key challenges lies in offering alternatives to Chinese-led investments highlighted at the Americas summit. This effort aligns with the continuation of the “Build Back Better” plan or Indo-Pacific Economic Framework. Tariffs initiated against China during the Trump presidency have largely persisted in the Biden administration, enjoying robust bipartisan support, and showcasing a unified stance across political parties. Amid the myriad issues with China, the growing concern over Fentanyl stands out, with some politicians labelling it as a dire threat. Democrats emphasise a recent agreement with China on the Fentanyl issue as a robust stance, whereas Republicans criticise Biden’s position as weak in countering China, a sentiment echoed by House members.
Despite Biden’s strong support for Ukraine and Israel, his party is divided with progressives asking for the drawdown of support and a ceasefire in Gaza. Biden’s support has already waned among young voters because of the Israel-Hamas war. This may further play into the hands of Trump. At the third Republican primary debate in November, the majority of the questions revolved around national security, jobs, trade, and military power. Despite a robust response to the ongoing wars by the Biden administration, his poll ratings have remained low. Donald Trump until now may have led in polls but the latest Colorado Supreme Court verdict barring him from holding any public office has come as a setback, particularly because it could spark similar lawsuits and verdicts in other states. Trump highlighted his strong support for Israel and his credentials of shifting capital among the voters over the eternal capital Jerusalem and drawing of peace plan for the middle during the last leg of his presidency.
"Donald Trump until now may have led in polls but the latest Colorado Supreme Court verdict barring him from holding any public office has come as a setback, particularly because it could spark similar lawsuits and verdicts in other states."
Besides these issues, the political control of the US Congress will be central in the upcoming elections, with seats vacant in the House as well as the Senate. Most presidencies in recent history have struggled with a divided Congress. There are 33 Senate seats for elections with 10 seats held by Republicans, 20 by Democrats and 3 Independents. In the House of Representatives, all 435 seats will be up for biennial elections for the 119th Congress. The current composition in the House is led by the Republicans while the Democrats have a slight margin in the Senate. Both Biden and Trump will try their best to avoid a divided house.
Vivek Mishra (ORF) & Sachin Tiwari (Kalinga Institute)
19 January 2024