HARRISON HAMM, Special to The Denisonian—The Democratic and Republican conventions have passed, kicking off a frantic election season. The next big events for Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden are the debates. Without the opportunity to go on the campaign trail and hold rallies, those debates carry more weight.
This election is abnormal in more ways than the pandemic, however. The candidates are far apart in ideology and temperament and with so few undecided voters out there, no clear formula exists for gathering a contingent. Swing votes are still important, but less so than in the past. There are fewer moderate voters—Republicans are promoting more extreme candidates across the party, and conservative media is pushing far-right ideas. It’s up to the candidates to put together a base.
Trump won’t have a problem with that; in fact, he created these circumstances. Even as he bungled the pandemic, his approval ratings stayed remarkably consistent at a little above 40 percent. His base is secure to an unprecedented extent.
Things are different for Biden. He is a traditional candidate in the time of untraditional politics, running against a guy who has upended the GOP and radicalized a chunk of America (in both directions). Biden’s secure base isn’t filled with people who subscribe religiously to his ideas and persona; rather, he attracts people who are either secure Democrats or show up purely to kick Trump out of office.
In classic Democratic fashion, the DNC manufactured a candidate who feels out of step with the times, a passive choice that reflects a risk-averse approach. Biden does not support leftist ideas that are growing more popular in this country, including universal healthcare, tax hikes on the wealthy, and defunding the police. He is a traditional, establishment candidate and while he is likely a safer selection than someone like Bernie Sanders, he isn’t built to establish a voting contingent based on policy.
Thus the task in front of Biden is to keep up the appeal to as many people as possible while also inspiring people to get excited about his policies. As a moderate, Biden isn’t getting the former Bernie supporters to enthusiastically run to the polls. The question, then, is who will run enthusiastically to the polls?
In order to toe a difficult, unsustainable line, Biden can’t focus too much on that question. He needs the support of people who are exhausted of Trump. Appealing to the supporters who will make up a future progressive base—something I’m confident will exist—would require sacrificing people who want a return to normalcy. Beating Trump is too important to make that concession.
Biden’s campaign has done well to frame this election as historically significant. Portray Trump as an existential threat and you have an easier time attracting the majority of voters who disapprove of him.
In doing this, however, Biden is contributing to the new partisan trend of depicting the opposition as an evil virus of satan. Democrats aren’t wrong to take this approach. The trend overall, however, is indicative of the one factor that will work against Biden: Significant polarization and the Republican ability to motivate an unflappable base. Biden has to combat suppression and apathy to get people out to vote. With a loose group who are generally “settling for Biden,” this task is harder.
Polls look good for Biden right now, as FiveThirtyEight has him at a 70 percent chance to win. Trump’s botching of the pandemic obviously worked in Biden’s favor. But this election is a volatile and unstable one. The Democrats are in a short-term, all-in fight to kick out a malevolent force. Nothing will come easy.
Harrison Hamm ‘24 is a political science major concentrating in narrative journalism from Pittsburgh, PA.