The paper discusses the issue of trust in the US electoral system during and after the 2020 presidential election. For the purposes of this discussion, the authors analyze the electoral aspect of the campaign as well as related legal proceedings. Agitational and semantic aspects of the campaign become subject to a detailed analysis as well, as are the economic, social and demographic factors and their impact on vote returns. Election campaign assessment presented in the paper concerns campaigns of both Donald Trump and Joseph Biden. The paper concludes with legal claims made by Trump's campaign team.
The 2020 presidential election in the US left behind many questions and raised important issues. Former President Donald Trumd proclaimed the election the dirtiest in the history of the US, and his campaign team went to court to try to prove it was rigged. This proclamation raised the issue of trust in the electoral system and transit of power. For the first time in several electoral cycles, one of the presidential candidates did not openly recognize election results and broke the unspoken rule — to recognize election results even in defeat — that became a social contract and the foundation of the US electoral system.
However, what did American courts say regarding the alleged violations claimed by Trump? We tried to answer this question in "Why Did Trump Lose, In Fact?" — a report by Dubravskiy Consulting company . This paper is based on the information in that report.
Before we get to the main point of our research, we should make some opening statements. The paper presents an attempt at a complex analysis of the presidential campaign, that is:
- an analysis of social and economic indicators;
- an analysis of demographic and electoral preferences of voters;
- an analysis of legal arguments made by Trump in courts.
The question that concerns us as researchers is who or what may act as an arbiter over as sensitive and political an issue as possible electoral violations. We arrived at a decision that a US court may be the only unbiased institution. First, this is a space where both sides can dispute the issues or violations they deem worthy of dispute. Second, courts offer Trump's side an opportunity to provide all arguments and proof of possible violations. Third, electoral disputes in courts of various levels and jurisdictions reduce the human factor to a minimum. We therefore analyzed legal disputes of Trump campaign team, considered his side's arguments in favor of violations taking place, and made an assessment and conclusion on whether violations that, by Trump's own assertions, brought about his defeat, indeed occur.
Legal aspect of the issue aside, we also analyzed semantic, technical, social and demographic factors that affected the results of the campaign.
COVID-19. The 2020 presidential election were held amid rising unemployment, economic decline and COVID-19 pandemic. All these factors combined to produce a crisis that Donald Trump's administration had to respond to throughout the entire election campaign.
It is possible to consider the COVID-19 pandemic — not Joseph Biden — as Donald Trump's key challenge and even the main opponent. It it the pandemic that inflicted the greatest damage to the economic and social achievements of the first two years of his presidency. Donald Trump's administration was unable to produce an efficient response to the crisis and take care of all its consequences. By the end of the campaign, the pandemic took more than 220,000 American lives, which exceeded the Vietnam War losses fourfold.
Throughout the entire campaign, the President's reaction to COVID-19 changed from neutral and sceptical to negative. The discourse in the US was taken over by response to the pandemic and possible counter-measures. The choice between whether "freezing" the American economy was justifiable and individual responsibility of citizens for their own health and that of others became the key issue.
Surveys showed that the importance of responding to the pandemic was a particularly burning issue in the so-called "swing states" that change their vote from Democratic to Republican from one election to another. In October 2020, 82% of the registered voters who supported Biden said that the issue of COVID-19 response was "highly important" in determining their final vote. The situation among Trump supporters was a complete opposite, with only 25% concerned about the pandemic .
Among the states that suffered heavy losses during the pandemic, Georgia and Arizona stand out in particular, since both voted Republican at the previous five elections and had Republican governors — yet in 2020, both gave their votes to Joe Biden. They were joined by Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania – the so-called "Rust Belt" whose citizens suffered from globalization and job drain, and also carried Trump to victory in 2016. In 2020, the situation in these states changed dramatically as they voted for the Democratic Party. At the same time, we can single out a number of states that, on the one hand, indicated high levels of infection and death tolls from COVID-19, yet did not change their party loyalties. These states include New York and California (remained loyal to the Democratic candidate) as well as Louisiana, Florida and Texas (remained loyal to Donald Trump, like in 2016).
The reaction of Trump administration to the healthcare system crisis can be considered a heavy blow to its image as well. The reaction came under heavy criticism in the media for preferring to save the economy rather than taking care about the safety of American citizens. Vice President Mike Pence was appointed to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, and his response stands out in particular. The response was highly inconsistent even regarding the key issues that concerned the American society. Mike Pence was unable to articulate an appropriate response to questions about mask requirements and pharmaceuticals that would be used to combat COVID-19. However, the comments made by Donald Trump himself that were often contradictory did even more damage. In his speeches, he typically underplayed the importance of the pandemic, did not hurry to introduce preventive measures, and overall tried to please his loyal voters, who were overwhelmingly against lockdown, mandatory masking and mass distribution of helicopter money as well as other infection control measures.
Joe Biden's campaign actively exploited the mistakes of his opponent. For example, Biden spoke regularly on the rising number of active cases, hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19. Moreover, he made sure to comment on how the incumbent presidential administration's policies were ineffectual against the current crisis. In his speeches, Biden emphasized the colossal death toll in the US, which was higher than in other countries. For example, in a speech he made in Wisconsin on September 21, he said the following: "Today, unfortunately, America is going to reach a tragic milestone of 200,000 deaths because of the coronavirus."
Joe Biden also harshly criticized the presidential administration for turning the pandemic into a political issue, underreporting the scale of infection, and insufficient motivation of citizens to wear masks. During his Michigan speech on October 31, Biden said that "the first step to beating this virus is beating Donald Trump."
