America is divided. Joe Biden is the candidate who promised to unite it.
Standing at the Civil War battlefield in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania in early October, the former vice president denounced the division that has swept through the US.
“The country is in a dangerous place,” he declared.
“Too many Americans see our public life not as an arena for mediation of our difference but, rather, they see it as an occasion for total, unrelenting partisan warfare.
‘‘Instead of treating each other’s party as the opposition, we treat them as the enemy.”
Many Americans, from both sides of the political aisle, agree.
Shortly after his speech, a poll from The Associated Press-NORC Centre for Public Affairs Research revealed a whopping 85 per cent of voters thought America is greatly divided and a very small amount, just 15 per cent, felt American democracy is working.
After a polarising election where a final result may not be known for weeks, America needs a unifying leader.
But where would Mr Biden start?
Forty long years
US election analyst and professor at ANU Wesley Widmaier said this division had been 40 years in the making.
“You’ve just had the hollowing out of the middle class over the last 40 years, where we’ve shifted from wage-based growth to wealth-based growth,” he told The New Daily.
“That’s a big driver of wealth inequality and the Democrats, which had been the party of the working person, has shifted and become more neoliberal.”
The economic disparity has helped fuel a culture war where the country’s racial, religious, geographic and wealth identifiers go hand in hand with citizens party affiliations.
This change, over decades, was written about by one of America’s best political scientists Alan Abramowitz, who mapped the shift in each party’s base.
Over the past few decades key group of white voters –the religious, those without college degrees, and older Americans – have left the Democratic party and jumped ship.
And the Democratic base has moved to be increasingly non-white, college-educated, young and secular.
Mr Trump skyrocketed to the top of the Republican field because he recognised the pain of the first group, Professor Widmaier said.
“He recognised the pain out there that wasn’t recognised by the mainstream Democratic party,” he said.
Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were perceived as looking after the interest of the finance sector, with the former bailing out the banks and the later delivering secret speeches on Wall Street, he said.
“You take 40 years of stagnant wages in the middle of the manufacturing heartland, and wealth-based growth, that spurs the division.”
Changing the narrative
Mr Biden’s biggest asset in breaching this divide is the ability to change the narrative, Professor Widmaier said.
“One of the first things would be to strike the right emotional tone,’’ he said.
“This is the key political scientists have missed for four decades. And Trump showed what happens when it goes bad, but it’s the ability to strike the right tone and use emotional intelligence to explain the nation to itself.”
The President has vast influence over the country’s broader culture, how it sees and talks about itself, and a leader that embraces a ‘we’ narrative over an ‘I’ narrative could help breach the divide between voters.
“The American culture is very individualistic, but there are ways you can say we’re all in this together.
‘‘That would be my sense of where he will go, and hopefully, many Republicans won’t be opposed to turning the volume down.’’
Shifting the Republicans
The other potential great uniting factor would be a shift in the culture of the GOP itself.
Since the 1990s, there has been a battle inside the Republican party between the liberal and more conservative wings.
After the 2012 defeat, the Republican National Committee publicly released a post-Morton review of itself, which recommended reaching out to black, latino and hispanic voters, embracing lesbian and gay rights and broader tolerance on social issues.
“The Republican establishment was trying to push it. Jed Bush was trying to push for it, and Trump took them all down,” Professor Widmaier said.
“At the presidential level, it’s a Trump Republican party and it’s hard to see how that can change.
“Tucker Carlson is talking about running in 2024, and he’s very much like Trump, wants to build a wall.
“That culture is here to stay unless there is a big fight within the Republican party.”