The Cal Poly community, along with the rest of the country, is waiting in suspense for the results of the 2020 presidential election — but some obstacles are expected to lie ahead.
In what Cal Poly political science professor Michael Latner described as a “nail-biter” election race, President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden are fighting a close battle for the next presidential term. As of Nov. 4 at 5:30 p.m. Biden holds approximately 50 percent of the popular vote and Trump 48 percent, according to the Associated Press.
“If this was a sports game, it would be fantastic,” Latner laughed. “Unfortunately, it’s not sports; it’s real life.”
Political science senior and Cal Poly Democrats Club Co-president Rob Moore hopes for a Biden win — though he said Biden wasn’t his first, or even sixth, pick for the Democratic candidate.
By the time Election Night came around, Moore said he was mostly pessimistic. But there’s a “massive surge” in mail-in ballots coming from Democratic voters according to Latner, which may continue to shift the tides.
“Last night it was definitely very scary,” Moore said. “Now it’s looking like we probably won’t win the Senate, but maybe we can get the White House.”
A Biden presidency with a Republican-led Senate also looks like the most likely outcome to Latner.
Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell, who has won reelection, “runs a very tight ship” as the current senate majority leader, which would make it hard for Biden to get much done if elected, according to political science professor Shelley Hurt. However, Biden’s past experience as a senator himself may actually help him break through, even if it just achieves marginal progress.
Still, Hurt said that a Democrat president doesn’t mean a “defeat of Trumpism.”
“I think it is a very disheartening and scary matter that affirmatively a majority of white Americans voted for somebody that I think is objectively a racist,” Hurt said. “Even if Trump loses, a huge segment of the population voted for that.”
Moore said that Biden won’t be a “beacon for fixing the racial issues we have in our country,” but also acknowledged that the election results could very well affect racial issues across the country, including at Cal Poly.
“In the next four years if the country becomes more racially sensitive, then our university president has to be more racially sensitive, professors have to teach more about racial issues and people will care more about these issues, which is what we need,” Moore said. “The way things look at the national scale absolutely is going to affect the day-to-day lives of Cal Poly students.”
Hurt added that the close possibility of having Sen. Kamala Harris, a Black and Indian woman, as vice president would be a “historic breakthrough,” helping to open doors for Cal Poly students of similar backgrounds.
Meanwhile, industrial engineering sophomore Ben Haering said he’s a “100 percent Trump supporter,” though he disagrees with both candidates on some issues.
Haering said that Trump’s “limited government” and anti-abortion positions is what attracted his support the most.
However, Haering added that “whoever is in office isn’t going to have a huge impact” on his life specifically, and if Trump wins, he predicted people will overreact.
“It’s going to be okay in the end,” Haering said. “I hope that whatever happens, people would just be positive.”
But the election has already caused high stress for many Americans. Latner said when Trump declared, “We did win this election” on election night despite ballots still needing to be counted, it became clear the election stress was far from over.
“If we saw that happen in another country, we would not call that country a democracy,” Latner said. “People have very good reason to be anxious and to be upset, because the rules that define who we are, as Americans, as a democratic country, are under threat.”
Latner said the ultimate election outcome is mainly being determined by swing states Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan. Biden won Wisconsin and Michigan according to the Associated Press, but Pennsylvania remains contested. Latner said that’s because the Pennsylvania legislature failed to allow mail-in ballots to start being processed early.
At the same time, new swing states have emerged thanks to newly diverse demographics, according to Latner. People were on-edge watching Arizona (which Biden ultimately won), while Texas, which Trump won, kept people on their toes with an uncommon back-and-forth between red and blue.
For some, mail-in ballots serve as a main contributor to this year’s election stress. About 300,000 mailed ballots so far have not been scanned and confirmed as counted, but the U.S. Postal Service has not complied with a court order to track undelivered ballots — which Latner said is voter suppression, whether intended or not.
“One could make the argument that this was an attempt by the leaders of the postal service by President Trump’s appointees to remove resources that they knew were going to have an effect on the postal service delivery,” Latner said.
As mailed ballots continue to come in, Haering is one such voter who finds the legitimacy of those votes “suspicious.”
“Almost all are for Biden,” Haering said. “Is that really the case?”
Latner said party registration statistics prove the majority of mail-in ballots will be coming from registered Democrats. Those statistics also tell us that the number of mail-in ballots substantially increased this year.
As these obstacles continue well into November, Hurt said this election does not actually boil down to the common argument that we’re more polarized than ever. In reality, she said, “democracy is messy,” and polarization is often a part of that mess. This election, on the other hand, goes beyond polarization.
“Never in my lifetime have I genuinely been this close to thinking that we could be on the brink of a constitutional crisis,” Hurt said.
Hurt also pointed to the state of the country today — the country’s economic inequality is the worst it’s been in more than 100 years, while 30 million jobs have been lost and far more people have died from COVID-19 in less than a year than during the 20-year Vietnam War.
Moving forward, Latner said the fight for political equality and human rights has “always been an uphill battle” in the U.S. and will continue like that for now — regardless of who the next president is.
“Democracy is not something that just gets set up and put on autopilot,” Latner said. “Clean your wounds, suit up and get ready to fight because ultimately it’s up to your generation to correct these problems.”
Alexis Bowlby contributed reporting to this story.