American University of Beirut

Summary: The 2020 US Elections: Shifting Trends and Demographics

​T​​he 2020 US Elections: Shifting Trends and Demographics

Written by Christy- Belle Geha, Intern at the Issam Fares Institute’s communications office. 

The Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs (IFI) at the American University of Beirut (AUB) held a webinar titled: "The 2020 US Elections: Shifting Trends and Demographics" on Thursday, October 22, 2020. The talk was organized in collaboration with AUB's NYC-based Global Engagement Initiative and the Center for American Studies and Research (CASAR) at AUB as part of the Policy and Politics in the Americas initiative.

This Webinar is the first part of “The 2020 US Elections: What is at Stake?” two-part webinar series. The series consists of pre and post elections virtual panel discussions that focus on the electoral dynamics and the impact of the election results on Lebanon and the Middle East.

The discussion hosted Shibley Telhami, professor at the University of Maryland, College Park and a nonresident senior fellow of the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, Suzanne Enzerink, assistant professor of Media Studies and American Studies at AUB, and Moustafa Bayoumi, columnist at the Guardian and professor at Brooklyn College City of New York. Rami Khouri, director of AUB’s NYC-based Global Engagement Initiative and distinguished senior fellow at IFI, moderated the talk.

Shibley Telhami, started the discussion by explaining that this year’s elections are different from previous ones, since they are mainly centered on “saving the American democracy and protecting the American institutions.” “It’s really about (current US President Donald) Trump and what he stands for, and who opposes him,” added Telhami. On the middle east front, Telhami said “Trump’s administration is trying to arrange as many deals between Israel and Arab states as possible before the end of this administration.”
Professor Telhami, who has done several researches on demographic trends in US elections, emphasized the fact that (Democratic party presidential candidate Joe) Biden’s electoral picture looks strong at the moment amidst the large majority of energized voters being Democrats. He added that more than 20 million people made it to the ballots of the pre-election phase, higher than any other presidential election at this stage. Democrats are voting early, not to repeat the 2016 experience when the Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton was favored to win- but then shockingly lost.
“Biden is leading by 10% nationally, according to the average polls,” said Telhami. “He’s also leading in the swing states, and all these objective factors are there, but there’s still a lingering fear that he doesn’t win, as there are always surprises.”
In addition to this, there are a lot of demographic constituencies that supported Trump in 2016 which are not supporting him now, says Telhami. The number of undecided voters is much higher than last elections, he adds, but there are always surprises. However, Telhami is worried about voter suppression and foreign intervention, especially that he sees the American identity as declining because of the overall rallying behind what are thought to be American values.
“I don’t want to underestimate the rise of white supremacy,” he noted. “There’s no expansion of white supremacy in America, but it’s rather energized, to reinforce voters.”

Moustafa Bayoumi’s presentation focused on Muslim Americans and how Trump began his presidential run in 2015 with an anti-Mexican and anti-Muslim platforms, which led to a rise in the levels of violence against Muslims in the lead up to the elections and afterwards.
“While islamophobia has remained constant during these years, discrimination has expanded to other groups in America,” expressed Bayoumi. “Islamophobia isn’t epicentric in Trump’s campaign now as it was in 2016.”
Referring to some numbers, Bayoumi mentioned a study saying that a full 50% of Trump supporters believe that Democrats are involved in illicit child trafficking. Another poll shows that Muslims are still the least likely to support Trump, but Trump’s support by Muslims went up from 4% in 2016 to 14% in 2020. 
In terms of foreign policy, Bayoumi said “Biden doesn’t have many new ideas for foreign policy in the MENA region,” adding “the US is more of an inward looking country, despite the American global domination”
Going back to Trump’s policies toward Muslims, he said that the Muslim ban is deeply unpopular, and that “if Republicans want to have a future in the United States, they should recognize the multiple identities of this country.” He concluded by saying that the “Economic anxiety, not racism, sometimes pushed voters to vote for Trump.” 

Suzanne Enzerink, the third speaker, tackled the role of race and gender in these elections and highlighted some developments since the last election in 2016. “Racial minorities have consistently voted for the Democratic Party, but when it comes to the impact of gender on voting attitudes, things are not as clear-cut,” clarified Enzerink. “Race is a better predictor of voting attitudes in the United States.”
Moreover, Enzerink highlighted the ongoing debate on whether Trump is sexist or racist. She also pinpointed the spike in hate crimes after 9/11, followed by a second similar spike that directly correlates with the election of Trump into the White House in 2016. 
“Trump started his re-election campaign in July of 2019,” she continued. “At the time, he singled out four progressive democrat Congresswomen. All of them, not coincidentally, are women of color,” in reference to Trump’s use of xenophobic language. Enzerink ended by insisting on the impossibility of uncoupling economic status from issues of race and gender in the United States.

Watch the full session, here​.

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