November 8th, Tuesday, will be a critical day for US politics, the American people and the US as a whole, as America votes for its 45th president. A drum roll will echo across the globe with the entire world expected to be glued to proceedings as the final electoral count occurs. Tuesday was not chosen as the official Election Day in the US until January 23, 1845, when the 28th US Congress voted for a uniform election day for president. Interestingly, the US law does not specify the first Tuesday of the month, but rather, “the Tuesday after the first Monday”.
Swing-states are where the margin of victory is “razor-thin” and consequently, where the US presidency is typically won or lost. Historically, Ohio has been the most critical battleground; since 1964, every nominee who has won Ohio has won the US presidential elections.
As Figures 1 & 2 depict, Republicans have had 9 Presidents since 1950, compared to the 7 Democrat Presidents.
Figures 3 and 4 pitch how US States voted in 2012 and how they are expected to vote in 2016. In the 2012 elections, 6 of the swing-states went Blue (Democrat), arguably making the all-important difference for Obama’s victory (see Figure 3). This coming Tuesday, it will likely be Ohio, Florida, and North Carolina (all won by Obama in 2012) in particular that will make or break each nominee.
Figure 5 illustrates the top issues for US voters in the 2016 elections. Unsurprisingly, the economy and terrorism emerge as the top two issues of concern for most Americans.
This brief examines the ‘core of the core’ issues: economy, the Supreme Court, environment, and foreign policy, all areas with a likely immediate impact stretching into the long-term. Most of the issues highlighted in Figure 5 are spread across the afore-mentioned categories. Of course, other interest areas do exist but this brief’s emphasis is on elements where the White House has a near instantaneous tangible clout and/or where the nominees’ positions seemed most divergent. This election has witnessed Americans paying more-than-usual attention to intangible aspects such as a nominee’s character or manner. Yet, this Tuesday and beyond, policy is definitely going to emerge as all-critical as it should be.
Regarding the economy, the Economist quotes: “Hillary Clinton’s fiscal plan is fiddly. Donald Trump’s is absurd”. While Hillary Clinton’s policies are arguably far more serious and precise, they are not necessarily desirable. In this election, the Republicans in Congress, who actually propose the budget, have abandoned their fiscal hawkishness. Economic priority has been to stimulate growth by reducing taxes and red-tape. In other words, they champion the notion that faster growth produces healthier public finances.
Yet, Trump’s economic plan is unrealistic, imprecise and sharply regressive. His proposed spending on the military alone would cost $450 billion over a decade (according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB), a fiscally hawkish think-tank). For comparison, as Figure 6 illustrates, the US’s current total national debt is 77% of its GDP (about $14 trillion). Trump has promised to generate 25 million new jobs over two terms (20 million more than the forecast today) and yet, it is not clear who would fill these vacancies.
The same CRFB also proposes that “To achieve rapid growth Mr. Trump would instead need productivity growth to average 2.6%”, something which has not been reached in any ten-year period in modern history. Finally, Trump has proposed to free up funds by chopping “1% a year off the roughly one-third of the budget that is left after defense, Social Security and Medicare”. Such a step adds up to a “29% real-terms cut over a decade to budgets that have already been slashed since 2011”. According to the CRFB, “even assuming he manages this, and that there is no new infrastructure spending”, Trump would inflate the national debt to 105% of the GDP by 2026 (please see Figure 6).
On the other hand, Hillary Clinton has proposed new spending (totaling about $1.7 trillion over a decade). Her strong economic policies concern infrastructure, “on which she would spend an extra $250 billion”, with a further $25 billion to capitalize a federal infrastructure bank.
Moreover, Clinton guarantees that by 2021, “Households earning less than $125,000 pay no tuition fees at public universities in their States”. Child-care costs would be capped at 10% of income. Paid parental leave, fresh tax-credits (to encourage firms to share their profits with workers, and investment in manufacturing are what Clinton brings to the White House. Most importantly, Clinton’s plan funds itself, according to the CRFB: she proposes higher taxes on the rich (such as an additional 4% tax on incomes over $5 million) and new taxes on business (e.g. a fee on big banks) to financially drive her economic agenda.
Yet, Hillary Clinton’s economic plan may be too complicated and complex: the US’s “clunky tax and welfare system needs simplification, not endless new deductions, credits and phase-outs”. Furthermore,
“American businesses take 175 hours per year to comply with all taxes” (compared with 110 hours in Britain).
Trump claimed that “Our country [US] is going to be Venezuela” if Clinton gets to nominate the Supreme Court justices since her picks are likely to be so far left that “America will slide into socialism”. Clinton countered by arguing that Trump’s Supreme Court appointments would imperil the “future of our planet”. In all seriousness, the incoming president may end up appointing as many as four justices (given the demographics of the present Supreme Court bench), thus significantly impacting the American legal system for decades to come. Bush Sr., Bill Clinton, Bush Jr., and Obama each seated two justices, so Hillary Clinton/Donald Trump having the chance to appoint four would give the new president “an outsize influence on the shape of American law for a generation”.
