United States
Post-US Election: what's next?
Michael Thawley
Political Economist
  • Joe Biden is currently leading the closest US presidential election race for 20 years
  • However, counting continues and legal challenges to the results are likely before a definite outcome
  • The Republicans are on track to hold on to the Senate, which would impact Biden’s ability to implement a radical policy agenda

What is the current state of play of the US presidential election? 

Currently, it looks as though former Vice President Joe Biden will win and that the Republicans will hold on to the Senate, but with a very slim majority. However, this isn’t the final result and it is still possible for Donald Trump to retain the presidency. He would have to win another four states that haven’t yet declared to reach the required 270 votes. 

Even if Biden is declared the victor fairly soon, there are likely to be recounts and court challenges so it might take some time to reach a definite outcome.

However, the uncertainty cannot go on for long. Any election disputes must be settled by 8 December, before the electoral college delegates agree their votes on 14 December. Congress is due to meet to confirm the election results on 6 January and the inauguration takes place on 20 January.


How is the race to control the Senate playing out?

It looks as though the Republicans have held on to more states than was expected. The polls were forecasting a significant shift to a Democratic majority. However, with the recent announcement of Senator Collins maintaining her seat in Maine, the Democrats will struggle to win. 

Nevertheless, there is likely to be a lot of litigation around the outcome and of course the counts have not finished yet. So there is still a degree of uncertainty.


What have we seen in the past with election litigation?

At the end of my first year as Australian ambassador to the US in 2000, we had a situation in Florida where there was a dispute about votes in the presidential election– the so-called ‘hanging chad’ dispute. It was eventful because at the start of the evening, the Democratic candidate Al Gore conceded the election to the Republican nominee George W Bush, but as the evening went on it turned out the Florida vote was very close and he withdrew his concession. There ensued a period of recount and litigation. The Supreme Court then awarded the election to Bush before the 8 December deadline for dispute resolution. The lesson that the Democrats might have drawn from this is that you shouldn’t give up too early on litigation.


This election has been a very close race, what does that tell us about the US at the moment?

I think the interesting thing is how most of the polls failed – as they did in 2016 – to pick up Trump’s electoral strength, explained in part by the energy and drive he displayed in the final stages of the campaign after having contracted COVID-19. 

It’s clear that a lot of his voters do not necessarily approve of him personally. The key causes of his popularity are important structural, systemic ones. First is the failure to appreciate the extent of frustration in a very large part of the country with Washington DC and the political establishment. And secondly, resentment on the part of the electorate over the current preoccupation with a culturally divisive social policy agenda. These are people who feel marginalised by big changes in the global economy; the loss of jobs and changes in technology and more broadly the loss of a sense of national identity and of what America stands for. These Trump supporters are not just people who feel left behind, they include a wide range of people in other classes who don’t agree with the prevailing culture of the country’s opinion leaders.

Michael Thawley is a political economist at Capital Group. Before joining Capital in 2008, he served as Australia's ambassador to the U.S., secretary to the Prime Minister and head of the Australian public service. He holds a history degree from the Australian National University.

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