Giorgio Spagnol
Date de publication: 


Joe Biden has ultimately won but the election outcome has ultimately depended on a small number of states. The United States presidential elections were supposed to produce a sweeping victory for Joe Biden with November 3 supposed to be “judgment day” after four years of Donald Trump.

What happened to the landslide Biden's victory the pollsters had promised and how is it that Trump continues to be so popular after his mismanagement of the coronavirus pandemic, after countless scandals and investigations into his suspicious record, from abuse of power to tax avoidance not to say evasion?

Current situation

The unexpected tightness of the race between President Donald Trump and Joe Biden and the uncertain election outcome precludes a full reckoning of the winner. It is anyway possible to draw some preliminary insights. First of all too many political forecasters underestimated President Trump’s level of support with the American electorate while Biden's message of a “return to normalcy” did not resonate with politically exhausted swing voters.

The election has shown that a large share of voters have an unflappable loyalty to Trump, despite behaviour his critics decry as unpresidential and anti-democratic. It now appears official, after two elections, that Trump will never receive the widespread voter repudiation his many detractors have yearned to see.

The second lesson is that left-wing political parties are increasingly coming to represent urban, highly educated and professional voters, while conservative parties are now the voice of non-urban, less-educated and blue-collars voters. Trump did not only register high turnout from his white working-class base, he also ate into Democrats' support among Black and Latino voters.

The tightness of the race is a sign that Trump’s election in 2016 wasn’t an aberration. President Trump’s current and durable support is a sign that cannot be ignored.

Previous close polls

From Rutherford B. Hayes (19th president of the United States from 1877 to 1881) to George W. Bush, America has a history of close polls. This is not the first time that results have been unclear after polls closed on election day. The race between former president George W. Bush and Al Gore on November 7, 2000 dragged on for more than a month because of confusion over the votes in Florida. Gore conceded to Bush when it seemed he had lost the electoral votes in the southern state, but the final vote count found that the margin was less than 2,000.

A recount was ordered under Florida’s state laws, but legal battles delayed the process until it reached all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled 5-4 in one of its most controversial decisions in history to stop the recount. The ruling on December 12 handed Bush the electoral votes he needed to win Florida and ultimately the presidency.

The Supreme Court

Trump had prematurely claimed that he had already won the race against Biden and threatened to ask the Supreme Court to stop millions of mail-in ballots from being counted to prevent Democrats from “stealing” the election. Biden denounced the president’s claims as misleading and damaging to the US electoral process.

Trump is now laying the groundwork for a combustible post-election aftermath. The ingredients have been assembled and Donald Trump has begun flinging matches. As in 2016, Trump outperformed the polls, forcing a state-by-state duel that could conceivably have culminated in Trump winning a second term. The uncertain finale illustrates the country's bitter polarization, eagerly fanned by Trump.

Trump promised to head to court to try cutting off the counting of votes. In Pennsylvania, for example, Republicans have been trying to cancel the counting of ballots that are postmarked before election day but arrive after. The state allows these votes to arrive up to three days after election day. Early voting data showed Democrats were voting by mail in far greater numbers than Republicans. In states such as Pennsylvania and Wisconsin that do not count mail-in ballots until Election Day, initial results appeared to favour Trump because the mailed ballots had not been counted.

This close election has resulted in litigation over voting and ballot-counting procedures in battleground states. Cases filed in individual states are likely to reach the US Supreme Court, as Florida’s election did in 2000. Trump appointed Amy Coney Barrett as Supreme Court justice just days before the election, creating a 6-3 conservative majority that could favour the president if the courts weigh in on a contested election.

How about Biden?

The presidency might prove a tarnished chalice for Biden. His party does not appear likely of winning the Senate. A hostile Senate would be likelier to thwart Biden's legislative agenda of expanded public health care, political reforms and a massive green-infrastructure program. Republicans with control of that chamber would also be far likelier to spend the coming years investigating Biden. Investigations have already been launched by Republicans into the Biden family's business dealings.

It is worth bearing in mind that the impact that any president can have on the economy and market depends on the ability to enact legislation. As already said, for the Democrats, their chances of winning back the Senate appear slimmer, with only 35 of the 100 Senate seats up for re-election this year. Anyway, even with Biden president, it seems unlikely that the trade conflict with China will be fully resolved: surveys suggest that there remains widespread support among the US electorate to address unfair trade practices.

US elections seen by other countries

Experts did maintain that the re-election of the incumbent president could be more disruptive to the US international position and engagement than a change of administration. For instance, the Trump first term foreign policy was not considered a trusted source of reassurance for Australians and for Southeast Asian countries.