Such substantial differences in the approaches of the two presidential candidates prompted significant changes in voter attitudes. Overall, US citizens reacted negatively to the measures undertaken by the Donald Trump administration. For example, in 2020, 60% disapproved of the methods employed by the administration. Only 38% supported the methods. 68% believed Trump administration had no strategy to fight the pandemic. Moreover, most supporters of the Democratic Party and independent candidates cited fear of the coronavirus infection, while 58% of Republican supporters believed even if they were to catch it, the infection would take a mild course .
By the election day, the voters were so disappointed in the measures introduced by Trump administration that 56% of registered voters were sure Joe Biden would be better at responding to the pandemic. Moreover, two thirds of the surveyed believed that Trump failed to take all the necessary measures while 62% did not trust his word on the COVID-19 pandemic at all. There was also the matter of party polarization. Among Democrat voters, 92% disapproved of Trump's pandemic policies. Among independent voters, the number amounted to 35%, and to only 23% among Republican voters.
It is therefore safe to say that the coronavirus pandemic significantly reduced the level of voter trust in Donald Trump, and statistics is a clear proof of that. Comparing changes in electoral preferences (relative to the 2016 election) and the advance of the COVID-19 pandemic, we can conclude that the counties where the pandemic caused the most damage cast their votes for Joe Biden. However, in a number of southern states that were significantly affected by the pandemic as well, Donald Trump was able to slightly improve his results.
Economy. Assuming unemployment had remained at 2019 levels and turnout figures had been average, Trump would have beaten any Democratic candidate . The main principles of the Trump administration's economic policies before the COVID-19 pandemic included reducing taxation, reducing small business regulations, achieving high levels of energy independence, creating more than 5 million jobs, and achieving record levels of employment, including among people of color.
However, the coronavirus pandemic rendered all of Trump's employment policy achievements obsolete. In 2020, unemployment reached a record high since the Great Depression. In May 2020, 20 million people applied for unemployment insurance. Even though it had fallen to 7.8 million by October, the unemployment rate was much higher than before the pandemic .
The economic crisis caused Donald Trump to lose the support of his core electorate — white voters with no college education. The events of 2020 in the US — the raging economic crisis, millions of people losing their jobs, and the living standards in the Rust Belt dropping even further — left the white working class with no rational argument to vote for Trump. It was these reasons that brought about the improved performance of Democratic candidates among this group of voters, allowing them to win key states where Trump made promises to eliminate unemployment. Joe Biden was also able to gain votes in the suburbs, mostly populated by the middle class whose living standards also deteriorated greatly during the pandemic.
According to statistics, the increase in unemployment compared to 2016 caused an increase in votes for the Democratic candidate . It could also be said that the county's high unemployment rate increased the likelihood that a vote cast in 2016 for Donald Trump would turn into a vote for Joe Biden in 2020.
Racial and ethnic minorities were hit by the economic crisis the hardest. The income level of US citizens dropped dramatically compared to 2016. The particularly badly affected areas included the East and the West Coast, as well as the Rust Belt (home to the bulk of Trump voters).
As a result, the economic crisis cost Donald Trump the support of America's working class, as their living standards declined greatly during the pandemic. At the same time, the poorest citizens, mostly those living in rural areas, remained loyal to Trump.
In 2020, Trump's core electorate was non-Hispanic whites, who amounted to 85% of his total electorate. For Joe Biden, the non-Hispanic whites electorate amounted to only 61%. That said, the opposite is true for the black population. Biden's black voters amounted to 20%, while Trump's amounted to only 2%.
Donald Trump was able to achieve some success with the Hispanic electorate. As a result, Hispanic Trump voters with and without a college degree amounted to 30% and 41% respectively.
Joe Biden retained the support of those groups of voters who in 2016 voted for Hillary Clinton. These included Asians, Hispanics and African Americans, as well as other racial and ethnic minorities. African Americans cast an overwhelming majority of their votes for Biden.
Compared to 2016, Donald Trump slightly improved his results among female voters (44% vs. 39%). Biden's level of support among female voters stood at 55%, similar to that of Clinton in 2016 (54%).
Biden was also able to increase support among white voters without a college degree, something his predecessor failed to do.
Trump maintained his position with religious groups, also achieving an increase in support among Protestant evangelicals (from 77% in 2016 to 84% in 2020). At the same time, Biden surpassed Hillary Clinton when it came to support among agnostics and atheists.
The electorates that can be categorized as "Millenials" and "Zoomers" preferred Biden by a 20% margin. In turn, the "Boomer" and "Gen X" representatives distributed their votes almost equally.
The results of voting for Trump show that he failed to offer a relevant agenda to the American voter. Instead of focusing on the economic issues and consequences of COVID-19 pandemic, as Joe Biden did, Donald Trump attempted to build his campaign around identity rather than the actual program. The American voter is heavily influenced by "economic voting," that is, voting out of economic incentives. Election campaigns are based on the principle of preliminary research of voters' demands and further segmentation of electoral groups according to their unifying characteristics, such as economic and social, or biological characteristics like race and gender. It is the election campaign script and a competent message that determines whether voters will vote at all and whether they will associate their interests with the political offer of a politician or party . In the case of Donald Trump, the focus of the campaign was not a return to normal everyday life — something that Joe Biden focused on — but a struggle for identity, and within a target audience at that.
