Analysis & Opinions - Foreign Policy

The Known Knowns of Election Day 2020

| Nov. 03, 2020

What to expect from the next four years, regardless of who wins the vote.


This article is part of Election 2020: America Votes, FP's round-the-clock coverage of the U.S. election results as they come in, with short dispatches from correspondents and analysts around the world. The America Votes page is free for all readers.

We may not know who the next president is for some time. But there are a few things we do know.

First, if Joe Biden wins, we know that most countries around the world will heave a sigh of relief, at least temporarily. Donald Trump is deeply unpopular in most of the world; remarkably, leaders like Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping are seen as more trustworthy than he is. America's global image will get a big short-term bounce if voters show Trump the door; it will take a further hit if Trump clings to power despite his many failures.

Second, we can be confident that neither Trump nor Biden is going to resurrect old-style neoliberal hyperglobalization. Biden will be more interested in multilateral trade reform than Trump ever was, and his team is likely to try to build or repair multilateral regimes on climate, an array of digital issues, health, and trade. But the commitment to lowering barriers and opening markets that prevailed during the "unipolar moment" is history.

Third, the United States and China are going to be rivals no matter who is in the White House. Competition between the two most powerful countries is baked into the structure of the international system, and it is exacerbated further by a fundamental incompatibility between the two states' core strategic preferences. In particular, China's desire to push the United States out of Asia is directly at odds with Washington's desire to remain there to help prevent China from dominating the region, and these contrasting objectives will inevitably spark recurring tensions. Biden may be more effective at forging multilateral arrangements to constrain China (while simultaneously seeking to cooperate with Beijing on those issues where interests overlap, such as climate change), but neither president will expect China to evolve into a democracy and become a benign stakeholder in a U.S.-dominated order....

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Walt, Stephen M.“The Known Knowns of Election Day 2020.” Foreign Policy, November 3, 2020.

The Author

Stephen Walt