The ninth richest man in the world, whose fortune is estimated to be 55.5 billion US dollars. The woman with the best chance of becoming the first female president of the USA. A young gay man from the Midwest, an area that voted overwhelmingly in favour of incumbent Donald Trump in 2016. A socialist who was in a hospital bed in Las Vegas having two new stents put in his arteries just a few months ago. Obama’s former VP, known for his “careless and ramshackle statements” – to borrow Francesco Costa‘s words, from his new book Questa è l’America (This is America) – and by the nickname “uncle Joe”.
There are actually three more candidates in addition to the five listed above: Amy Klobuchar, Tulsi Gabbard and Tom Steyer. However, they don’t seem to have much chance of winning. National polls, updated to the 28th of February, show Sanders ahead at 28.9 per cent, followed by Biden at 16.7 per cent and Bloomberg at 15.4 per cent, with Warren and Buttigieg closing off the main competition at 12.7 per cent and 10.9 per cent respectively.
How primaries work and key dates
Buttigieg, the youngest in the top five, can boast an undoubtedly significant early victory, having beat the pack in the Iowa caucus on the 3rd of February. A caucus is a a meeting during which local party members register their preference for a certain candidate. Caucuses only take place in certain states, while in most cases the choice is made through a traditional electoral primary. Over the course of five months, citizens in all fifty states and dependent territories (Puerto Rico, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Virgin Islands, American Samoa and other smaller islands) will cast their votes. Each jurisdiction is represented by a certain amount of delegates, assigned to candidates based on votes obtained at the ballot box. To win a candidate needs 1,991 delegates, which is half the total number plus one.
The second important date was the 11th of February, with the primary in New Hampshire. “The fifth-smallest US state, whose motto is Live free or die, is one of the very few in which it isn’t compulsory to wear a helmet on a motorbike or safety belt in a car. It was the first state to legalise gay marriage on account of a decision taken by the local Congress, not by a judge; it also doesn’t have income tax or sales tax. Essentially, New Hampshire is a state whose citizens don’t like government interference,” Costa explains.
The second primary’s results helped shrink the field of candidates further, as well as reveal precious strengths and weaknesses of the remaining eight. But New Hampshire also had some surprises in store. Bernie Sanders, owing a debt of gratitude to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez‘s rally on the 10th of February, led the field with 25.6 per cent of the vote, followed by Pete Buttigieg who came in at 24.3 per cent. Amy Klobuchar unexpectedly placed herself third, while Joe Biden was only able to gain 8.4 per cent of the vote, a poor result for his campaign.
We just won the New Hampshire primary. What we have done together here is nothing short of the beginning of a political revolution. Join us live at our primary night rally in Manchester! https://t.co/OmKd1xIumv
On the 22nd of February, it was the turn of Nevada, one of the western states, which borders with California. Bernie Sanders triumphed, gaining 46.8 per cent of votes. Significantly lagging behind him was Joe Biden, who obtained 20.4 per cent. Buttigieg came third with 13.9 per cent, Warren fourth with 9.8, then Tom Steyer with 4.6 and Amy Klobuchar with 4.2. At this point in the race, Sanders has 35 delegates, Buttigieg 24, Biden 10, Warren 8 and Klobuchar 7.
Vermont’s senator therefore confirmed himself the candidate to look out for. “No campaign has a grass-roots movement like we do,” he said. “We’ve just put together a multi-generational, multiracial coalition, which is going to not only win in Nevada, it’s going to sweep this country”.
So far, Sanders has won over the electorate under 30, as well as over 65 year olds, and Hispanic-Americans. Whilst white people make up 90 per cent of the electorate in Iowa and New Hampshire, the Hispanic community holds the key vote in Nevada as it makes up 27 per cent of the populations. After Biden, Sanders is the favourite candidates of African-American voters, who make up a substantial part of the demographics in South Carolina, which holds its primaries on the 29th of February.
