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Hoping for a Restart: The United States after the Elections

With the arrival of Joe Biden in the White House, many people are hoping for a restart of transatlantic relations. Biden is a transatlanticist and values the European Union (EU) as an important partner. At the same time, transatlantic relations are unlikely to become conflict-free under the 46th president of the United States. 

Joe Biden will become the 46th President of the United States. Together with his designated Vice-President Kamala Harris, Biden drives the presidential transition with determination. In doing so, he takes on a difficult legacy: The country is socially deeply divided, shows one of the most dramatic courses of the Covid pandemic worldwide, and is in a severe economic crisis. “Build back better” is the motto under which Biden and Harris have set the priorities of their presidency: dealing with the pandemic, economic recovery, combating racism, and combating climate change.

A Deeply Divided Electorate

The U.S. elections have shown what studies had been pointing to for some time: U.S. society is even more divided than in 2016, which is also reflected in the polarisation of voter groups that Donald Trump and Joe Biden, respectively, were able to win over. Biden’s electorate is younger, demonstrates higher educational qualifications, and tends to live in large cities rather than in rural areas. The Democrat also received a lot of support from ethnic minorities like African-Americans and Hispanics. Trump’s electorate, on the other hand, is older on average, with lower levels of education, from rural areas, and tends to be more white. Although the electoral groups remained largely consistent in this election, some surprising changes can be observed compared to 2016. Trump was able to attract more African-Americans and Hispanics than in 2016, while Biden was able to attract more white male voters than then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

However, the close election result showed that Trump received more popular support than many would have thought possible. His focus on conservative issues, his success in securing a conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court, and the perception of a good economic development of the United States before the pandemic secured Trump high approval ratings. Furthermore, Trump, who presents himself as an anti-establishment candidate, benefited from the increasing polarisation in U.S. society.

Biden, on the other hand, presented himself during his election campaign as the healer of a divided nation. With this promise, the Democrat was able to mobilise many U.S. citizens to vote for him. Biden succeeded in profiting from the increased voter turnout in the so-called “swing states” and won narrow majorities there.

A Country Weakened by Crises

In the United States there are now (as of early December 2020) more than 200,000 new coronavirus infections per day. The pandemic not only affects social life but has also plunged the U.S. economy into a severe recession. Before the election, Congress and President Trump could only agree on transitional funding for the current fiscal year 2021. Accordingly, in the current “lame-duck period” between the U.S. elections and the inauguration of the future U.S. President, agreement on a U.S. budget for the current fiscal year is still pending. Furthermore, Democrats and Republicans in Congress continue to try to get the stalled negotiations on another Covid stimulus package underway. Overcoming the Covid crisis and reviving the economy will be Biden's top priority.

A Nation That Wants to Return to Multilateralism

“I’m letting you know that America is back. We will be back in the game,” said Joe Biden shortly after the presidential election. Joe Biden sees the strength of the United States in close relations with its allies. After four years of Trump and an “America First” policy there is now hope for a revitalization of transatlantic relations. Joe Biden had already announced during the election campaign that under his presidency the United States would once again become more committed to multilateral solutions. Among other things, Biden plans to return of the United States to the Paris Climate Agreement and promises to reverse the country’s withdrawal from the World Health Organisation on the very first day of his presidency.

The transatlantic partnership has entered choppy waters in the past four years. German industry is hoping for a fresh start at eye level. The EU and the United States need to join forces again to tackle the major challenges of international security, climate protection, and digitalization.