Decision 2020: UEA experts on next week’s US presidential election

Published by  Communications

On 27th Oct 2020

The White House in Washington DC

UEA experts in American politics, courts, society, history and international relations are providing analysis and context around the approaching US presidential election.

Additionally, students from the School of Politics, Philosophy, Language and Communication Studies, along with Head of School Prof Lee Marsden, are taking part in a 24-hour election night broadcast. Hosted online by the University of South Wales, the UEA students will produce a segment focusing on religion and the election, led by Prof Marsden, professor of faith and global politics.

Prof Marsden said: “The role of religion has always played a part in modern US presidential races, but perhaps more so since 2016, when the majority of evangelical Christians put their trust in political novice Donald Trump. In this election cycle, we are keeping a close eye on that trend, while examining whether people of faith – and Christians in particular – give their backing to Joe Biden.”

The UEA team will be broadcasting live at 1.30 to 3.00 GMT on Nov 4. The programme – including the UEA segment – can be viewed on: https://www.youtube.com/user/UniSouthWales

Dr Emma Long, a senior lecturer in the School of Art, Media and American Studies, researches the role of religion and politics in America, particularly evangelical Protestantism in recent and contemporary American politics.

Dr Long said: “Religion is a key factor shaping the conduct and outcome of this election. In 2016, white evangelicals overwhelmingly supported Donald Trump for the presidency. They have remained consistent supporters over the past four years, a recent poll suggesting that 8 in 10 would be likely to vote for Trump again in this election.  

“But there have been significant divisions among the evangelical community and groups such as the recently formed Not Our Faith super PAC suggest that there is a substantial group opposing Trump. He is seemingly aware of this, with frequent references to religious freedom and faith under threat designed to appeal to those he sees as core supporters.  

“For Democrats, Joe Biden could be only the second Catholic president in US history, a chance to appeal to the 60 per cent of white Catholics who supported Trump in 2016. Biden is also a man comfortable in his faith, with a history of speaking publicly about it, significantly unlike Hillary Clinton who in 2016 seemed uncomfortable discussing her private beliefs.”

With the lifetime appointment of Republican-favourite Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, bringing the conservative majority to 6-3, Trump’s party will hold sway on the highest court in the land for the foreseeable future – regardless of who is voted into the White House. Her confirmation, a week before election day, “may offset some conservative qualms that Trump’s judicial legacy might fall short of what he promised and they had hoped,” Dr Long said. 

The appointment pushes the ideological gap that has been splitting America still wider, said Dr Michael Frazer. A native New Yorker, Dr Frazer is a senior lecturer in political and social theory and an expert on the role of emotion in politics. 

Dr Frazer said: "The United States is suffering, the population anxious and exhausted. That's why Joe Biden – who has suffered so much over the course of his long and eventful life – is selling himself as the candidate of empathy. 

“Even Donald Trump's most diehard supporters would admit that empathy is not among the president's foremost qualities. While, in less troubled times, many Americans appreciated Trump's brash bravado, Biden is betting on the fact that, right now, what Americans crave most is a decent, grandfatherly figure who cares about what they're going through. 

“This is why Trump's attempt to paint Biden as too old and ‘sleepy’ to be president may backfire. 

“It's not just that Biden is only three years older than Trump, or that Trump's claims to strength and vigour were belied by his hospitalization with COVID-19. It's that, in times of trouble, the idea of a calm, experienced figure in authority provides a kind of solace that cannot be found from a loud provocateur.  

“The question then is whether Biden's appeal will be great enough to produce an indisputable landslide, or whether results will be close enough that Trump will refuse to accept a Biden victory. 

“Biden's calming, empathetic leadership style would be put to the test if he has to navigate a constitutional crisis, one in which passions would be running very high and the threat of civil violence would be considerable."

Either way, the outcome of next Tuesday’s election will be - probably more than any US presidential race in history - one watched intently by the rest of the world. 

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