Albert Hirschman Centre on Democracy
03 November 2020


With the US election fast approaching, Professor David Sylvan weighed in on the most significant trends of the presidential race.

After an extraordinary year, the United States is hurtling toward the 2020 elections. Arguably, these may be the most important elections in recent memory, not only for the US itself but for the world as a whole.

As the world anxiously awaits its results and election outcome predictions proliferate, several questions arise. Which voter turnout trends are most noteworthy in this election? What are the implications of different scenarios for policy-making? Will the Democrats, from Biden to congressional candidates, be able to put Trumpism behind them, or will at least the Senate, if not the White House itself, continue in Republican hands?

These are some of the questions David Sylvan, Professor of International Relations/Political Science at the Graduate Institute and Faculty Associate at the Albert Hirschman Centre on Democracy, addressed in a Lunch Briefing moderated by Christine Lutringer, Executive Director of the Albert Hirschman Centre on Democracy. The event was well-attended, with over 160 participants tuning into the discussion.

In his talk, Professor Sylvan explained that elections are not won or lost by getting voters to switch sides or by convincing the unconvinced. He instead suggested that the role of political campaigns is to “get your people to vote for you, and discourage others to vote against you”, and cited key differences between the 2012 and 2016 elections, such as the lower turnout among African Americans in 2016. That year, white, non-college educated voters came out to vote in higher numbers. High voter turnout during midterm elections and among younger adults, he added, seemed to point to a Democratic victory in 2020.

Professor Sylvan then emphasised the central importance of controlling the Senate to enact legislation. Pointing to current forecasts, he noted that Democrats are set to get half the seats. Before taking questions from the audience, he outlined the policy implications of a Trump win, a Biden win without Democratic control of the Senate, and a Biden win with Democratic control of the Senate.


Read all questions asked to David Sylvan during the Lunch Briefing. For time constraints, he could not address them all. Here are all the answers he wrote after the session.

Watch the Lunch Briefing HERE.