Pastel-coloured houses, beaches, people on their paddleboards enjoying the sunshine. Historic southern plantations, the smell of crab cakes, civil war memorials. The people here, in South Carolina, cast their votes on the 29th of February overwhelmingly in favour of Joe Biden. The former Vice President won 48.4 per cent of the vote, with Bernie Sanders coming in second at 19.9 per cent. Third place went to Tom Steyer, who took 13.3 per cent of the share; nevertheless, the billionaire withdrew from the race, the millions of dollars spent having ultimately led to nothing. Pete Buttigieg came in fourth, with 8.4 per cent, followed by Warren, Klobuchar and Gabbard – with 7.1, 3.1 and 1.3 percent respectively. At this stage in the race, Sanders has 60 delegates, Biden 53, Buttigieg 26, Warren 8 and Klobuchar 7.
Tuesday the 3rd of March is known as Super Tuesday, when citizens from fifteen states cast their votes in a single day. Mike Bloomberg has opted to wait until this moment to join the race.
The primaries end in June, but the winner won’t be officially named as the party’s presidential candidate until the Democratic convention is held between the 13th and 16th of July in Milwaukee, in Wisconsin.
How likely is it that Trump will be re-elected?
The Democratic candidate will almost certainly face Donald Trump in the presidential election. It’s extremely unlikely that any of the other Republican candidates will challenge to his candidacy. He definitely already has a head start: “It’s great being the sitting President. What’s more, the US economy is doing well, and unemployment is very low, at below 4 per cent. Trump’s voter base is extremely loyal and happy,” explains Riccardo Alcaro, research coordinator at the Institute of International Affairs (IAI) in Rome, Italy.
“Many of the scandals that the New York billionaire has faced would normally kill the political career of a member of Congress, or even of a President. But Trump seems immune, invulnerable to this type of scandal,” Alcaro adds. Only time will tell whether the impeachment proceedings, in which Trump faced accusations of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, will have a negative effect on his candidacy. What’s certain, however, is that the Senate let him off the hook. This was entirely expected, given that it’s primarily in Republicans hands.
Similarly, it’s to be predicted that the President “will carry out an aggressive election campaign, investing billions of dollars, with the support of right-wing TV channel Fox News, the Justice Department and the Russian Government, which will depict the Democratic candidate as extremist and corrupt (with the help of Facebook, who have already stated that they won’t verify the validity of political claims posted on the platform),” American journalist Michael Tomasky writes, . This is similar to what happened in 2016: as election day got closer, the impact of fake news circulating on Facebook gradually overtook the impact of traditional news media. What’s more, the majority of this fake news either favoured Trump or was aimed at discrediting Hillary Clinton.
It has to be said that, even though Trump confirmed his questionable relationship with the truth at the annual State of the Union address, he demonstrated that “unlike the Democratic Party, [Trump] has a simple, powerful message: In three short years, he’s brought America back from the disaster he claimed it was in and set it on a path to a glorious new future,” writes the Editorial Board of the New York Times. “From the ‘American carnage’ he spoke of in his Inaugural Address, now, ‘America’s future is blazing bright'”. Perhaps Trump has been able to embody “the American dream” that generation after generation has chased after. So who will be able to tear this dream apart, like Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi did with her copy of Trump’s speech?
Who could defeat Trump
Beating Trump in this year’s election will be no mean feat. According to Tomasky, the winning candidate that have to reassemble the “Obama coalition”: African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, young people, single university-educated women and the citizens of large urban centres, as well as 40 per cent of white people without a uninersity degree in swing states. This won’t be easy: what’s needed is the “ability to convince very different voters, which is quite rare in politics”. You have to be capable and charismatic, and build a campaign that “is able to overcome the electoral system’s tendency to favour Republicans and the fact that, in the US, those who identify as conservative far outnumber those who see themselves as progressive”. There’s more, and it’s the best part. Appealing to this sector of the electorate is necessary, but not sufficient. It’s crucial to make headways with the white working class, the people who like the slogan “Make America Great Again” because they don’t really care what happens abroad, or are definitely less concerned about it compared to making it to the end of the month.
