On August 23rd, Jacob Blake was shot seven times in the back and seriously injured by local law enforcement during an arrest. As a result of the shooting, Blake is paralyzed from the waist down, according to his family.
The incident led to civil unrest where protests and violent demonstrations occurred in the streets of Blake’s hometown: Kenosha, Wisconsin. On August 27th, Kyle Rittenhouse was arrested on suspicion of first-degree intentional homicide after two people were gunned down.
Therefore, to capitalize on the moment, both President Trump and Presidential Candidate Joe Biden visited Kenosha, Wisconsin. On September 1, Trump flew to Wisconsin to talk to local politicians and law enforcement despite local politician’s concerns about the visit. Two days later, on September 3, Biden met with Jacob Blake’s family privately.
However, the problem for both candidates is that they are starting to base their campaign around crime. President Trump has tried to paint himself as the “Law and Order” candidate and the protector of law enforcement. On the other hand, Biden is arguing he is fighting for racial justice and stands against police brutality. This greater emphasis on crime, law enforcement, and racial justice comes with the increase of civil unrest, protests, and rage initiated by the death of George Floyd.
Yet, polls suggest voters care more about other issues than crime or racial injustice. In a Pew Research poll, 79% of registered voters say that the economy is very important for their vote in the 2020 presidential election. 68% say healthcare, 64% say Supreme Court Appointees, 62% say the COVID-19 outbreak, and 59% say violent crime.
While this poll was conducted several weeks before the shooting of Jacob Blake and the civil unrest in Wisconsin, it is likely Americans still believe the economy is the greatest issue. Since the current economy has negatively affected millions of Americans through massive layoffs or extreme budget cuts, voters will deeply care about tax regulations and unemployment checks.
Furthermore, the economy is an essential issue in this election because the common voter would care more about their income status, employment, or taxes than violent crime. The uncertainty of the economy and the spike of unemployment has to lead many people to feel increased concern for their financial future. The two candidates should still talk about these issues, but it would be in their interest to focus primarily on the economy.
Another poll finds more Americans believe Republicans could do a better job handling the economy than Democrats (49% Republican Party, 40% Democratic Party). This poll is troubling to the Biden campaign because they do not have the full trust of American voters on the most concerning issue in the Presidential election.
Therefore, while it is good media for Biden to go to Kenosha and give a speech about racial justice, he needs to campaign harder on economic policy as opposed to potential police reform. Biden’s unclear view on banning fracking, the process of extracting oil and natural gas from the Earth, may be detrimental in battleground states like Pennsylvania where the economy relies heavily on fracking. Back in a March debate, Biden said, “no new fracking,” and in a September CNN town hall, Harris said there is “no question” when asked if she will ban fracking. His campaign has walked back on these statements but does not give a clear stance on fracking. On the other hand, Trump has had a clear position in supporting fracking.
The same applies to Trump because he has already secured the vote of law enforcement and its followers. Now he must make a case for moderates concerned with his economic handling of the pandemic. In the first three years of his Presidency, Trump presided over record low unemployment rates in various groups like African-Americans and Asian-Americans. Yet, when COVID-19 hit, millions of jobs were lost, small businesses shut down, and unemployment skyrocketed.
In reality, the two candidates must appeal to the common man and woman who has been unemployed since March and has very little savings left. Without a doubt, the topic of race relations and policing has been sensitive and controversial in the past decades, but centralizing a campaign off of crime will not appeal to necessary voters. For Biden and Trump to win, they both need to campaign on how their economic policies will bring them out of the current crisis.