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United States: Ideology hits the campaign trail | Analyst Picks | RiskMap 2020

United States

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Ideology hits the campaign trail

The 2020 US presidential election is likely to be the most ideological in 40 years.

In 1980, Ronald Reagan’s anti-government, free-market conservatism – “Government is not the solution to our problems. Government is the problem” – revolutionised US politics. Subsequent elections pitted “small government” Republicans against “tax and spend” Democrats.

However, partisan differences were more ideological than practical. Reagan embarked on sweeping tax cuts and deregulation, but federal spending doubled on his watch. Indeed, since both parties relied on “swing voters” for the balance of power, a “centrist consensus” tolerant of “big government” emerged in the 1990s to dominate US politics and suppress ideological differences.

Enter President Donald Trump. While it is likely that the 2020 election will again be fought over “swing voters” in key states, the centrist “consensus” writ large is dead. On top of partisan consolidation in voting patterns, polling data indicates a steep rise in partisan antipathy under Trump. The partisan divide helps explain why even broad popular support for key policies has little political impact.

Even if Democrats ultimately opt to target swing states with a centrist ticket, the party has already been pulled towards the progressive left on key policy issues. The Democratic debate is not about whether but how best to achieve universal healthcare. Yet Trump and his base perceive existential threats in Democratic ambitions for transformative, “structural” change on healthcare, tax, climate change, immigration and other policies.

As a result, Trump – who in 2016 campaigned as Reagan’s second coming – will bank on a renewed ideological contest between self-styled “patriots” and “radical Democratic socialists”. The ideological slant seeks to help Trump shore up his base against a slowing US economy and mounting political threats.

Radicalising the electorate may work as a political strategy for both parties in 2020 but carries considerable risks to business, from regulatory whiplash to tax hikes to trade disruption. On these and other issues, the 2020 campaign will signal to business which way the ideological winds are blowing.



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