And that’s not it, because this year is special. It’s the first year of the climate decade. By 2030, greenhouse gas emissions have to be reduced drastically to avoid temperature increases that would irreversibly change living conditions on our planet. Therefore, it would be good for Democratic candidates to show that they have clear programmes on the issue. While Trump has always been accommodating to the fossil fuel lobby, maybe his challenger will try to listen to the demands of young people who, following the example of Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, continue to protest against governments’ inaction in the face of climate change. Many of them are politically active as well. For example, Daze Aghaji, a member of environmental movement Extinction Rebellion, ran for a seat in the European Parliament in May 2019 as part of the Climate and Ecological Emergency independents. Environmental activism on the part of teenagers and young people all over the world is having an impact on public opinion as well as institutions, as pressure from these groups has led many local and national governments to declare climate emergencies.
Therefore, let’s look at whether the five front-runners have their house in order in terms of climate policy.
Pete Buttigieg, an outsider to keep an eye on
That really important freedom in my life, the freedom to marry, came about because of choices that were made by policymakers who had power over me and millions of others.Pete Buttigieg
Date of birth: 19 January 1982
Place of birth: South Bend, Indiana
Distinguishing features: He was mayor of his hometown from January 2012 to January 2020. This explains his nickname, “Mayor Pete”, which also avoids people having to pronounce his surname (which is pronounced Boot-edge-edge).
How he wants to save the planet: By involving even those Americans who don’t really care about global warming. Many small farmers and entrepreneurs don’t realise how big a risk climate change poses to their livelihoods. Buttigieg also believes the underprivileged need to get on board: diminishing food security means they will see the price of basic necessities rise. The candidate has set out a timeline. By 2025, he wants to double the amount of clean energy produced by the United States. By 2040, vehicles transporting heavy goods, ships and planes will have to reach zero net emissions. Technology for removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere will also have to be developed by then. To facilitate reaching these goals, the carbon tax will be increased. Finally, Mayor Pete wants to ensure people feel involved in the process: by setting up regional hubs to increase community resilience and helping citizens understand the risks so they can manage them better.
What he thinks about firearms: His stance is that the issue of extremism has to be addressed before talking about gun control. To this end, Buttigieg would allocate a billion dollars to law enforcement, including the FBI, to give it the resources to fight the “growing wave of violence from white nationalist groups”. Buttigieg fought in Afghanistan and he has strong opinions about it. “There’s this romantic idea that’s built up around war. But the pragmatic view is there are tonnes of people of my generation who have lost their lives, lost their marriages, or lost their health as a consequence of being sent to wars which could have been avoided,” he stated. For this very reason he would ban the sale of assault weapons: “I didn’t carry an assault weapon around a foreign country so I could come home and see them used to massacre my countrymen”.
Your health should never be determined by who you are, what you look like, or whom you love. Yet Black Americans are disproportionately impacted by HIV/AIDS. It’s unacceptable.
What he thinks of the current healthcare system: There’s room for improvement. Unlike Sanders and Warren, who, as we’ll see, advocate for Medicare for All, Buttigieg launched his own version: Medicare for All Who Want It. He wants to give all citizens the freedom to choose between public and private health insurance, whilst ensuring there’s a valid and accessible public option. Reaching this goal will cost approximately 1.5 trillion dollars, which Mayor Pete wants to raise by re-establishing corporate taxes cut by Trump.
What he says about immigration: Migrants aren’t outsiders and politics shouldn’t treat them as such. In fact, Buttigieg aims to give citizenship rights to the eleven million undocumented migrants currently living in the US over a short period of time. In addition, the candidate presented two parallel programmes for African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans. The Douglass Plan, named after civil rights activist Frederick Douglass, is designed to fight the racial discrimination that still exists in the country, especially in the judiciary and healthcare systems.
Michael Bloomberg, the rich environmentalist
The good salesman can face rejection at one door and move on to the next just as convinced he will make the sale. The great salesman knocks on the same door.Michael Bloomberg
Date of birth: 14 February 1942
Place of birth: Boston, Massachusetts
Distinguishing features: He was Mayor of New York from 2002 to 2013. Bloomberg is also one of the richest men in the world, so he’s not sparing any expenses for his election campaign. Last but not least, he’s the founder of C40, one of the most important climate defence networks.
