Will the Biden-Trump Debate Swing Any Voters in the Polarized US Political Landscape?


BySulaiman Hussain Alwadai

Joe Biden and Donald Trump have agreed upon two debate dates in 2024, which are set to take place on  June 27 and September 10. The first presidential debate is scheduled for the end of June on CNN, which may provide an opportunity for Biden to change the momentum in the race. The growing prevalence of early and mail-in voting has led to debates being scheduled earlier than the traditional fall timeframe. A second presidential debate is planned for September on ABC, with Trump pushing for more debates while Biden’s campaign resists.

There are several things to note about this presidential race: first, the presidential campaign between President Biden and former President Trump is expected to be closely contested, potentially coming down to a few thousand votes in swing states; second, this election will be unique as it marks the second time in history that two former presidents are running for a second term against each other; and third, Trump is facing a criminal trial in Manhattan over allegations of falsifying financial records related to a hush money payment before the 2016 election.

Regarding foreign policy, Biden faces backlash over his administration’s policies toward Israel and the conduct of its war in Gaza, which has led to protests demanding a withdrawal of US support for Israel. The handling of the Israel situation could impact Biden’s support, especially among younger and “progressive” voters. Student protests have spread rapidly across many campuses in the United States and abroad, with high levels of student engagement and activism against US support for Israel’s war effort. Moreover, discontent among Arab American and Muslim voters in Michigan, a significant swing state, could pose a challenge for Biden in the upcoming election, with the potential for these voters to play a decisive role in the election outcome.

Polls show that 50% of voters in swing states express concern about potential violence related to the upcoming presidential election, indicating apprehension about how a deeply divided population will perceive a contentious campaign and its outcome.

However, Biden will try to seize this opportunity to appeal to democratic-leaning voters through touching on controversial issues like abortion. Biden criticized a bill in Louisiana that classified abortion-inducing drugs as controlled substances, attributing it to Trumps influence after the overturning of Roe v. Wade. Abortion remains a divisive issue, with Biden holding higher public approval than Trump on this issue and the Democrats aim to leverage it for voter turnout.

Presidential debates play a crucial role in the democratic process by providing candidates a platform to present their policies, challenge opponents, and engage directly with the electorate. These debates can sway public opinion, solidify or dismantle narratives, and ultimately influence the outcome of elections. Biden’s middle-ground approach to foreign policy and attempts to appeal to a broader section of the population could help offset the backlash from progressives. However, some critics argue that in the context of foreign policy, Biden’s political calculation regarding Israel’s war on Gaza is off and he risks losing support by not reading the room accurately.

National polls show that Biden is trailing Trump by about 1.5 percentage points, which marks a significant shift compared to the 2020 election results. Major shifts in voter support away from Biden have been observed among Black, Hispanic, and Asian voters. Biden and Trump are engaging in strategies to appeal to Black and Hispanic voters, with accusations and counter-accusations regarding racial issues. Trump aims to maintain strong support among minority voters while Biden works to shore up his backing in communities that traditionally lean Democrat.

The state of the economy is the top issue for voters, followed by immigration concerns, based on recent surveys. Other factors influencing voter sentiment are the cost of living, the handling of the border crisis, threats to democracy, healthcare expenses, gas prices, inflation concerns, interest rates and housing costs.

Both Biden and Trump face challenges including public perceptions of age, doubts over their character, legal hurdles, and how effectively to tap into minority communities. A majority of voters disapprove of Biden’s performance, with concerns about his age and handling of various crises, impacting his support among core Democrat voters. Trump is expected to focus on his “America First” policies, while Biden must defend his record on the economy, social justice and responses to the coronavirus pandemic.

The outcomes of the debates could have far-reaching implications for the election and US politics. For Biden, the growing protests over US military support for Israel indicate that foreign policy considerations could influence the 2024 election. Young people, progressives, Arab and Muslim Americans, and some from the Jewish community are key groups expressing outrage over the conflict in Gaza. These groups are relatively small in terms of the electorate but have gained attention due to their opposition to US support for Israel. Biden’s electoral success in crucial swing states like Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Georgia could be influenced by the views of these voters on the Israel-Gaza conflict.

 Opinions in this article reflect the writer’s point of view, not necessarily the view of Rasanah

Sulaiman Hussain Alwadai
Sulaiman Hussain Alwadai
Researcher in international relations