It was widely held that a first-term Joe Biden presidency could see a more “recognisable”, “familiar” American foreign policy. The Biden administration was considered capable of restrengthening alliance and security partner relations, America’s support for and use of regional and global multilateral institutions, and address US concerns with China by cooperating with other “like-minded” or “like-concerned” countries. Australia, Japan, India, New Zealand, South Korea, Singapore, Indonesia and Vietnam could be Indo-Pacific states of focus for this return to a more familiar US foreign policy.

But today’s more aggressive China would likely react punitively to any signs that such American demands are being met. Will the Biden presidency request freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea in defence of navigation and overflight rights? Surely such a move would make a few hearts skip in the halls of power of those nominated like-minded states.

Will the Biden presidency revive the World Trade Organisation dispute settlement mechanism and use it as a major means of addressing American trade concerns with China? Other WTO members would have to choose whether to join US complaints against China as third parties or not. Australia, along with all Southeast Asian members of the WTO and South Korea and India, have yet to file a complaint against China.

What next?

The United States president is often said to be the “most powerful person in the world”. This is why correspondents in China, Russia, the United Kingdom, Iraq, Iran and Israel have closely followed the tight race for the US presidency as global trust in American leadership was eroding. Changes in American foreign policy can benefit or hurt millions of people.

While Trump had upended diplomacy in the past four years, Biden had promised to restore it. But can the winner of the election repair the global image of the world’s leading superpower? Contrary to conventional wisdom, this election was not only a referendum on the Trump presidency; it was also a referendum on America.

As president, Trump had bulldozed his way through the entrenched bureaucracy and the formidable liberal establishment like no other, injecting more than 200 conservative judges, including three to the Supreme Court, cutting taxes, doing away with economic and environmental regulations, supporting anti-abortion rights and other socially conservative policies, and demonising the mainstream media as the enemy of the people.

All these in addition to recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, demonising Iran, and banning countless Muslims from entering the US. But as already said, Trump is not giving up nor giving in so easily. He is accusing the Democrats of election fraud and promising to take the matter to the Supreme Court. If, or rather when, Tsunami Trump passes, it is bound to leave behind much destruction, requiring years to clean up all the debris. As the dust settles and the national wreckage is clear, Americans are bound to discover that the damage to their country and its standing in the world is far worse than expected.


Interviews with election experts, former lawmakers, political strategists, legal scholars and historians have indicated there are widespread fears of a nightmare scenario, an unprecedented post-election crisis, where Trump’s norm-breaking behavior, coupled with the unprecedented challenges of pandemic-era voting test the limits of American democracy and plunge the country into a constitutional crisis.

There is good reason to brace for chaos. This cycle has already broken new ground for how elections are conducted, with massive changes being implemented because of the coronavirus. States dramatically scaled up vote-by-mail options. But many states were not prepared for this modality. They have never done vote-by-mail like this. Mess and mistakes were likely to be made. Some jurisdictions have accepted ballots postmarked on Election Day, which further slowed down the vote count.

There is the risk of legal battles waged in Republican-controlled state capitals, local and federal courts stacked with Trump-appointed judges, a Supreme Court with a 6-3 conservative majority, and a House of Representatives where, in the event of an Electoral College draw, Republicans hold the majority of state delegations.

This degree of political instability could trigger a major risk in financial markets at a time when the economy is already slowing. If an election dispute drags on - perhaps into early next year - stock prices could fall , government bond yields would decline, and gold prices increase.


The 2020 US presidential election has taken place in the context of a global pandemic, heightened tensions over racial injustice, wildfires and hurricanes from coast to coast, and an increasingly polarised nation. The two candidates represented vastly different viewpoints and diverging directions for America’s future. A Biden administration promised multilateral engagement, climate action, and reforms for policing. Under Trump, trends of unipolarity and protectionism, inflamed racial tensions, hard-line positions on policing, and climate change denial were to continue.

There is very little precedent in American history for a disputed presidential election. No presidential nominee has ever refused to accept defeat, not even after the bitterly disputed 1876 election, which saw widespread vote-rigging by both parties and was resolved just two days before the inauguration. After the Supreme Court ruling in Bush vs Gore, then-Vice President Al Gore conceded the 2000 election and stepped away from public view.

This time around, Trump is disputing the results and refuses to concede. He could urge his supporters to flock to Washington and defend the White House. He could complain about supposed fraud but then peacefully leave Washington on Biden’s first day. Or, he could file lawsuits in state and federal courts and try to prove that the results were tainted by irregularities.

Tensions are higher now, especially after recent protests against racial inequality devolved to riots in some cities and were met with violent police crackdowns, including by federal forces outside the White House. One thing is certain: this highly contested election will cause further damage to America’s global image as an exemplar of democracy and the rule of law, eroding its soft power.

The administration for the next four years will also have a profound impact on the transatlantic relationship and defence cooperation. The current outcome of the presidential election has important implications for the transatlantic relationship, European security and defence, and what to look out for over the next four years.