The 2020 US Elections: Everything You Need to Know

By Celia Hameury

It comes around once every four years. No, I don’t mean the Olympics; I’m talking about the US presidential elections. An event with repercussions that reverberate throughout the rest of the world for years to come. This year, the fateful date is November 3rd, and here is what you need to know about the 59th presidential election in US history.

Who are the main candidates?

First, the United States is a two-party system, which means that the president always belongs to one of the two major political parties. This year’s candidates need no introduction, but we will introduce them anyway. There is Donald J. Trump, current President of the United States, famous for his 2016 slogan “Make America Great Again” and for being far too active on Twitter. He is the candidate for the Republican Party, also known as the Grand Old Party (GOP). The Republican party is a right-wing party, which stands for lower taxes, tighter immigration restrictions and strongly advocates for gun rights. It is popular in the more rural parts of the US. The second principal candidate of this year’s election is Joe Biden, former vice-president under Barack Obama and Delaware senator. This party is somewhat more liberal than the Republican party, and takes a more left-wing approach to climate change, civil rights issues and immigration. Unlike the Republican party that believes in the “laissez-faire” attitude, the Democratic party advocates for health care and other support services. This party tends to be more popular in large cities, and states such as California and New York.

What does a candidate need to win?

Of course, as we learned from the infamous 2016 US elections, the winner is not the candidate who gets the most actual votes, but rather the candidate that gets the most votes in the electoral college. Each state gets a certain number of electoral college votes based on the size of its population, meaning each state has a different number of votes. The total number of electoral college votes up for grabs is 538, which means that to win the elections, a candidate needs at least 270 votes. The states with the largest number of electoral college votes are California (55), Texas (38), New York (29) and Florida (29). In most states, whichever candidate has the highest number of votes takes all the state’s electoral college votes. Most states lean strongly either to the Democrat or Republican side, but some states, known as the swing states, could go either way. These are the states that have the power to truly sway the elections. This year’s big swing states are Georgia, Texas, Iowa and Ohio. Because it has a larger number of electoral college votes, Texas will be a major deciding factor for this election. Polls currently place Biden with a 10 point lead over Trump.

What else will be determined by the 2020 US elections?

Now, while everyone knows that the 2020 elections will determine the next US president, most don’t realize that this is not all that will be decided during the elections. Indeed, voters will also be electing the new Congress members. The US Congress is split into two chambers. These are the House of Representatives and the Senate. Currently, all 435 House seats need to be filled as well as 33 of the 100 Senate seats. The Democrats hold the House at the moment, and will aim to keep control over it during these next elections, while further taking the Senate. Holding a majority in both chambers could allow the Democrats to significantly impede Trump, should he be re-elected.

Who can vote?

All American citizens over 18 are eligible to vote. Yes, it’s true, most Americans can vote on issues that could shape their nation before they can drink! Americans living outside of the US can also vote, including students who may have relocated for university.

What will be the election repercussions for Canada?

As the direct neighbour of the US, we in Canada are acutely aware that the outcome of the 2020 presidential elections will have significant effects on us. President Trump and former vice-president Biden have very different stances on many major issues, including climate change, international trade, defense and immigration. On the topic of climate change, Trump has made his position clear: he intends to build more pipelines, drill more oil, and continue to shrug off environmental regulations, as he did when he withdrew from the Paris Accord. For Canada, this means continued commitment to the Keystone XL pipeline from Alberta, a project which would carry about a fifth of Canada’s daily oil exports to the US. Despite the economic benefits of this project, it faces significant controversy in Canada, where indigenous rights are still being encroached upon. Biden, on the other hand, intends to cancel the Keystone pipeline, and rejoin the Paris Accord. While this first decision would mean major job losses and could harm Canada’s economy, it is arguably a more environmentally sound and humanitarian decision. On the topic of international trade, Trump has made his opinion clear: he will continue to push aggressive tariffs. Biden, however, claims he would remove Trump’s tariffs on steel and aluminium, which would be good for Canada, but plans to implement more policies to promote buying American products, effectively deterring American buyers from Canadian products. Biden has also suggested he may be open to re-entering the Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). Trump further plans to decrease the number of refugees seeking asylum in the US, and freeze the issuing of H1-B visas in an attempt to lower immigration numbers. This could put pressure on Canada’s borders, as refugees may come here instead. Biden instead intends to increase the number of refugees accepted into the US and plans to remove travel bans and visa freezes implemented by Trump.  Defence another topic which is of importance to Canada, because the US has long offered us protection as their allies. While Trump has not stated that he plans on withdrawing from NATO, he has criticized the allies on multiple occasions, suggesting that they do not spend enough on their military. Should Trump withdraw the US from NATO, Canada would be in a much more precarious position in terms of defence. Meanwhile, Biden is a strong NATO advocate, but this brings challenges of its own. Biden hopes to install a radar over the Arctic, for which Canada would likely have to pay several billion dollars.

At the end of the day, the US elections will have major repercussions on Canada, and the rest of the world, no matter which candidate wins. The world holds its breath in anticipation.