How he wants to save the planet: Starting from Wall Street, a world he knows well after years of working in the stock exchange. Bloomberg is the face of the Climate Finance Leadership Initiative, a private sector enterprise to “support a global mobilisation of private capital in response to the challenge of climate change”. Through his charitable organisation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, he has invested millions of dollars in environmental protection. Bloomberg also founded C40 Cities, a network connecting almost one hundred large cities across the globe committed to the fight against global warming. When Trump announced his decision to withdraw the US from the Paris Accord, Bloomberg launched the We Are Still In movement to unite entrepreneurs and businesses who disagreed with the President’s decision. It’s fair to say that this candidate’s positions on environmental issues have been clear for a long time. In his electoral programme, he has also outlined a strategy to combat the wildfire emergency, noting that one in four people in California live in at-risk areas. Bloomberg also expressed his worry about Puerto Rico‘s situation, where hurricanes have become ever more frequent and destructive; he’s promised funds to rebuild homes and infrastructure, and increase resilience.
This week I released an agenda to fight climate change by reducing emissions from buildings & vehicles. By targeting our biggest sources of pollution & improving our resiliency against the consequences of climate change, our plan will turn America green. https://t.co/FJcCXQX4Tqpic.twitter.com/YjcfVZAkWW
What he thinks about firearms: They have to be handled with care. Let’s not forget that between 2001 and 2007 Bloomberg was a Republican, even though he was always described as liberal-leaning. At first reading, his programme seems full of pretty words but it’s hard to tell how these will materialise. More in-depth reading reveals some key points: Bloomberg wants to repeal the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which currently grants widespread immunity to arms producers and retailers in civil courts. He would raise the minimum age for purchasing weapons to 21 (in some states it’s 18). He would require anyone who loses a firearm to report this to the police within three days. He would invest heavily in research and programmes seeking to tackle violence in the country’s most at-risk areas. As far as bombings and foreign policy are concerned, in January Bloomberg stated that he doesn’t regret having supported the invasion of Iraq by the US in 2003. “I didn’t make the decision; America wanted to go to war, but it turns out it was based on faulty intelligence, and it was a mistake. But I think the people that made the mistake did it honestly”.
What he thinks of the current healthcare system: Contradictory. Even though people pay ridiculous amounts for medical care, life expectancy in the US is lower than in other developed nations, and child mortality rates are higher. Like Biden, Bloomberg is putting his money on Obamacare, i.e. the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Approved by Barack Obama, it increased the number of people with access to Medicaid, a federal programme aimed at helping low-income individuals and families that also allowed young citizens to stay on their parents’ insurance plan until the age of 26. Obamacare also stopped insurance companies from refusing cover (or increasing rates) because of pre-existing conditions.
What he says about immigration: Migrants should feel free to access services in the whole country, like they did in New York during his time in office. However, a Pulitzer Prize-winning inquiry by the Associated Press found that, at the time, the NYPD was spying on Muslims to ascertain whether they were involved in terrorist activities. Bloomberg also believes that improving border security is essential, although it shouldn’t result in the separation of migrants’ families. Aid to their home countries should be increased instead. Bloomberg is the founder of New American Economy, which represents over five hundred mayors and CEOs in all US states with the aim of highlighting the contributions of immigration to the US economy.
Elizabeth Warren, the queen of diplomacy
I grew up in a family that nearly lost everything, but I ended up in the United States Senate because I grew up in an America that invested in kids like me and built a real future for us.Elizabeth Warren
Date of birth: 22 June 1949
Place of birth: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Distinguishing features: She received an endorsement from the New York Times, one of the most important daily newspapers in the US. The Editorial Board claims that Warren has emerged as the strongest choice for the left-wing of the Democratic party, praising her “serious approach to policymaking”, ability to explain her ideas, commitment to reviewing government structures and wide experience in using the tools of the executive branch.
How she wants to save the planet: With a Blue New Deal as well as a Green New Deal. Warren believes that protecting the oceans is the starting point for tackling the climate crisis, given their key role in regulating the Earth’s temperature. She intends to fiercely promote renewable energy by allocating two trillion dollars to incentivise clean energy in the US, including offshore wind farms. “The climate crisis is too urgent to let the ultra-wealthy complain about wind turbines getting in the way of their ocean views”. The goal is also to re-establish US supremacy over China in this sector. Warren’s ambition is to create 10.6 million green jobs. And she wants to fight environmental injustice by investing in indigenous populations – who have faced discrimination whilst also often being the protectors of ancestral territories – as well as at-risk communities. In fact, studies demonstrate that ethnic minority families are likelier than white families to live somewhere with high levels of air pollution.
