While the 2020 Presidential Election candidates may give voters a sense of déjà vu, this election is not the same as the one in 2016.
In 2016, the decision between Trump and Clinton was often viewed as choosing between the “lesser of the two evils.” With neither candidate fitting squarely into their party’s ideology, no one knew who would emerge victorious on Election Day. The effects on independent voters were unpredictable. Clinton’s record did not work in her favor, and she was under investigation from the FBI at the time. Meanwhile, Trump was virtually unknown as a politician; he had no record to go off of.
This year, Trump and Biden still do not necessarily fit within their own parties; on the contrary, members of both parties refuse to endorse and vote for their own candidates, and the “lesser of two evils” idea made a reappearance. However, this race pits two candidates that are in extremely different positions against each other.
Trump is running as an incumbent. He has four years of experience to run on, which can be both good and bad, depending on the voter’s views. For some, his record alone will give him their votes. For others, that same record sends them in the other direction. He began his reelection campaign unusually early in 2018, and was soon established as the Republican candidate for 2020. Technically, he is undefeated; however, it could be argued that this merely shows a lack of experience compared to his opponent. The extreme nature of his policies has also discouraged members of his own party.
“His anti-immigrant approach bears a much closer relationship to the autocrats in Turkey or Russia or China than the American Statue of Liberty,” former GOP Representatives Charles Djou and Mickey Edwards wrote in a “New York Times” op-ed.
Biden, on the other hand, has his own political record, including experience as Vice President. He is generally considered more likeable than Clinton, with a Morning Consult/Politico poll stating that, “35 percent of voters view Biden very unfavorably, compared with 43 percent who said the same of Democrat Hillary Clinton in August 2016.”
His more moderate views are also less likely to alarm voters. But his long record may also deter voters, as he has also experienced many losses, including two previous presidential runs. Biden also has the disadvantage of only having an ensured nomination for the last six months. Until then, the Democratic Party was still divided, and some are still unsure about him as a choice. However, he evidently has a large support system, as he emerged victorious in a primary that contained up to 29 candidates.
Candidates aside, the election process itself also has an immense difference. With the COVID-19 pandemic, mail-in voting is becoming more of a norm. It could result in more votes, and the concept has been highly disputed between the political parties, with Trump repeatedly speaking against it, fearing that this could lead to high levels of manipulation.
“This is going to be like a fraud you’ve never seen,” President Trump said.
Early voting marks another difference. According to data by the United States Election Project, the votes a week before Election Day 2020 already exceeded half the total of 2016.
“As of Tuesday afternoon more than 69.5 million Americans had already mailed in their ballots or voted early in person, according to the data compiled by the project,” Michael Cooper wrote in an article for “The New York Times.” “That is 50.4 percent of the total number of votes that were counted during the entire 2016 election.”
That is usually the time candidates have tried to convince swing states in their favor. Four years ago, both Trump and Clinton spent a significant time in Florida, especially during the final stretch as it was considered a “must-win” state.
Trump and Biden did the same this time, but a week in advance, Florida already had two-thirds of its votes completed, limiting how much candidates can do in the final stretch. They have also lost valuable time and capabilities in the process; rallies were impossible for months, and Trump’s testing positive for COVID-19 put him out of commission for a couple of weeks: an essential amount of time in an election.
“As a campaign, it is completely against every instinct you have: no fund-raising and no big events,” Ohio Democrat Party chairman David Cook said.
The 2016 and 2020 elections have their similarities, but they also incorporate some radically different factors. Response to candidates, campaign capabilities, strategies and unforeseen circumstances all contribute to show us that 2020 is not 2016.