Racial aspect. In American politics, race relations has traditionally played a significant role, and their influence went beyond election campaigns. A particular feature of US political life is the overlapping of racial, economic, and political differences. This is largely due to the fact that the Democratic Party program is built on the protection of ethnic and racial minorities, while the Republican Party program in turn, is focused on "long-standing American voters," that is, suburbian and rural whites. In the last two election cycles, however, the Republicans did start to focus more on other ethnic groups. In the 2020 election, Democratic Party voters were very different from Republican Party voters. For example, those who voted for Biden were young, racially and ethnically diverse, and living in cities and suburbs. As was noted earlier, Trump voters were 85% non-Hispanic white, while Biden's were only 61%. African-Americans accounted for 20% of Biden voters, while Trump got only 2% of their votes .
Even if Trump did slightly improve his performance among minorities relative to the 2016 election, the economic crisis cost him the support of the bulk of his electorate — white males in particular. This is the most numerous electorate in the US. In contrast, Joe Biden was able to improve his results in this group by 7% relative to Hillary Clinton.
In the mean time, Hispanics extended considerable support to Donald Trump. The Democratic Party lost the support of this group, with the rating dropping from 71% to 63%. At the same time, 30% of Hispanics with a college degree and 41% of Hispanics without a college degree voted for Donald Trump, a Republican . This fact has largely predetermined the continued level of support for Trump in Florida and Texas. As a result, we can say that compared to 2016, large cities with large Hispanic populations in Florida and south Texas saw an increase in the level of support for the Republican Party.
African Americans played a significant role in Biden's ultimate victory. This electoral group retains the greatest level of loyalty to the Democratic Party. For example, the level of support stood at 97%, 93%, 90% in 2012, 2016 and 2020 respectively. As we can see, the level of support somewhat declined over the years, but the overall increase in black turnout was able to offset the decline in ratings. This was true at the national level as well as in key states, which, in fact, decided the outcome of the presidential race. In the 2020 election, five states that favored the Republican candidate in the previous election decided to change their affiliation and voted fot the Democratic candidate. These states are Michigan, Arizona, Georgia, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. In each of these states, African-Americans made a decisive contribution to Joe Biden's victory, as the margin of their votes between him and Donald Trump was greater than the overall vote difference. In Georgia, for example, the difference was 1.2 million versus 11,000 votes. Arizona and Georgia also indicated the largest increase in black voters, which was also larger than the difference in votes between Biden and Trump. In Georgia, the increase amounted to 200,000 vs. 11,000 votes.
Although in reality it represents only a small fraction of the electorate (about 4% of all eligible voters), the Asian-American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) routinely supports the Democratic Party. In particular, two-thirds of this group supported the Democrats in the 2012, 2016, and 2020 election cycles .
As a result, the slight decrease in the level of support for the Democratic Party from Asian, Hispanic and African-American voters was compensated, on the one hand, by the fact that they collectively do not constitute a very significant proportion of all voters (unlike whites, who, we remind you, weve very disappointed in Trump policies), and, on the other hand, by the record turnout among these electoral groups. Hispanic turnout in the 2020 election in particular increased by 30% as compared to the previous presidential election. Among African-Americans and Asian Americans, the increase amounted to 14% and 47% respectively .
Turnout across generations. It is also worth mentioning that the turnout made a significant impact on the outcome of the US presidential election. Republicans tend to win through their small but much more cohesive and disciplined electorate, with older whites at its core. On the other hand, the core electorate of the Democratic Party consists of diverse minorities and young people who the elections less responsibly. In this regard, African-Americans and Hispanics stand out, as they prefer not to go to the polls at all if they are not well represented among the candidates. The rule in American politics at any level of elections is that the higher the turnout, the less chance a Republican has of winning.
Experts from Moody's Analytics developed a predictive model that concluded that Donald Trump could win the election under the conditions of minimal turnout and economic indicators remaining at 2019 levels. At that rate, he would win the election with 380 electoral votes. With maximum turnout and the level of economic development being acceptable, the victory would go to Biden .
What actually happened, however, was a situation when the turnout reached record levels (66.8%), and it concerned all population groups at that. In previous presidential elections, the turnout ranged from 58.6% in 2012 to 61.6% in 2008. Yet it was still higher than in any election since 1972, when 18-year-olds were first granted the right to vote. The 2020 turnout was the highest in a hundred years, reaching the highest mark of 73.7% only in 1900.
Speaking of the reasons that led to such a situation, there are three key factors to highlight. The first factor may be referred to as institutionalization. Its essence lies in the expansion of both early and postal voting, which allowed to cover a much larger number of voters.
The second factor is motivation. It implies the situation on the eve of the election: mass unemployment, coronavirus pandemic, economic crisis, and increased interracial tension. All this significantly increased the motivation of citizens to express their opinions in the election.
The third factor is political strategy. The case of 2016 played a role here, when the polling services seriously miscalculated and the Democratic Party was plagued by internal contradictions, resulting in a significant number of its supporters not coming to the polls either because they were confident that their candidate would win or because they were unwilling to vote for Hillary Clinton, whose win over Bernie Sanders in the primaries they believed to be unfair. In the 2020 election, Donald Democratic Party dramatically changed their campaigning strategy. First of all, they placed a bet on increasing turnout. In every possible way, the Democrats tried to show voters that Trump's re-election could very much become a reality, and that they had to go to the polls to make sure it did not happen. Second, they united all the major "centers of power" of the party. Bernie Sanders and Barack Obama declared their support for Joe Biden. Third, Joe Biden successfully chose a black woman as his vice presidential candidate, which gave ethnic and racial minorities an extra boost of motivation to vote.
