The 2020 presidential election cycle has recently begun in earnest,
and already there are visible differences between this unfolding
campaign cycle and 2016, as well as earlier cycles.
Some of these differences are obvious. Except for Donald Trump
and Bernie Sanders, the other major candidates did not run in
2016 --- although some of the Democratic hopefuls had
considered running, or did run, in earlier cycles.
In 2016, the largest field was on the Republican side which initially
included 17 major candidates. In 2020, it is the Democrats who have
the large field --- in fact, it already has 18 formally-announced major
candidates, with 3-5 more expected to enter,
In recent decades, primaries and caucus have become increasingly
important, replacing smoke-filled rooms, favorite sons, and political
deals. Even the winner-take-all of a state’s delegates is no more.
In those recent decades, a tradition of Iowa being the first caucus,
and New Hampshire holding the first primary was observed by both
parties. This appears to be continued in 2020, but moving up of large
state primaries, most notably California, from later in the cycle,
might de facto replace them as some individual campaigns ignore
Iowa and New Hampshire for the larger treasure of delegates to be
won in California and Texas which will vote soon after.
State presidential caucuses have smaller voter participation, often
dramatically and undemocratically so, and for the 2020 cycle, two
states, Minnesota and Washington, have already abandoned their
caucuses for primaries. This trend might well continue.
Absentee balloting for cause has long been practiced, but many
states have adopted early or mail-in voting, or absentee voting
without cause. Same-day voting registration is taking place in more
states. These changes are causing election night results, as many
were in 2018, to be inconclusive until the following day. A reprise
of Bush vs. Gore 2000 could happen again.
The 2020 cycle could be one where third party candidates might
affect the outcome. There will be Green, Libertarian and Socialist
candidates as usual next year, but at least one notable independent
candidate, business executive Howard Schultz, has said he will run.
If many voters are unsatisfied with both major party nominees,
third party and non-voter totals could be significant.
Super-delegates, especially in the Democratic Party, played a very
significant role in 2016, but a new rule bars these delegates from
voting on the first ballot at the national convention, They will be
able to vote on the second and subsequent ballots. It is unclear
how his reform will play out.
In an attempt to force President Trump to release his tax returns,
a few states are trying to require candidates to make their tax
returns public in order to be on the November ballot. This
controversial move will almost certainly go before the U.S. supreme
court before taking effect.
At the outset of 2015, Jeb Bush was an early favorite, and Chris
Christie the candidate with lots of charisma. Neither got very far
once the debates and voting began. This cycle, Joe Biden (not yet
formally announced) leads in most polls, and Beto O’Rourke was
pegged as the charisma candidate. Already, Bernie Sanders is
challenging Biden in the early polls, and Pete Buttigieg is proving
so far to be a challenge to O’Rourke’s appeal. Once the debates
begin, other candidates could catch on.
Campaign funds, as always, play a role early in presidential
campaigns, but the ease with which most of the Democratic
candidates have initially raised $5 million or more, and the large
number of candidates, might diminish the psychological impact of
fundraising. In 2016, Donald Trump had the personal resources to
self-fund, and won. 2020 candidates who can do the same also can
lessen the impact of early fundraising of those candidates who
don’t have big personal resources.
Both parties face defections from their traditional voter bases in
2020. A preview of this occurred in 2018 when many suburban
women voted Democratic and many Hispanics voted Republican.
Next year could see further GOP erosion in the suburbs, and further
switching of Hispanic, Jewish and black voters to the GOP.
In the 2020 cycle, there is much incentive to garner media attention
early, especially in 2019. This is likely to tempt presidential
campaigns to take chances and make bold moves and statements.
Some will be successful, and some will backfire. All of them increase
the element of surprise and unpredictability into the campaign cycle.
So far, President Trump does not have even a remotely serious
challenger to his nomination. Barring the unforeseen, he will be on
the ballot in November, 2020. His proven ability to provoke, anger,
shock or please various groups of voters is perhaps the primary
carryover from the last presidential election.
Otherwise, 2020 goes into much new political territory.
Copyright (c) 2019 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.