Erik Green talks to American voters Amelia Morel and Nikolai Kachuyevski to hear why they have decided to vote for Joe Biden.
Amelia and Nik reveal that the most persuasive characteristic of Biden is that he’s not Trump. Our discussion however, revealed Amelia’s hope as a Sanders supporter that Biden can deliver a progressive left-wing platform. We discussed the former vice president, the impact of Covid, and whether Biden can reverse Trump’s legacy.
In Florida he leads by 5 per cent. In Arizona by 4 per cent. Joe Biden is rising ahead in the polls at such an extraordinary rate that in Michigan, over 50 per cent of voters now say they support the Democratic Presidential candidate. This is a hugely significant number because anything over 50 per cent indicates that even if all the remaining undecided voters swing towards Trump, Biden still cannot be caught. Although it is likely that the race will narrow, especially as some traditional Republicans who are opposed to Trump fall back into the fold, its undeniable that Biden is currently best placed to become President.
What’s behind the rise in support?
It was only in early February that Biden was seen as having blown his chance of winning the Democratic nomination, after a series of poor debate performances and early primary defeats. Many would argue that it is Covid-19 and Trump’s mismanagement of the pandemic that has persuaded voters to support Biden. But speaking to American voter Nikolai Kachuyevski it is clear that something more fundamental has changed.
Since 2016 the mindset of parts of the American electorate has transformed. Formerly, it stood for wanting radical change, represented in the populism of Sanders and Trump. Now, there is a desire for ‘normalcy and leadership – a safer choice’. Describing Biden as a ‘safer choice’, Kachuyevski reflects on the extent to which the criteria for America’s next president has changed. Alongside a movement away from radical populism, voters now want someone more akin to an insider — an experienced pair of hands. Amelia Morel, a voter residing in New Jersey America, agrees. She tells me it’s ‘hard to see Biden as a change candidate’.
The cause of this mindset change is Donald Trump himself. Kachuyevski speaks passionately about wanting ‘to get anyone in the White House that’s not Trump’. This being his primary reason for supporting Biden — ‘my initial thought is okay, he’s not Trump’. This view explains the Biden campaign strategy of allowing the spotlight to remain on Trump, rather than defining himself through policies that may turn the election away from essentially being a referendum on the President. A similar sentiment was shared by Morel. For her, Biden represented somebody who would try ‘to undo everything Trump has done’.
Speaking to these two voters I began to challenge the view that Covid-19 is the sole reason for this push towards an experienced insider. It seems that four years of turbulence, chaos, and sometimes embarrassment for many voters have made them reconsider their views on the style of candidate they prefer. This has made voters more receptive to seeing Covid-19 as the nadir of a style of presidency they now dislike. In many ways the pandemic has exposed Trump’s various weaknesses which previously voters had ignored.
My discussion with Kachuyevski and Morel also revealed the tension that runs through the coalition of voters Biden has brought together. For Kachuyevski, Biden is all about reverting back to normality. For Morel, she hopes for something more. As someone who supported Bernie Sanders in the primaries, Amelia expressed hope that Biden will deliver ‘one of the most progressive platforms’ of any recent Democrat.
‘I think he will be able to help minorities and help solve climate change’, she says confidently.
This subtle difference between the two is a tension that we can expect the Trump campaign to attempt to pull asunder. This was already done effectively back in 2016, causing some of Sander’s supporters to back Trump instead. The strategy was successful essentially because of a fierce internal row between Sanders and Clinton — something that’s absent from this year’s Primary.
Kachuyevski believes however, that such internal divisions have subsided because of Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. It has forced ‘plenty of people’ off the fence, including ‘Bernie or bust people’ who are now thinking, ‘we’ve actually got to do something about this’. This may offer an explanation of Biden’s rise in the polls. For Kachuyevski this is a worry. ‘I’m just a little concerned that’ Biden is ‘peaking too early’. ‘Right now anti-Trump sentiment is going up’ but ‘that might die down in November’ and as a result, ‘people will be less motivated’. This was a concern Morel acknowledged as she spoke of an enthusiasm gap between Biden and Trump supporters, with the latter able to motivate a more loyal and committed base.
Who’ll get the coveted VP spot?
As virtual convention season approaches, many minds in Democratic circles are turning towards discussing whom Joe Biden will choose as his vice president. This is in fact an issue with an increased significance in this election. Many politicians and voters are openly expressing concern that Biden’s health (he is 77) may not allow him to last a full term, or allow him to be as central in the running of government as his predecessors were.
Even more people are quite certain that he won’t stand for a second term. Kachuyevski openly admits that, ‘there are quite a few more liberal people who are voting with the intention that he does step down’, presumably so that a more left-wing Democrat can become president.
For Morel too, Joe Biden’s VP choice is ‘very important’. She hopes that Biden will follow the route of certain past presidents in choosing someone able to reach groups the the candidates themselves struggle with. Morel says that she wants Biden to choose someone who is ‘more progressive’ and a minority who’ll help attract ‘African-American and Spanish voters’. Of course, the possibility of a female vice president is something that understandably ‘motivates’ as well. There has been no previous female VP. For Morel, Kamala Harris is the answer.
As somebody reporting on the US election from the outside, the issue of polarisation is one that I wished to ask Morel and Kachuyevski about.
Is this a feature of life that only the media and politicians talk about, or are polarisation and increased division actually felt by Americans?
Morel’s answer confidently ended any suggestions of the latter.
‘I would definitely say it’s very polarized’, especially the media. ‘There’s a lot of narrative that goes out there that’s basically fake and lies. Having these major media networks that are so polarising and so different has made the people in the country much more polarised’.
No two elections are ever the same. For now, it appears as though a fundamental change in voter mindset could terminate the Trump presidency after only one term. Still, both Morel and Kachuyevski agree that should this happen, it does not signal a complete reversal of his legacy. This will likely take ‘more than four years’, Kachuyevski tells me and Morel agrees — albeit wishing for Biden to enact quick changes, such as re-entering the Paris Climate Accord.
If a Biden victory represents a rejection of all things Trump, one shouldn’t be mislead into thinking that America’s problems will just disappear. There would still be a considerable level of economic and cultural grievances felt amongst certain sections of the population. Grievances that could suddenly resurface at any given opportunity.
America wants normality so it’s leaning towards Biden. But the country would do better to learn from the last four years instead of pretending they never happened.
Finding a solution to America’s many grievances is not Biden’s game though. This election remains a referendum on Trump. Anything else and Biden risks losing his current coalition of support.