All of these measures increased turnout in 44 states and most counties. A curious fact is that Arizona was among the states where turnout indicated a double-digit increase from 60% to 72% compared to the 2016 election. That said, if Trump won the state in 2016, 2020 saw Biden as the winning candidate . Turnout increased significantly in electoral districts with a predominantly non-white population.
All theses are supported by statistical evidence. Compared to 2016, the increase in turnout was particularly pronounced in electoral districts with a predominantly non-white population. We can also say that in those districts where Donald Trump won, the non-white population was much less interested in participating in the election (the non-white population made less influence on the turnout rate in such districts). That said, the overall high percentage of non-whites made it more likely that the district where Donald Trump won in 2016 would favor Joe Biden in 2020.
Age. In 1980, a little over 50% of active voters in the United States were under the age of 45. At the same time, voters between the ages of 18 and 29 amounted to 23% while those between 30 and 44 amounted to 28%. About one-third of voters were citizens between 45 and 64 years of age, and slightly less than 20% were citizens aged 65 or older .
At the time, the Democratic and Republican parties were extremely similar demographically, with a roughly equal distribution of voters:
- between 18 and 29 y.o. (21% vs. 22%);
- between 30 and 44 y.o. (27% and 28%);
- between 45 and 64 y.o. (33% and 32%);
- 65 y.o. and older (18% for each party).
American politics has changed considerably since then. The number of voters under the age of 45 declined, while the number of those aged 45 and older increased. The country has also seen an increase in party polarization.
By 2016, there was a 7% decrease (to 16%) in the share of voters between the ages of 18 and 29. Prior to 2004, however, the number of young voters was quite evenly distributed between Democrats and Republicans. This election saw the first significant margin in favor of the Democrats, 19% vs. 13%. By 2016, one in five Democratic voters and one in ten Republican voters was between the ages of 18 and 29.
Between 1980 and 2004, the number of 30 to 44-year-old voters remained fairly stable, but by 2016 it had dropped by 6% (to 22%).
Before 2000, the number of voters between the ages of 30 and 44 was distributed almost equally between Democrats and Republicans (28% vs. 33%). Republicans managed to maintain that advantage in 2004 (25% and 30%, respectively), but they lost it as soon as in 2008 (26% vs. 23%), and the gap became even wider in 2012 (26% vs. 20%). In 2016, voters between the ages of 30 and 44 made up only 25% of Democratic voters and slightly less than 20% of Republican voters.
A significant age gap persisted in the 2020 elections as well. Voters under the age of 20 chose to vote for Joe Biden, and the difference amounted to as much as 24% (59% vs. 35%). Voters between the ages of 30 and 49 also preferred the Democratic candidate in the 2020 election. Biden managed to beat Trump in this age group by 12% (55% vs. 43%). Hillary Clinton had a similar level of support in this age group. At the same time, older voters were almost evenly distributed among the candidates, something that happened in 2016 as well.
Another important feature of the 2020 election was that young people between the ages of 18 and 24 (the "Zoomer" generation) increased their turnout by 8% (see Figure 24). This electoral group was active in 2020 because it constituted a significant number of protesters against racial and political inequality in the country. For this reason, many analysts predicted an increase in turnout in this group .
The predictions proved correct — young people voted more actively in the 2020 election than at any time in the last century. And this applied to white, Asian, and African-American youth, among whom the turnout amounted to 50%. The Hispanic youth was a little behind with a turnout of about 40%.
This electoral group predominantly voted for the Democrats and largely decided the outcome of the struggle in the key swing states. The reasons for such electoral preferences among young people can be explained by the fact that, according to the Federal Reserve System, Americans born after 1996 are the poorest generation, owning only 8% of the nation's wealth.
Religion. In both 2016 and 2020, the the religious distribution of electoral groups was quite similar. Protestants constituted about half of all voters (46%). White evangelicals accounted for 19% of all voters, but their share reached 34% among Trump voters. Had this group not given him such massive support, Joe Biden would have won by more than 20%. In turn, white non-evangelical Protestants favored Donald Trump over Joe Biden by a margin of 14% (57% vs. 43%). Black Protestants overwhelmingly voted for Biden (91%).
Biden also succeeded in gaining tremendous support from the non-religious electorate — agnostics and atheists. Together they accounted for 25% of all voters, surpassing even the white evangelicals, who accounted for 19%. However, Biden's level of support among non-religious voters was not as stable as Trump's level of support among white evangelicals (45% vs. 69%, respectively). If non-religious voters had refused to vote, D. Trump would have won by 9%. White Catholics, who make up 14% of the electorate, gave the most votes to Trump (57%), but Biden managed to increase their level of support relative to Hillary Clinton (42% vs. 31%, respectively). This was the result of Biden himself being Catholic. He is the second Catholic president after John F. Kennedy.
For the Republican Party, the religious issue is a defining one, acting as a kind of "stumbling rock". The fact is that the Republican candidate usually has the support of groups of voters from the opposite sides of a spectrum. For example, libertarian fiscal conservatives often view social conservatives negatively, especially those who clearly express their religious beliefs and oppose same-sex marriage, abortion, as well as distrust big business. Fiscal policy conservatives tend to disapprove of the extensive military spending that foreign policy conservatives gravitate toward (some of them are direct lobbyists for the MIC).
