SNAPSHOT: Probable post-election dispute heightens likelihood of unrest in major US cities
- The outcome of the 2020 presidential election remains uncertain as of Wednesday (4 November), with President Donald Trump and former vice president Joe Biden neck and neck in battleground states. A surge in postal and early voting has delayed the processing of results.
- Incomplete results show narrow races in several swing states critical for both candidates’ presidential prospects, including Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.
- In an early-morning address at the White House, Trump claimed victory, alleged election fraud and threatened legal recourse, escalating tensions over the integrity of the electoral process.
- Delays and probable disputes surrounding the outcome heighten the likelihood of civil unrest in the 72-hour outlook.
- Multiple threat groups, including extremist organisations, are potential instigators in violent unrest, which is likely to centre on major cities.
- On Tuesday (3 November), millions of voters across the country cast their ballots in presidential, congressional, and state-level elections.
- Early results showed Trump performing better than many opinion polls had indicated. Trump secured victory in swing state Florida, partly due to support from Cuban and Venezuelan Americans in the Miami area, and retained key states including Texas, Ohio, and Iowa.
- Despite a slow start, Biden’s results steadily improved throughout the early hours of Wednesday, with large numbers of postal and early votes seemingly putting his campaign in contention in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, and Wisconsin, all key states won by Trump in 2016.
- Election-related demonstrations were reported in several cities across the country late on Tuesday and early on Wednesday, with activists and police clashing at Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington, DC. Protests were also reported in Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Portland, and Raleigh.
- As of 1230 EST (1730 GMT) Wednesday, Biden is estimated to have secured 227 electoral college votes to Trump’s 213, with both candidates hoping to secure uncalled states to push their respective total beyond the 270-vote threshold needed for victory.
- Congressional and gubernatorial poll results show similar trends, with only a small number of seats changing hands. The Democrats appear poised to retain the House of Representatives, while the Senate is set to remain finely balanced.
- Vote counting for all races is set to continue throughout Wednesday and in the coming days.
- A victory for either candidate remains entirely possible, although trends throughout Wednesday morning indicate Biden is finishing strongly in key swing states Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.
- While Biden’s potential paths to victory have narrowed since late on Tuesday, his victory in Arizona and potential strong performance in Georgia present opportunities to breach the 270-vote mark without securing Pennsylvania, which appeared his most likely route to victory prior to election day. Trump, on the other hand, will hope that uncounted ballots will give his campaign victory in Nevada, which was won by Hilary Clinton in 2016.
- The election outcome is set to be determined in Michigan and Pennsylvania, battleground north-eastern states which have experienced industrial decline and backed Trump in 2016, however previously tended to vote for Democratic Party nominees.
- Local-level results show several important demographic trends. Nationwide, Biden has secured an increased vote share among the over 65s, likely linked to his prioritisation of the COVID-19 pandemic, and in areas with a large white population with relatively few college graduates. Trump, meanwhile, has received a large increase in support in Hispanic-majority areas, particularly among Cuban Americans in Florida. This is likely due to his administration’s tough policies on leftist governments throughout Latin America, particularly in Cuba and Venezuela.
- Uncertainty surrounding the outcome of the poll and delays to the processing of results elevate the likelihood of recounts and election-related civil unrest in the short term. The election follows months of protests across the country, particularly related to racism and police brutality, and the bitter tone of the contest and candidates’ overt contempt for one another has elevated political tensions. Economic hardship driven by the COVID-19 pandemic, and measures imposed to restrict the virus’ spread, have further exacerbated unease among some societal groups.
- Multiple groups are potential participants in protests and other forms of unrest. These include far-right white nationalist groups broadly supportive of Trump, anti-fascist and anti-racism movements aligned with prominent leaders from the left of the Democratic Party, as well as more moderate supporters of either candidate who may be motivated to demonstrate. Large protests and violence, likely between demonstrators and law enforcement personnel, are most likely to occur in undecided states and major cities such as New York City, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC.
- In the 72-hour outlook, there is a high probability of election-related protests in major urban centres, potentially after swing states are called for either major party.
- Organisations with staff and assets in the US should monitor local and national updates, particularly related to results in key swing states and street-level unrest. Anticipate potential escalatory and incendiary comments from high-profile politicians and public figures on either side.
- Liaise with local law enforcement, emergency services and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), among other public and private entities, for situation updates and guidance on the local response.
- Security managers should reiterate security-related policies, protocols, and information to staff, including established thresholds for enacting contingency plans.
- Organisations should consider how unrest will impact business processes, including remote working. Companies may wish to increase remote working to minimise staff’s potential exposure to possible unrest.
- Human resources managers are encouraged to provide periodic well-being checks for staff, particularly those based in locations affected by unrest.
- Companies should consider increasing security at physical sites, particularly those in downtown areas and commercial districts.
- Provide consistent and periodic situation updates to staff from team, departmental, and corporate leaders.
- Security managers and public relations teams should cooperate closely to ensure that crisis communications are actionable at short notice.