Trump has been a vocal critic of climate change, alleging that global warming is a Chinese hoax to thwart American businesses. Clinton asserts that “climate change is real”. She goes further, stating that dealing with climate change is likely to create jobs in the renewable-energy sector. Therefore, the environmental platform is one where Trump and Clinton offer the most divergent views and policies.
On the voter side, half of Trump’s supporters believe natural causes explain climate change while “three in four of Mrs. Clinton’s backers” back almost all climate scientists, asserting that man-made emissions are to blame.
Interestingly, the environmental platform is a key area where Clinton will run “for a third Obama term”.
The Clinton administration will strive to make the US a “clean energy superpower” by speeding up the process of greening that Obama initiated. Clinton also wants half a billion solar panels installed within 4 years, while by 2027 she plans for a third of electricity to come from renewables.
Trump intends to rip up the Paris Climate Agreement, although doing so would take a long time (around 4 years to untangle the US from the Paris Accord provisions). The Republican nominee favors oil and gas production on federal lands and opening offshore areas to drilling. Trump has proposed “a top-down review of all anti-coal regulations”.
Ultimately, the new White House’s stance on climate change stands to have a global impact: If the US, being the world’s second-largest polluter shirked its pledges to cut emissions, in all probability, other countries are likely to follow suit.
For the world, foreign policy is the most critical component of the next US leader’s policy agendas. As the Economist aptly puts it, a Clinton foreign policy is described by allies in terms of “her feelings about America”. The former Secretary of State was brought up in the American Midwest, was a young “Goldwater girl”, backing the sternly anti-communist Barry Goldwater, during his failed presidential run in 1964”, and views America as a “force for good”. As First Lady in the 1990s, she saw Bill Clinton employ military power to bring peace to the Balkans.
However, unlike Obama, Hillary Clinton is likely to step up the ante and refocus the balance back towards “traditional” geopolitics. Clinton has championed no-fly zones and safe havens in Syria while acknowledging that a no-fly zone would require risky strikes on Syrian air defenses, including heavily populated areas. Furthermore, perhaps veterans of the Obama administration offer the most critical insights into a Clinton foreign policy. They expect her to reach out to American long-time partners including Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, whose relations have been frosty during Obama’s terms. Yet, they also speculate to there being limits to such bridge-building. Middle East peace is Clinton’s priority, yet she hesitates to clarify how much of one. Clinton is also expected to maintain Obama’s nuclear-arms deal with Iran, but with a more hawkish stance to publicly counter any Iranian provocations such as weapons transfers to terror groups or harassment of American ships. Clinton’s campaign against the Islamic State (IS) is likely to involve more continuity than change. And with a history of clashes with Putin, Clinton’s relations with Russia would initiate in a glacial state. Ultimately, North Korea’s aggressive drive to acquire nuclear material and missiles will lead Clinton’s agenda.
On the other hand, Trump admirers view him as a “real politik kind of guy” while his advisers explain how their boss trusts his gut instincts and abilities as a negotiator, with the more tangible policy details to be filled in later. Trump’s foreign policy views a “dangerous, ungrateful world” that perhaps has relied for too long on America. Keith Kellogg (a retired lieutenant-general and a Trump adviser) has compared Trump’s approach to Russia to that of Reagan: willingness to treat Russia as a competitor with whom deals can be made, notably when against common causes such as against the Syrian Islamists. Trump has frequently expressed resentment about NATO members who missed targets for defense spending. He has voiced similar concerns about the US standing unequivocally with East Asian Allies such as Japan and South Korea, stating that “If we step back they will protect themselves very well, Japan…used to beat China routinely in wars”. Yet he also considers China’s construction of airstrips on reefs in the South China Sea a hostile act.
Other key Trump foreign policy agendas include renegotiating the nuclear-arms deal with Iran, pressuring China to neutralize the North Korean threat, halt billions of dollars in payments to UN climate change endeavors, “bomb the shit” out of IS (without explaining how this would be conducted or achieved), and being highly suspicious of free trade, pledging to renegotiate NAFTA (with Canada and Mexico) and putting the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) on hold. Ultimately, Trump is aware of what his voters want to hear: “that America holds a winning hand, if it is ruthless enough to play it”.
Depending on the composition of the new Congress and how the House and Senate elections progress, some ideas of each nominee may remain mere aspirations, regardless of a Clinton or Trump victory. US Presidents are more limited in the realm of domestic policy making. However, with fewer constrains in foreign policy, this is the area where the incoming US President is likely to have an immediate and long-lasting impact. Ultimately, whoever draws the short straw on November 8th, this has well and truly been the most divisive presidential election for decades.
- https://www.economist.com/election–briefs–2016 o https://www.economist.com/sites/default/files/elec16brief.pdf
is Senior Non-Resident Fellow of CSCR. A Graduate from Grinnell College and Pursuing his masters from Brown University through Harvard Brown Program in Public Affairs. His area of expertise is Nuclear non-Proliferation, International Security and Civil-Military Diplomacy.