This moment in history comes to us. You will decide the direction of our country—not for four years, not for eight years—but for generations to come.
This is our moment to choose hope over fear, courage over cynicism. This is our moment to dream big, fight hard and win. pic.twitter.com/SWbLSTQB1F
What she thinks about firearms: They cause too many deaths. Warren wants to triple taxes on firearm trading and further increase taxes on ammunition. “In 2017, almost 40,000 people died from guns in the United States. My goal as President and our goal as a society will be to reduce that number by 80 percent,” the Massachusetts Senator said. She has also expressed the intention to extend FBI background checks to firearms purchased online, as well as stating that the US attitude to war is the “consequence of an approach to foreign policy that relies on the U.S. military to achieve the impossible”. She wants to withdraw US forces from the Middle East to avoid any further “unnecessary, costly and counterproductive” conflict, choosing the route of diplomacy instead.
What she thinks of the current healthcare system: That it’s unjust. Warren would like to introduce a healthcare system similar to that of many European countries. Like Sanders, she favours extending Medicare to the entire US population. Her programme details exactly how her plans will be financed and how they’ll avoid increasing taxes on middle and working class families. This gives Warren an advantage over Sanders, who has admitted that his plan would involve increasing taxes on the middle class.
What she says about immigration: Migrants have always been vital to the US. So much so that she’d like to change the part of the Immigration Act stating that crossing the US border is a criminal offence. This clause is what has allowed Trump to separate many migrant families. Warren would also like to create an Office of New Americans that could provide new arrivals with useful tools for integration such as English language courses.
Bernie Sanders, the socialist young people love
We become stronger when men and women, young and old, gay and straight, native-born and immigrant fight together to create the kind of country we all know we can become.Bernie Sanders
Date of birth: 8 September 1941
Place of birth: Brooklyn, New York
Distinguishing features: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the youngest member of the US Congress, has declared her support for Sanders. She’s known for having proposed the Green New Deal, a plan for saving the country from social injustice and the threat of global warming.
How he wants to save the planet: By rejoining the Paris Accord, to start with. He aims to pour 200 billion dollars into the Green Climate Fund, which was instituted by the UN to help developing countries reduce their emissions and enact adaptation and mitigation policies to combat climate change. Sanders has stated his intention to declare a climate emergency, embracing young people’s appeals. He wants to promote energy transition, guaranteeing 20 million new jobs and protecting those who will have to reinvent themselves professionally. To achieve these goals, Sanders intends to allocate a whopping 1.6 trillion dollars. A notable point is that, unlike other candidates, he will support small, family-owned farms in the transition to sustainable agriculture.
Today’s young people face the prospect of:
🔥A planet on fire 📉Lower living standards than their parents 💳Crushing debt and inequality 💥Endless war
At this fateful moment, we can change the course of history—if enough ordinary people get engaged in the political process.
What he thinks about firearms: that too many assault rifles are being sold. Sanders wants to ban them. And he also wants to ban the sale of high-capacity magazines. He hopes to end so-called ‘straw purchases’, which allow people who are unfit to purchase weapons to get their hands on a firearm through third parties that buy it on their behalf. Sanders will also sponsor ‘red flag laws’, on the basis of which families and police officers can ask judges to temporarily revoke the right to bear arms from people who have shown to be violent and potentially dangerous. And what about war? He simply believes wars “are to be avoided at all costs”. Many people he knew lost their lives in Vietnam, and this played a role in Sanders’ open condemnation of Trump’s interventionism in Iraq. The President had, in fact, first increased the number of American soldiers on the ground, before ordering the assassination of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani, who was killed on 3rd January 2020 in an attack on Baghdad International Airport. This fuelled the thirst for vengeance of Iran’s armed forces who support shiite militias in Iraq. At the same time, Sanders has declared that if he were to make it to the White House, he would increase aid to veterans.
