Wed | Jan 20, 2021

Peter Espeut | The US presidential race is not over

Published:Friday | October 16, 2020 | 12:12 AM
President Donald Trump arrives at a campaign rally at Des Moines International Airport, Wednesday, October 14, 2020, in Des Moines, Iowa.
President Donald Trump arrives at a campaign rally at Des Moines International Airport, Wednesday, October 14, 2020, in Des Moines, Iowa.

Being a sociologist, I am less interested in the antics of United States (US) President Donald Trump (I will leave that analysis to psychologists) and much more interested in the behaviour of the American electorate, especially those who are Trump supporters.

On the face of it, Trump is not someone that intelligent and ethical people should choose as their political leader; yet opinion poll findings published earlier this week by the Pew Research Center show that 42 per cent of US voters support Donald Trump to be re-elected president in a few weeks’ time.

Because of the US voting system with its Electoral College, a candidate can lose the popular vote but win the presidency. This has happened five times in US history, including in 2000 and 2016. Both Al Gore and Hilary Clinton won a majority of votes, but lost to George W. Bush and Donald Trump in the Electoral College. Opinion poll data tell us something, but may misdirect us in terms of the final outcome of the presidential election.

The poll published this week by the Pew Research Center found that the presidential race is closer than the popular vote might suggest. They name 21 states as Republican or leaning that way, and 21 states as Democrat or leaning that way; leaving the remaining nine states (don’t forget the District of Columbia) as “battleground states”.

When you total up the Electoral College votes for each group of states, the result is interesting: Trump would be expected to get 164 votes from Republican states, while Biden should get 233 votes from Democratic states, which means that Biden presently leads by 69 Electoral College votes; the 141 votes from the battleground states will determine the final result.

And so the US presidential election race is not over by a long shot!


Who are these Trump voters – 42 per cent of the US electorate? What is it about Donald Trump that makes so many Americans want to vote for him?

The Pew Research Center poll found that among White Catholic voters, Trump is ahead of Biden by eight percentage points (52 per cent for Trump, 44 per cent for Biden). Trump is ahead among White Protestants who do not consider themselves to be evangelical or born-again by 10 percentage points (53 per cent for Trump, 43 per cent for Biden), and by 61 points among White evangelical or born-again Protestants (78 per cent for Trump, 17 per cent for Biden).

Biden, meanwhile, is currently ahead among Black Protestant voters by 81 percentage points (90 per cent for Biden, nine per cent for Trump), by 43 points among Jews (70 per cent for Biden, 27 per cent for Trump), and by 41 points among Hispanic Catholics (67 per cent for Biden, 26 per cent for Trump).

Among people without a religious affiliation, Biden is ahead by 72 points among atheists and agnostics (83 per cent Biden, 11 per cent Trump), and by 31 points among people who describe their religion as “nothing in particular” (62 per cent Biden, 31 per cent Trump).

Roughly half of all voters (51 per cent) say they think politics is a struggle between right and wrong, while about as many (48 per cent) say they don’t think about politics this way. Trump voters are more likely than Biden voters to view politics as a struggle between right and wrong (57 per cent of Trump voters, 47 per cent of Biden voters).

An adequate analysis of these data require much more than my allowed word limit. Facile analysis sees this divide as simply a race issue – white against black, but it is much more than that. Catholics and Protestants are organising against Biden because of the pro-abortion, pro-LGBT stance of the Democrats. Latinos are against Trump because of his anti-immigration policies. African Americans are against Trump because of his refusal to condemn racism and violence against black people.

Should traditional family values and a pro-life stance become uppermost in the minds of Latino Catholics and black Protestants, Trump could yet win the 2020 presidential election.

But then again, should the pro-life judge Amy Coney Barrett be appointed for life to the US Supreme Court this month, maybe the conservative US electorate will no longer need Donald Trump to further their agenda.

The Rev Peter Espeut is a sociologist and is Dean of Studies at St Michael’s Theological College. Send feedback to