During the Cold War, the Republicans managed to get each of these groups on their side. Thus, the war hawks supported them because of fears of the Soviet threat, the economic conservatives opposed communism, and social conservatives opposed Soviet atheism. It is no coincidence that after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Republicans were practically unable to win major elections .
That said, white evangelicals are Trump's most loyal electorate, but they also make up a significant portion of the overall electorate. Thus, among about 20% of all voters, 84% show loyalty to Trump. In Joe Biden's case, African Americans are a similar social group — the level of support is 87% .
Education. Another significant feature of the 2020 election is the educational aspect among the Hispanic electorate. Thus, in 2020, Hispanics with a college degree overwhelmingly preferred Biden (69% vs. 30%). However, the gap was considerably smaller among Hispanics with no college education (55% vs. 41%).
In the 2016 election, voters without a college degree were one of the most significant groups. Nation-wide, Donald Trump overwhelmingly won in this group by a margin of 36% (64% vs. 28%). Before 2016, however, the level of education did not cause such a gap between candidates.
In the 2020 election, Donald Trump managed to garner the support of 65% of white voters who did not attend college. He therefore virtually repeated his result of 2016. At the same time, Joe Biden improved his result among this group relative to Hillary Clinton — 33% vs. 28%.
At the same time, white voters with graduate or postgraduate degrees supported Biden about the same as they did Clinton in 2016. White males without a college degree, who made up Trump's core electorate, slightly decreased their loyalty to him. He was still well ahead of Biden in this group (66% vs. 31%), but the gap was 15% smaller than in the previous election (73% vs. 23%) .
At the same time, white college-educated males continue to support Democratic candidates. Besides, the percentage of white females without a college degree voting for Donald Trump even increased slightly as compared to 2016. That said, in 2020 he managed to outperform Biden in this group (64% vs. 35%). The personality factor of the candidates may explain how it turned out this way. In 2016, for the first time in US history, a woman became the Democratic Party's nominee. White college-educated women supported Biden at the same level as they did Clinton in 2016 . Cumulative candidate support rates by education level are presented in the report "Why Trump Lost the Election" prepared in cooperation with political scientist Andrei Zhdanov .
As the number of non-whites in the country's demographic structure increases, and as the educational level of the younger generation increases, the percentage of "white voters without a degree" is gradually declining. The 2020 election was the first election where white voters without a degree made up less than 40% of the electorate.
This situation is quite different from the 2004 election, when they accounted for more than half of the voters, and nonwhite minorities accounted for only about 20% of the electorate. Since then, the number of white voters without a degree has fallen to 39.7%, while the proportion of college-educated whites has risen from 27.7% to 31.3%. The overall percentage of nonwhite voters rose to 29%, and is almost equal to the number of college-educated whites.
As a result, since 1974 the US has been on a steady trend toward a decrease in the proportion of white working class and an increase in the white population seeking college education and moving to big cities to join the ranks of "white collar workers", which also affects their electoral preferences .
Gender differentiation. Women keep predominantly supporting Democrats. There are several factors to consider here. First and foremost, with 54%, women made up the majority of voters in 2020. Moreover, women are more disciplined in going to the polls, especially African American (59% of the total African American electorate) and Hispanic women (56% of the total Hispanic electorate). There is also a difference in political preferences between women and men, which is about 10%. Thus, 57% of women and 47% of men expressed support for Joe Biden. It can be assumed that this is related to the racial preferences that have been outlined above. But even within each individual racial group, gender differences persist, ranging from 7 to 13%.
The resulting figures come from the fact that women have been significantly affected by the pandemic. Thus, as a result of the economic crisis, women lost their jobs about 4 times more often than men. In addition, women are more concerned about abortions than men. According to the August 2020 Pew Center poll, 35% of Biden supporters and 46% of Trump supporters cited abortion as a key voting factor . One could say that this election became a kind of referendum on the issue of abortion for a significant number of voters.
During his presidency, Donald Trump imposed all sorts of restrictions on the subject. For example, he updated the "global gag rule," under which US government money cannot be sent to foreign groups engaged in performing or reporting legal abortions. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo signed the Geneva Consensus Declaration, which denies the international right to abortion. As part of his 2016 campaign, Donald Trump personally promised to appoint judges to the Supreme Court who could overturn Roe v. Wade , which legalized abortion in the US at the federal level. For his part, Joe Biden was highly critical of this policy and repeatedly pointed to the need to abolish the "gag rule" during his campaign.
Over the past 50 years, however, the views of American citizens on the issue of abortion have not changed much. That said, about half of Americans say that abortion should be legal under certain circumstances, 29% support abortion under any circumstances, and 20% do not support abortion at all .
The combination of these factors means that women remain a highly significant element of the Democratic electorate. To summarize, they make up 54% of the total electorate, 59% of the African American electorate, and 56% of the Hispanic electorate. With this in mind, non-white and white females accounted for 79% and 48% of Biden's voters, respectively. White college-educated women did not support the Republicans as actively as they did in the past, raising support for the Democratic candidate from 50% in 2012 to 58% in 2020. This trend was established back in 2016, but it has continued into 2018 and 2020. At the same time, the turnout among women increased compared to 2016.
The presidential election was not over when the results were published. Donald Trump and his campaign staff disagreed with his opponent's victory and initiated motions for recounts in Georgia and Wisconsin. In both states, the applications were granted and a recount was conducted, yet it did not change the outcome of the election.