What he thinks of the current healthcare system: it’s immoral. Sanders is a supporter of Medicare for All, which involves extending government-funded healthcare – currently limited to over 65s and patients suffering from certain illnesses – to the entire population. He also wants to expand insurance to cover dental treatment, eye and ear exams, mental health care and addiction services. Sanders finds the price of medicines to be unacceptable: he would like to limit Americans’ spending on prescription drugs to 200 dollars a year. Anything exceeding that would be covered by health insurance.
What he says about immigrants:America is made to welcome them, as symbolised by the Statue of Liberty welcoming arrivals to New York. Sanders’ father was a Polish Jew who migrated to the US “at the age of 17, without a nickel in his pocket, without knowing one word of English. He was able to build a life for himself and his family, through determination and hard work”, his son explains. Sanders has called Trump “racist, xenophobic and a demagogue”. If he becomes President, he will halt construction of the Mexican border wall and repeal the Muslim ban which currently bars entry to the US for citizens of seven countries alleged to be terrorist hotbeds.
Joe Biden, the establishment candidate
My own father had always said the measure of a man wasn’t how many times or how hard he got knocked down, but how fast he got back up.Joe Biden
Date of birth: 20th November 1942
Place of birth: Scranton, Pennsylvania
Distinguishing features: He was Vice President of the United States from 2009 to 2017, during Barack Obama’s two terms.
How he wants to save the planet: By promoting a clean energy revolution and climate justice. According to him, using the US’s talents and unparalleled innovation will transform the threat of global warming into an opportunity to relaunch the energy sector and give impetus to economic growth. His goal is to make America an “energy superpower”, using the public procurement system to reach the point where the entire nation is powered by renewable energy, and promote electric vehicles. The transition will start with government offices. Biden will impose strict limits on methane emissions, a greenhouse gas that, though less prominent than other fossil fuels, is 86 times “worse” than CO2. He’ll attempt to reduce atmospheric pollution generated by the transportation sector, ensuring that the provisions of the Clean Air Act are enacted and improved upon. Biden wants to work towards reducing America’s net emissions to zero by 2050. He’ll require public companies to disclose the climate risks and greenhouse gas emissions caused by their production and supply chains. He’s also promised to safeguard protected areas that Trump has endangered, like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. As things stand, his seems to be one of the most concrete programmes in environmental terms.
What he thinks about firearms: The National Rifle Association is the enemy. Biden has stood up to it twice, and come out victorious both times. In 1993 he promoted the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act before Congress. This was one of the most important pieces of gun control legislation, having launched the system of background checks that firearm buyers must pass. In 1994, alongside Senator Dianne Feinstein, he guaranteed the approval of a ten-year ban on assault rifles and high-capacity magazines. He’s promised that, as President, he won’t shy away from confronting the NRA again. In 2002, however, he was one of the 77 senators who voted in favour of the intervention in Iraq, a decision he’s still trying to explain. Katie Glueck and Thomas Kaplan of the New York Times write that this decision shows Biden’s true essence: “a dealmaker at heart, with a reverence for bipartisan compromise”. A trait admired by his supporters, but which his opponents see as having altered his judgement on several occasions.
What he thinks of the current healthcare system: That it was balanced by Barack Obama’s intervention. Biden wants to start from Obamacare, the major overhaul of US healthcare that took place in 2010, before adding some further steps. He wants to give every citizen, not just those in certain categories, the possibility of choosing a public healthcare option as well as a private one. Biden also plans to increase the value of tax credits to decrease premiums and extend coverage to more workers, and grant middle class families a tax credit to help them pay for coverage. Finally, he has included a plan in his programme to contrast violence against women.
One of the most important issues we face as a nation is ensuring affordable, accessible health care. There's work to do, but that doesn't mean starting from scratch. It means protecting and building on Obamacare. #DemDebatepic.twitter.com/7J4nC6ZUGX
What he says about immigration: Looking back at their family history, most Americans will find a decision was made. The decision to leave everything familiar to go in search of new opportunities and a new life. For Biden, immigration is essential to America’s identity, the country’s fundamental values and its aspirations for the future. And all of this has to be reflected in immigration policy. For this reason, Obama’s VP wants to take off from where he was interrupted, restoring the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) programme: this provision, which Trump revoked, allowed for a minimum two-year deferral for expelling minors who entered the US illegally.