2020 Election Perspectives: Political science professors, students offer opinions about Biden win


Courtesy Photo : Joe Biden with his wife, Jill.

Voters spent days refreshing websites hoping to see updated election results before major news outlets finally called the 2020 Presidential Election on Nov. 7. in favor of Democratic candidate Joe Biden. 

This year's election was one for the history books for multiple reasons.

For the first time ever, the United States elected a woman and person of color as Vice President. Biden will take office in 2021 as the oldest president at 78 years old. For the first time in 28 years, a president was defeated while seeking a second term.

Voters also turned out to the polls in record numbers. Bloomberg News anticipates that 68-72 percent of the voting-age population cast their ballots either by mail or in person. That should break the record set in the 1908 Presidential Election which had a 66 percent voter turnout.

The large turnout meant a lot of counting for poll workers. After a long and arduous counting process from multiple states, with Michigan being one of them, the outcome brought contempt for some and relief for others, including Central Michigan University students.

With the tight races in many key states, division across the country could remain strong over the next four years. Students and faculty members are showing hope, and concern, for a Biden presidency.

Results and Voter Fraud Claims

As of Nov. 11, North Carolina and Georgia are the only states still tabulating votes. The 48 other states have finished, giving Biden 290 Electoral College votes over Trump’s 217.

Many keys states, such as Wisconsin, Florida and Pennsylvania, had closer results than anticipated before the race. Kyla Stepp, a CMU political science professor who specializes in law, said the polls for the election were within the margin of error, apart from Florida. However, Stepp said she was surprised by the discrepancies in Congressional poll numbers.  

“At this point, people are going to really not trust polls too much anymore if they don't make some major changes,” Stepp said.

Political Science Department Chair David Jesuit said Trump and the Republicans may have overperformed compared to what polls predicted because of Trump’s ability to mobilize his base. Jesuit said the president was able to grow his appeal to the working class and non-college-educated white people.

“He taps into a different political space than the Republican Party historically has. Trump is appealing to (his base), and it's not on the basis of his partisanship,” Jesuit said. “It's his rhetoric, his positions and his charisma.”

It was not enough this time to win the White House like he did in 2016, however. Biden was able to turn the race for president into a referendum of Trump and offered a message of unity, Jesuit said. The COVID-19 pandemic and a crashed economy also hurt Trump, he said.

Cheboygan junior Karlie Trestain said she voted for Biden – "a candidate who emphasizes unity."

“As a young woman in the world right now, I think that it says a lot for where we are and the growth that has happened,” Trestain said.

As results were announced, some states with high election day turnout appeared to lean toward Trump before they swung to Biden as mail-in ballots were counted. Stepp said this “red mirage" in early results was exacerbated this year due to a large number of mail-in ballots that favored Biden.

This outcome has led many people to claim voter fraud took place to favor Biden. Stepp said voter fraud is rare. Any discrepancies with ballots in Michigan were mostly from human error and voting machine glitches, she said.

Stepp said there might be some legal merit for Trump to challenge 30 or 50 ballots in some states but not on any level that can reverse the outcome of the election.

How Michigan Went

In Michigan, Biden won 50.6 percent of the vote to Trump's 47.9 percent as of Nov. 9. Polls leading up to the election predicted a closer race with Biden consistently up about 8 percentage points, according to FiveThirtyEight.com.

Jesuit said he was not surprised the race in Michigan was close – he thought it would be closer to 2 percent. He said Biden was able to edge out a victory in Michigan and other states by simply not being Trump.

“Trump is poison to a lot of people, so he was important (for Biden's victory),” Jesuit said.

Isabella County also experienced a tight presidential race, with Trump edging a win with 14,815 votes over Biden's 14,072 votes. In the city of Mount Pleasant, 5,021 people voted for Biden and 2,544 voted for Trump. Similarly, Isabella went to Trump in 2016 with 12,338 votes over Hillary Clinton's 11,404 votes.

However, Isabella doesn't always vote red. Isabella is a pivot county, a county that flipped from voting for Barack Obama and Republican in recent elections. 

Michigan was not ignored by the Democrats this year, with Obama and Biden also campaigning in Michigan, unlike the 2016 Hillary Clinton campaign, Jesuit said. This helped Biden's chances in the state.

Division and the future of political discourse

With the race as close as it was and the Trump fervor looking like it will linger for years to come, division in this country might become wider. Macomb freshman Samantha Sacra was relieved after learning of Biden's victory.

"We have seen that division for a long time now, especially with the outcome of these elections," Sacra said. "I'm worried about how Trump will handle it and how he will have his supporters handle things.'

Division is even being seen within political parties. Stepp said Democrats are in flux at the moment and need to unify over either moderate ideas or progressive ones.

“I am hopeful as always that discourse will hopefully change a bit, that our leaders will maybe act more like leaders and try to unify the country a little bit,” Stepp said. “But at the same time, I don't know. A lot of damage has been done.”

There have been multiple discussions started about unity and division across the country. For now, many Americans are relieved that the week-long tension of not knowing the result of the election is over. In Sacra's case, she feels like the end of Trump's term as president offers the country a new beginning.  

“I felt like we defeated the villain in the story,"  Sacra said, "and that we’re finally in safe hands.”