Disagreeing with both the final results and the results of the recount, Donald Trump's campaign attempted to challenge the vote returns in states where there was a real opportunity to change the electoral votes in his favor. Lawsuits were filed in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. The decisions of the courts of the original jurisdiction were appealed in the higher courts. There were attempts to appeal to the US Supreme Court.
Court decisions, party positions, and other procedural documents published in open sources allowed us to conduct a full and independent investigation into possible violations in the 2020 election, something that Donald Trump's campaign team was actively claiming. We also managed to analyze the campaign strategy in appealing the vote returns, to assess the arguments of the parties and the positions of the courts of different levels.
1.0. Absentee voting during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, absentee voting was used extensively in the 2020 presidential election. In doing so, each state was forced to formulate or update existing absentee voting rules for both election commissions and voters at short notice. The states were faced with the challenge of securing a mass vote for citizens in a pandemic and ensuring secrecy of vote.
Absentee voting in the US takes many forms: postal voting, early voting at specific locations, voting via the Internet or by fax, voting through an intermediary (agent), etc. Postal and early voting were actively used in the 2020 presidential election. The procedures by which a voter receives a ballot, fills it out, and submits it for later recording vary and depend on the specific rules in each state. Clarifications by state election commissions or secretaries of state play a significant role here — these entities have the right (depending on the legal regulation) to publish such clarifications.
Technical management of absentee voting came under criticism. In Georgia [11; 12] and Wisconsin [25; 26; 27], Donald Trump's staff filed lawsuits demanding that the ballots cast in early voting be annulled. The arguments of the claims were that the disputed ballots sent in violation of the current rules were taken into account during the counting. Such violations included:
- Voters sending ballots to the election commission without completing an early voting application;
- Election commissions members accepting and processing ballots without an application completed by the voter (or) said members making additions to such applications;
- Allowing early voting to anyone who did not wish to vote in the traditional way because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Conducting early voting in open areas using portable ballot boxes.
- Voting without active suffrage.
In Georgia and Wisconsin, Donald Trump's staff chose the following method of legal defense. In asserting the violations described above, the lawyers reduced them to a violation of Article Two, Section One of the US Constitution, which deals with the manner in which state parliaments appoint electors. The plaintiffs believed that procedural irregularities in the ipso facto voting made the manner in which the electoral college was elected illegal. The plaintiffs also claimed a violation of the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution (the approval of the election results violated the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution in that it did not comply with the due process of law; the results were confirmed while the appeals process was pending, therefore causing the plaintiffs injury).
In Georgia, the court rejected the first thesis, stating that the word "manner" referred to the form or method of electing the electors of the President of the United States. A general election is the manner in which electors are elected. The general election was held, and therefore it was incorrect to speak of a violation of the plaintiff's constitutional rights in this case. In rejecting the 14th Amendment arguments in this context, the court noted that the plaintiffs failed to prove the cause-and-effect relationship between the defendants' actions of approving the election results and the resulting harm to the plaintiffs.
In Wisconsin, the plaintiffs' arguments were assessed by the court of original jurisdiction and the court of appeal. In resolving the issue of sending the ballot to the election commission without a completed application, the court took into account the objections submitted by the Wisconsin election commission and pointed out that an application to vote early comes in the form of a special certification that is issued for absentee voting (in Wisconsin, the certification is a large envelope, i.e. the main details are indicated directly on it). Such a certificate has a prescribed name "Application/Certification" and has been in use in Wisconsin since 2010. An interesting passage can be found on page 14 of the appeal judgement: "The Campaign sat on its hands, waiting until after the election, despite the fact that this "application" form was in place for over a decade" . The court also noted that under this misinterpretation of the substantive law, and without regard to the provisions of established practice, granting the claims in this part would be an unfair act to the voters of Dane and Milwaukee counties, where the plaintiff requested that 170,140 ballots be declared invalid. The plaintiff did not request to annul the results in other Wisconsin counties that used similar certifications.
In resolving the remaining claims in the appeal, the courts looked to the relevant explanations issued by the Wisconsin Elections Commission. Between 2016 and August 2020, the Wisconsin Elections Commission issued clarifications on the member's certificate amendment(s); on early voting in the COVID-19 pandemic (in March 2020); and on the use of portable ballot boxes in early voting (August 2020). The courts pointed out that the Elections Commission had the authority to determine the specifics of early voting because that authority had been granted to it by the Wisconsin State Legislature. The courts also addressed the statute of limitations doctrine for electoral disputes and noted that special attention must be paid to disputes that are initiated before an election or immediately after the publication of the results. The court noted that Donald Trump's campaign had a chance to challenge the corresponding clarifications between 2016 and August 2020, but did not do so. Once again, the courts pointed out that plaintiffs were asking for invalidation of ballots cast under the described procedure only in Dane and Milwaukee counties, but such clarifications applied throughout the state, which undoubtedly put voters from Dane and Milwaukee and other counties at a disadvantage.
1.1. Postal voting during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Postal voting as a form of absentee voting was used extensively in several states. Our research concerned postal voting in Pennsylvania [20; 21] and Wisconsin [25; 26; 27]. In Pennsylvania, mass postal voting was used for the first time in 2019, when the Pennsylvania General Assembly passed Act 77. Previously, the electoral legislation required a motivated application that stated the reason for postal voting, but anyone could vote this way during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Pennsylvania's electoral legislation on postal voting is formalized: the voter receives a ballot in the mail, a secrecy envelope, a large envelope, and a declaration. The voter marks the ballot, puts it in the small secrecy envelope, and then puts the secrecy envelope in the large envelope. The declaration is then marked with the date of the vote and signed. After that, the large envelope is mailed to the election commission. In Wisconsin, the voter fills out the same paperwork, but in the presence of an adult witness who enters his or her information on said declaration. The declaration is a receipt of commitment for the voter.
