Election présidentielle américaine 2020 : débrief avec un natif

Il y a quelques semaines, nous avions rencontré Ross, étudiant de 22 ans en double Master Data Science and Business Analytics entre l’ESSEC et CentraleSupélec, originaire de l’Ohio (Etats-Unis) et très au fait de l’actualité politique de son pays. 

Du fonctionnement du système électoral américain à la question de la division de l’électorat américain, ce partisan du camp démocrate nous avait présenté, dans sa langue natale, sa vision des enjeux de cette élection si particulière, placée sous le signe de la Covid et, plus que jamais, du trumpisme décomplexé.

Thank you Ross for agreeing to meet with us. So you are from Ohio, and according to the outcome of previous presidential elections, it seems that Ohio is a swing state, but it’s not considered as a swing state for this election. What is it like to live in a state weighing a lot in the final result? It’s not like California, I’m sure Donald Trump won’t hold tons of rallies in California…

Well, even democratic candidates won’t. In these states that are pretty much going to go for one side or the other, neither candidate goes to. Donald Trump is not going to go to Mississippi because it’s probably going to go Republican. Same thing with Joe Biden, he likely won’t go to Mississippi either, because it’s likely going to go Republican. So they really focus their time on the swing states. I do think that the only reason that Ohio, this time around, isn’t categorized as a swing state as it usually is, is because a lot of polling has it going relatively strongly for Trump. In general, I would say we get a lot more TV advertisements. In a normal year we do get more rallies. For example, when I was in elementary school, president Obama, when he was running, had a rally at my school. And I know that Trump had a rally in another school in the area the last time around. Are you familiar with campaign finance systems?

I’m not … Can it be via a fundraising?

Campaign can fund raise. But there’s also something called a political action committee (PACs). You get PACs and SUPERPACs, which people talk a lot about. These are outside groups that can raise money. Oftentimes, they don’t have to report where they’re getting the money. So people, like the wealthy donors can give money to these organizations without having to say “I’m giving money to this group”. It allows for some anonymity in the process. Honestly, once you get close to November 3rd, I would not be surprised if, from the start to the end of a commercial segment on normal broadcast television, it’s all political commercials. It’s like the elephant in the room, this big thing in the room that no one will talk about. It’s there all the time, you don’t want to talk about it because it’s always there. You have a variety of ads. I’m not an expert but I think you’ve got two kinds: the positive ones, where a candidate promotes his experience, to say I’ve done this, I can do it again, vote for me again. And then you’ve got the negative ones, where a candidate uses the opponent’s record to criticize him or her.

At the previous mi-term election, the democrats only won the House of Representatives, not the Senate … The Senate remains Republican. It seems very difficult to flip from one side to the other.

It is difficult. Representatives are voted every two years so there is a very quick turnover, you can come in, come out, come in, come out and the all idea of it is that it represents the changes of opinion. In the Senate, you have a six years term instead of two years. The idea is to be a calming force. The metaphor that is used to describe it in American classes is a saucer. They say the House of Representatives is the hot tea, very energetic, full of energy. And the Senate is the person stirring it down to cool it a bit.

To make a long story short, how is a vote counted in the US?

In the US you have this institution called the Electoral College. My understanding was that it was put in place by the Founding Fathers who were concerned about direct representation. By direct I mean you voting directly for the candidate, the president. They wanted an intermediary so that people who were educated or more knowledgeable would come together and vote on behalf of the people.

An elector was a person that took the right decision for the voters?

That’s kind of my understanding, it was to prevent really bad decisions being made. So these people are called Electors. They are not senators, governors, typically not government officials. They’re just people who are usually associated with either party, an organizer or a fundraiser. All the states have one and if the states vote for 52% democrat, then its electors – in Ohio we’ve got ten – vote for the democratic candidate. It’s a winner-take-all system. But the thing is that people don’t realize, and I did not get it before I started voting: typically, a presidential election is 50 different contests. So you see national polling, but it does not really matter, because it’s a popular vote within my state. A lot of people debate on whether or not it’s necessary. To me, the French system makes more sense.

But to me, the result made sense, because I thought Hillary’s result showed something. You had people in poorer regions who found a way to express themselves thanks to this Electoral College system…

What I have to say to that is that for instance fewer people live in the state of Wyoming than in the city that I come from. I come from a city of about 800,000 to 1 million people and the last time I checked, Wyoming as a state got 730,000 people. I think that by law, every state has 2 or 3 electors. So, if you think of the elector per person ratio, the vote of people who live in the rural states is worth more because they get more electors per person than California for example. So if you want to do what is to me true democracy, and do a one person one vote, the system is in my opinion, biased. I know there’s the contrary point as you said. It’s kind of the purpose of the Senate.

Because each state has two senators.

Yes. If you live in Delaware or Rhode Island that are some of the smallest states, it’s the same amount of senators than let’s say California. The Senate is already there to give them a voice. In my mind it’s not specifically needed to have this Electoral College. It’s really hard to get rid of. I think in the future it would be appropriate to get rid of it and replace it by a one person one vote system.

Going back to the presidential election: what do you think of the primary system?

I was a fan of Warren during the primarie. What I like about her is that she is a law school professor who is a very intelligent person. I personally am fine with Biden. I personally would have voted for anyone who was not Trump. I think many of my friends had a similar mindset, that maybe he was not their favorite candidate but at least someone they were willing to vote for, because of how much they dislike the other option.

In November, your president will be either a 74 or a 78-year-old man. How does that feel?

Well for me, age … I mean, it would be nice if someone was younger, but I care more about experience and for this job you need a lot of experience. I think Obama was kind of an exception, he was relatively young, but in order to have all the skills for that job, you have to be older. To me it’s not really a concern, as long as you’re healthy, it’s not a disqualifier.

State Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) said that in a different country, Joe Biden and her would belong to a different party. What is your opinion on this statement?

As I said before about the Electoral College, it is the system we have. I believe the way it works for a third party to be included in debates or something is if it gets 5% in an election, that affords it some advantages for the next election. In 2016, people were talking about it, but it didn’t happen: the two most prominent are the Green Party and the Libertarian Party. But the 5% is not going to happen this time so … it can be frustrating because you want to see people who reflect your values. The conversation in general within the Democratic Party has changed a lot because of AOC and her being passionate about issues… but in general, our electoral system is a reflection of the American society, it’s very black and white and extreme in either direction.

Do you think the recent negative books published about Trump will play against him?

His niece has a PhD. She is kind of the elite. I assume it could be persuasive but I think a lot of people think “She is a PhD, she is a liberal elite who is telling me what to think”. Same for the other books. Have you heard the “drain the swamp” thing? It was one of Trump slogans, at rallies in 2016 – the swamp being Washington DC. You know these books, I don’t think they are persuasive. I think everything has happened that could change people’s mind if they were not already supporting Trump.

Propos recueillis par Matéo Ki Zerbo.

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