US President Donald Trump and his Democratic challenger Joe Biden are battling for the presidency in a sharply divided United States.
Trump has been focusing on “law and order,” Biden has been trying to strike a conciliatory note. The Black Lives Matter movement, and whether Trump will release his taxes are among the many issues Americans will consider when choosing their president.
As the hotly contested election approaches, Al Jazeera has been speaking to voters across the US asking nine questions to understand who they are supporting and why.
Occupation: PhD Candidate, Political Science, University of Notre Dame
Residence: Suffolk County, Massachusetts
Voted in 2016: Hillary Clinton
Will Vote in 2020: Joe Biden
Top Election Issue: Prison Reform
Will you vote? Why or why not?
“Yes, I’ll be voting.”
“I mean, I think it’s not just our right, but these days, I think it’s our responsibility. When my grandparents came over to the United States, you know, they weren’t full citizens in the countries they came from. So, especially right now, when being an immigrant is often construed as something negative, I feel that it’s more important than ever to make my voice count, and underline that I think the opposite.”
What is your number one issue?
“Prison reform. I think our judicial system is broken. Not only is it corrupt, but the laws upon which it’s based and the laws that it promotes [determine] where some people can succeed, and some people can’t, and our current prison system enslaves people, there’s really no other way of putting it. And that sort of injustice is front and centre.
“Contingent with that, of course, is the voting rights of prisoners and people who have been convicted of felonies. I don’t love the term ‘ex-felon.’ It’s so ridiculously un-American to deprive anyone of the right to vote. That, to me, should be the very bare minimum we should be fighting for this election.”
Who will you be voting for?
Is there a main reason you chose your candidate?
“I’ve been a huge fan of Joe Biden’s for a very long time. I like his history of fostering bipartisan relationships and support. I think he has a sophisticated understanding of the many, many reasons that motivate voters to vote the way they do. And I think he has an understanding that it’s not always on one or two issues — that people are complex.
“That being said, my first choice was Cory Booker. I prefer a Democratic candidate who is a little to the left of Joe — or a lot to the left.”
Are you happy with the state of the country?
“I’m not happy with the current state of the country. The level of distrust between people who have different points of view is so sad and so demoralising. The fact that people don’t think they can talk to people who are voting for someone different or coming from a different party is a huge impediment to coalition building, to finding a compromise, to finding common ground. Obviously, some things cannot be compromised upon, but if we can’t even have a conversation with people who are different from us, then there’s not much hope.”
What would you like to see change?
“There are a lot of things I’d like to see change going forward.
“I think one of the things that I find especially troubling is the amount of resources that go into party primaries. I am a huge fan of voting. I’m a huge fan of elections. But when you look at Massachusetts, where you had a campaign between Ed Markey and [Joe] Kennedy, just for the seat on the Democratic primary, the amount of energy and resources that went into that that could have been spent on combating so many other more important issues — when the candidates were essentially very, very similar and many … both very, very progressive with proven track records — I found that very troubling during these times, when things are so highly polarised.
I would never ever get in the way of additional elections. But I do think that there has to be some sort of campaign finance reform not just between parties, but within parties because the ways the resources are spent is probably out of proportion to how they should be. We have states that are bankrupt [and] we’re spending tens of thousands of dollars on elections. When we’re tearing each other down within our own party, that’s just devastating.
“I wish we’d had better choices. As [a] Democrat, I wish that gender hadn’t been pushed under the rug this election, that was huge for me. We have a president whose platform pushes women backwards, but additionally, has shown so much disrespect for the bare minimum of female achievements in the last century. We had Democratic candidates who weren’t able to successfully lift women up, let alone women of colour. It was deeply troubling, because it would have been wonderful to have been able to have to believe in the process this time.
“The other big thing is that everybody should have the right to vote. Nobody should be stripped of that right, no matter what they do, or no matter what they’re alleged to have done, because we already know that people who have been convicted of crimes a lot of the time didn’t commit those crimes — and mandatory sentencing completely destroyed the severity of the initial crime. So, that’s another huge thing I’d hope to change with this election.
“Other than that, I’m pretty suspicious of the use of technology. I worry about the level of surveillance and, you know, the extent to which that contributes to distorted realities.”
Do you think the election will change anything?
“I think if Biden wins, it will change things. Unfortunately, I think if Trump wins, it will change things, too.
“On the one hand, if Trump wins, it’s a real victory for the normalisation of hate. I think he is a proponent of hate in a couple different areas, and his winning will further legitimise that — it won’t be a fluke any more.
“If Biden wins, I can only hope that people who are afraid to do the right thing, will be less afraid, and will feel empowered, knowing that very soon, there’ll be a change in who’s in charge, to maybe act with more caution and more compassion — especially concerning COVID.”
What is your biggest concern for the US?
“I think the level of anger and the level of feeling disenfranchised on both sides of the aisle is really scary. I think certain parts of the system are broken, but if people don’t believe in the system, they begin to look for other solutions. On the one hand, that can promote really important change — sometimes you do need to look outside the system to innovate. On the other hand, that can be dangerous.”
Is there anything we haven’t asked about the election that you want to share?
“One thing I do think is unprecedented is the increased political involvement of [the] military and [the] ex-military. We have a tradition in America, where there’s a bit more of a wall between our kind of [civilian-military] arenas, and that’s been a defining characteristic of the American political culture. I mean, that’s why [Douglas] MacArthur standing up to the president was such a big deal.”
“So, across the spectrum of what we call military or armed forces in America — it’s a very complex, diverse continuum — going from essentially minutemen or independent militias all the way up to our more institutionalised armed forces with our reserves in the middle. This is new for us. And, you know, one of the things traditionally has been a real fear of involvement of the military, in politics. To that end, at least anecdotally, the military tends to vote at lower rates than the general population, and be less politically involved, because there’s a sense that the commander-in-chief is whoever’s elected. And the most important thing is being able to wholeheartedly and obediently serve who’s in charge.”
“But we’re seeing so much input from [the] military [and] ex-military and this weird relationship with independent militias, which often have connections to our armed forces [or army]. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing in terms of having new voices heard. But it’s a real shift in how security is being talked about. And I think that this is just a new time for [civilian-military] relations.”