The main arguments in the claims made by Donald Trump's campaign were about violations in filling out the application (certification), declaration, envelope or ballot. The petitions alleged that the election commissions received and processed ballots without a smaller secrecy envelope or that this envelope had text, symbols, or inscriptions on it that revealed the voter's identity; the larger external envelope did not have the voter's signature or other information that identified the voter (meaning anonymous ballots were counted); the ballot was sent in the larger envelope and not in the smaller secrecy envelope; the voter's name on the envelope did not match the one in the voter register; the ballot number did not match the number on the voting envelope. The arguments boiled down to the fact that ballots submitted with such violations could not be taken into account, because such defects were significant and cast doubt on the validity of the vote.
In Pennsylvania, seven days before the election, the secretary of state released a clarification that allowed for corrections of data in postal voting ballot papers. If such data were found, a member of the election commission had the right to send the ballot and the documents back to the voter for correction. The plaintiffs argued that Pennsylvania law did not permit such a practice of correcting data in documents. That said, it is clear that not all counties embraced this clarification. What happened is that in some constituencies, the ballots containing errors were not taken into account, and some constituencies returned such ballots for correction. The plaintiffs argued that Democrat-controlled constituencies intentionally facilitated that all postal voters be notified before Election Day of errors in the paperwork or ballot in order to correct it in time. In turn, those who voted for Donald Trump were not informed of such shortcomings, which meant their vote could be disregarded.
The problem of receiving postal votes 2-3 days after voting is described separately in the lawsuit. Some ballots came with documents that lacked the date of mailing, making it impossible to conclude the date of the vote. The other part of the paperwork came from voters who were supposed to vote in person and did not apply for a mail-in ballot. That said, election commissions did not conduct any additional checks to make sure there was no double voting.
In making their rulings, the courts again relied on the method of legal protection chosen by Donald Trump's staff. Once again, the plaintiffs appealed to the US Constitution, arguing that the secretary of state's explanation violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution. The violation of equality consisted in the fact that in some constituencies, ballots and documents with errors could be counted (after correction), while other constituencies rejected them. The court pointed out that the plaintiffs' petition made no argument that these clarifications by the secretary of state differed from constituency to constituency, or that such a procedure was required in some constituencies and not in others. The court refused to consider this situation a violation of Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution. "While perhaps unsuccessful, disputes about how election officials apply uniform standards to countless ballot violations are to be expected just as much as disputes in criminal cases where judges apply uniform standards with different results". Requiring all constituencies to hold elections the same way would place an unsustainable burden on the constituencies, whether because of population, resources, or a host of other reasonable considerations. The courts agreed with the Pennsylvania Election Commission's position that electoral legislation could not account for all the technicalities of voting, and therefore the secretary of state had the authority to make recommendations to ensure a fair, honest and uniform approach to the election process and to ensure that voter rights were not violated. The rejection of such clarifications by election commissions in certain constituencies was not indicative of a violation of electoral rights.
The court actively applied the proportionality test to "weigh" two opposing values or interests to determine how permissible a restriction of one right or another was. The court pointed out that the claims would have resulted in 6.8 million Pennsylvania votes being called into question, disproportionate to the minor irregularities at individual polling places .
In another Pennsylvania case, the state Supreme Court pointed out that minor irregularities committed by voters in filling out ballots and related documents were not yet an indication that such actions should disenfranchise thousands of Pennsylvania voters .
2. Observation in the 2020 presidential election.
Claims on election observation were the next most significant claims Donald Trump's campaign made against election commissions and secretaries of state. The courts were faced with questions about the admission of observers to the polling station during the voting and counting processes; about the location of observers inside the polling station, where observers were placed far from where the postal envelopes were opened during the count; about unequal treatment of Republican observers, who were denied access to the area where the ballots were counted. Petitions on these issues have been litigated in Michigan [17; 18] and Pennsylvania .
The petitions contain a significant number of affidavits in which Republican observers reported unequal treatment compared to Democratic observers: Republican observers were restricted from moving around the polling station, while Democratic observers were free to approach tables and ballot centers; Republican observers who were let into the room encountered problems getting out and back in, while Democratic observers were free to get out and back in; when it came to postal voting, observers from Donald Trump's campaign were excluded or put in the conditions where they had no chance to verify that the envelopes were filled out correctly.
The arguments of Trump's campaign lawyers were again reduced to a violation of Article Two, Section One and the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution discussed above. The issue of equal protection on the basis of the law was reduced in this case to discrimination against Republican observers over Democrat observers. Courts paid attention to the problem of the location of observers and pointed out that electoral legislations of the states do not set a minimum distance for the location of observers within a polling station. The issue is not regulated on the federal level either. However, the evidence provided by the plaintiffs was not substantial enough to prove the interferences the observers had to deal with. The constitutional "right to observe elections" itself is not provided for in the Constitution and comes solely from the legislation, so the chosen method of defense by Trump's lawyers was again incorrect.
