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The Riot Effect: How Civil Unrest Affects Presidential Elections

With 2020 Being "The Year of Fear," Will the George Floyd Riots Help or Hurt Incumbent President Donald J. Trump This November?

As the Coronavirus Pandemic plunged the United States into its worst economic condition since the Great Depression of the 1930s, millions of Americans were primed with unemployment, deprivation, and melancholy before bursting in anger at the May 25th murder of George Floyd.

All across the nation — from Minneapolis to Atlanta, and from New York to Los Angeles — cities are burning in fiery infernos. Buildings are being set ablaze. Law enforcement officers are throwing tear gas in an attempt to dissuade protestors from looting small businesses.

People are understandably enraged.

President Trump has threatened to deploy military forces in order to quell these violent demonstrations. At the same time, he has expressed support for the rights of peaceful protesters and has offered the Floyd family his deepest condolences.

On June 1, 2020, the president addressed the nation in a press conference and declared:

“The biggest victims of the rioting are peace loving citizens in our poorest communities, and as their president, I will fight to keep them safe. I will fight to protect you… But in recent days our nation has been gripped by professional anarchists, violent mobs, arsonists, looters, criminals, rider rioters, Antifa and others…These are not acts of peaceful protest. These are acts of domestic terror.”

And what started as a unified, peaceful demonstration has now evolved into something not seen in decades.

This raises the question: How will the events currently unfolding impact President Trump’s re-election chances? What are the political ramifications of George Floyd’s death on November 3rd?

In order to answer this, we have look to the past.

In 1968, after Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, millions of Americans took to the streets to protest, loot, and riot in more than a hundred cities. In places such as Washington, D.C., Baltimore, and Chicago, military forces were deployed in order to maintain control of the situation.

While Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson established the Kerner Commission to provide recommendations to ease racial tensions, many Americans desired a change in executive leadership.

Republican Presidential Nominee Richard Nixon — who narrowly lost in 1960 to John F. Kennedy — campaigned on the promise to restore law and order to the nation’s cities. While pursuing the “Southern strategy”, Nixon persuaded a majority of white southerners to support the Republican Party by appealing to racist attitudes. His main electoral opponent, Hubert Humphrey, supported the Civil Rights Movement and was in favor of continuing President Johnson’s sweeping Great Society welfare programs.

Nixon won 32 states in the general election, receiving 301 electoral votes and carrying 43.4% of the popular vote. Humphrey narrowly lost the popular vote but trailed Nixon by a staggering 110 electoral votes.

Twelve years later — in May, 1980 — Miami, Florida was at the center of several race riots that resulted in Governor Bob Graham ordering the Florida Army National Guard to storm the area. Many Americans protested the acquittal of four Miami-Dade Police Officers who were charged with manslaughter resulting in the death of Arthur McDuffie, an African American man.

The incident occurred on December 17, 1979, when McDuffie was beaten to death by the four policemen after a high-speed chase. The riots lasted for several days and lead to nearly 600 arrests.

Six months later, former California Governor Ronald Reagan faced incumbent President Jimmy Carter. Amid the Iranian Hostage Crisis, social unrest, and severe economic challenges marked by stagflation, Reagan stomped Carter out of office.

After a trial jury acquitted four officers of the Los Angeles Police Department for usage of excessive force in the arrest and beating of Rodney King, the 1992 Los Angeles riots paralyzed the nation in grief, agony, and division. Several law enforcement agencies had to intervene in order to restore order in the area. By the time the riots ended, 63 people were killed and more than 12,000 were arrested.

This occurred at the same time as Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton faced incumbent President George H. W. Bush in the general election. While Bush was generally a popular president, Clinton was able to win by a margin of 202 electoral votes.

While there are many political, social, cultural, and economic factors that play a significant role in each presidential election, I am under the impression that riots consistently persuade Americans to vote for changes in executive administrations.

Riots that occurred under Democratic administrations resulted in Republicans winning the following election, and riots that occurred under Republican administrations resulted in Democrats winning the following election.

It will be interesting to see what happens this November. President Trump does, indeed, have a solid base of supporters that will stick with him through thick and thin. In addition, no one knows how Independents will respond to the losses suffered by Small Business America or if fear of administrative change will unintentionally grow as a result of current events.

In short, the pandemonium pervading our country will be the ultimate test of how solid Trump’s base is.

Article written by Jett James Pruitt

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