The USA is more divided politically, racially, and economically, than ever before, while the past few months have been filled with a botched global pandemic response, the powerful Black Lives Matter movement, and countless natural disasters across the United States.
In the midst of all this, two bitter rivals are running for the highest elected office in the country, and it is well-documented that the two presidential candidates are not fond of each other’s policies. Donald Trump, the incumbent, is running on a very similar platform to that of 2016, focusing on positioning America above all else, while former Vice President Joe Biden has tried to voice a message of strength in togetherness.
In 2020, the states of Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania have two different pressures coming at them: the first being the pressure of being a divided battleground state, and the second pressure is the mail in voting issue due to a global pandemic. In the previous presidential cycle, these states emerged as overwhelmingly red, but the visual electoral map of each state did not reflect the small margin of victory. Other states, such as Florida and North Carolina, are seen as “battleground,” but WI, MI, and PA were decided by no more than .7% of the vote, and won by President Trump, in 2016.
The three battleground states are easily flipped between the two parties because they each have heavily populated Democratic areas, such as Philadelphia, Detroit, and Milwaukee, surrounded by smaller, more rural, Republican-leaning regions. If only a few of the Republican areas flip, the state could go with it.
These states are front and center of this political fight, as large blue waves in the cities and their suburbs clash with established, life-long red supporters in the rural, less populated parts of each state. At the same time, Democratic governors of each state are in a second fight against a Republican-run federal government.
The divide in these states is at a very fragile moment: Pennsylvania was a hot spot for the coronavirus and large-scale Black Lives Matter protests, Wisconsin continues to see protests and riots as the state Supreme Court halted the absentee ballot distribution, and Michigan has dealt with regular visits from the president, assembling large crowds of his supportings without masks, praising his work.
President Trump has used these state issues as a way to promote his platform of “law and order,” the need for stricter policing, and has shown a tolerance for militia, while Joe Biden has focused on listening to families and constituents affected by tragedy and express the need for a change in how we fund our police department, along with a message similar to President Obama: hope and unity. The stark differences in messaging, in states with divided political views, will challenge voters and the direction of each state in 2020, making the battleground states’ voters more crucial than ever.
COVID-19 has also brought increased risk to voting, as large gatherings are advised against during this pandemic, creating an additional obstacle dividing swing states: the access and approval of mail-in voting. As the two candidates have spoken their respective campaign messages, they have disagreed on whether or not citizens should be encouraged to vote by mail: Trump has consistently attacked this method, without evidence, claiming that it could lead to increased voter fraud, and Joe Biden, while not outspoken about it, implicitly encourages it to enhance turnout. The battleground states all have different laws and regulations regarding mailed ballot processing and counting, and as voters hear two different messages, they also need to decide which method of voting is best for themselves, and for democracy.
Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania have a population with a large base for both sides of the political aisle, making them crucial components of the electoral college, but in 2020 their importance is heightened by increased absentee and mail-in voting regulations. This type of voting could be the safest way to cast a ballot, especially for individuals with pre-existing health conditions and older voters. Some government officials have backed the President, spreading information that shows voting by mail will increase voter fraud, something that experts disagree with. In a recent article from CNN, many high-ranking election lawyers find no evidence that voting by mail will create increased legal issues; the bigger concern is whether states will allow this method of voting, and if they can implement the process in time.
More important than the messaging of the candidates, these states may be decided by the communication of each individual state government, and citizen response to voting by mail. In these areas, it will be the local government, not federal, who promote and coordinate citizens’ right to vote by mail or in-person, giving the power back to the people, and an unprecedented new meaning to the term “battleground state.”
These battleground states are likely to be closely monitored yet again, but this election may ultimately be in the hands of the state government officials. The messaging of the presidential candidates is already creating a divide in these states, but how local officials choose to promote and comply with mail-in voting could be the greatest difference of all in this 2020 presidential election.
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