In Pennsylvania, the Supreme Court pointed out that the distance between the observers and the counting are did not prevent the observers from moving around the polling station, and thus they were not obstructed from observing the removal of the postal ballot envelopes. The only thing the observers could not see was the information on the envelopes, but the court indicated that such a restriction was reasonable and fair, because otherwise the secrecy of the vote would not be ensured. Similarly, observers could not see the information in other documents (application-certification, declaration). The court emphasized that the law does not provide for observers to get acquainted with the documents and study their content.
The COVID-19 pandemic was also used as an argument in resolving disputes about observers. The courts found the measure of social distancing admissible, noting that it neither violated electoral rights nor affected the outcome of the election. The court applied the proportionality test weighing "safety of life and health of citizens" and "election observation." Arguments made by Donald Trump's campaign that anti-COVID measures should not impede effective observation of the electoral process were rejected. The court noted that in such a case, the life and health of election commission members were put in danger because they came into contact with a large number of people for a long time.
3. Procedural issues raised in court rulings.
Donald Trump's campaign made procedural errors that resulted in lost time and a formal rejection of the lawsuit. This is the view taken by some state courts in their reasoned rulings.
A notable example was a court case in Wisconsin . The claim stated the violations we have already described in the section on absentee voting. Trump asked the court to annul the ballots cast in violation of the law. However, the court refused to accept the claim for consideration and dismissed the lawsuit. In the ruling, the court pointed out that the lawsuit was filed in violation of the rules of jurisdiction: Donald Trump's lawyers rushed to file the lawsuit immediately to the Wisconsin Supreme Court for consideration on the merits and missed the first jurisdiction. The Wisconsin Supreme Court, however, is the court of appeal for the lower courts, and therefore could not review the case. The judges' opinions were divided, and four of them wrote individual opinions from which we can infer the motives behind the ruling. The judges who disagreed with the ruling wrote that the court had the authority to accept and review such claims, and suggested that the examination of the factual circumstances be referred to lower courts, and that a decision "on points of law" be subsequently made in the light of the facts presented. Interesting passages can be found in Judge Rebecca Bradley's individual opinion: "The majority of the Court chooses to sit idly by in a nationally important and time-restricted case involving voting rights and electoral integrity in Wisconsin, depriving Wisconsin residents of answers to questions of statutory law that only the state supreme court can resolve".
In Georgia, the courts found procedural irregularities in two cases [11; 12]. In the first case, Trump filed a supplemental petition requesting an exceptional (emergency) review of the lawsuit because the plaintiffs rushed the case before the certification (approval) procedure of election results by the secretary of state could begin. However, from December 4 to 7, "due to the voluminous amount of evidence that was attached to the lawsuit, the system for filing the lawsuit froze, and the court officer was unable to register the case before December 7". On December 7, the secretary of state certified the election results, and the next day Trump had to withdraw his application for an exceptional (emergency) review of the lawsuit as a result. The presiding judge ruled that the case should be tried in the usual manner, but instead of waiting for a date to set the case for trial on the merits, the plaintiffs appealed the presiding judge's action, challenging his competence and legal ability to try the case in the usual manner insofar as the judge could not review such a case. An appeal on the merits was filed against the judge's ruling "on an ordinary proceeding," which was expectedly denied the next day. The actions described dramatically slowed down the appeals process. On December 30, 2020, without waiting for all issues in the first case to be resolved, Donald Trump's campaign filed a second lawsuit on the same subject matter and grounds. In this case, in addition to the substantive arguments already discussed above, the court also recalled the plaintiffs' actions in a parallel proceeding and denied because there were two parallel proceedings in the same case with the same claims. "If the court had jurisdiction to review the case, it would still shirked that right to avoid disparate concurrent litigation on a single issue." Thus, the Georgia claims in the two cases were dismissed in part because of uncoordinated actions by the campaign staff that resulted in a change of strategy on appeal after the appeal process itself began. It is impossible to explain such actions by anything other than haste.
We have thus conducted an analysis of Donald Trump's campaign and its substantial, political science and legal aspects. Conclusions were made about the reasons for the electoral defeat of the former US president. In brief, the reasons for defeat include: ineffective crisis management to counteract economic recession and the exacerbating impact of COVID-19, loss of support among core electorates (white males without college education) and residents of the Rust Belt, as well as strategic errors in depopularizing postal and other forms of absentee voting. The latter led to an increase in turnout among Democratic Party supporters, which had a big impact on Trump's results. Also worth noting is the serious "racial coalition" of voters that Biden contrasted with the Republican nominee in the form of high percentages of the vote among the country's key ethnic groups.
The strategic errors in planning the course of the election campaign are worth a separate mention. Instead of legally undoing what Trump's campaign saw as election-threatening measures, the ex-president's lawyers made no attempt to influence these processes and thereby legitimized all the innovations of the 2020 election process. The court cases initiated by Donald Trump's campaign placed a strong emphasis on the "affidavit" as proper evidence, claimed unwarranted violations of electoral legislation that were refuted by election officials without much difficulty, chose the wrong method to defend the right by appealing to violations of the US Constitution rather than violations of adopted clarifications (supplements) by secretaries of state or election commissions.
Clearly, there was a rush to hinder the approval (certification) of the 2020 election results in some of the cases. Such haste cost formal denials on procedural grounds and resulted in courts not commenting on the facts of the claims. Lawyers working for Donald Trump's campaign were unable to produce enough evidence to convince the US court to make the very difficult decision of annulling votes. A similar fate awaited the team in all initiated disputes after election results were published.
Received 28.08.2022, revision received 16.10.2022.