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How the American election could affect Bristol and its students

Today, millions of Americans are heading to the ballot box to cast their votes in what could be one of the highest turnouts in a century. What could the outcome of the election mean for Bristol and the students here?

By Guy Taylor, Investigations Correspondent

Whilst we await the election results in a record-breaking presidential race, what could the outcome mean for Bristol and the students here?

To get a clearer idea of the student experience of the election debate within Bristol, Epigram spoke with Harry Walker, President of the Free Speech society.

A theme that emerged from his answers was the polarisation created by this election, and how it has affected the political climate amongst Bristol students.

A mural in Bristol of President Trump and Boris Johnson in Bristol | Flickr / duncan c

As Free Speech Society President, heavily involved in political debate at the University, Walker has noticed an increasing sensitivity amongst students, remarking this is ‘probably the most polarised US election, maybe since the Civil War, certainly in modern history.

This suggests that the election is furthering the political divide in Bristol and fuelling political tension, which is perhaps unsurprising for what has been widely described as the most divisive contest in decades.

Walker highlighted how a Trump re-election could continue a ‘climate of racism,’ which has been fostered over the past four years. Bristol, as an international, diverse city and university could feel the affects of this demonisation of minority communities in populist politics.

Highly polarised politics can sometimes fuel conspiracy theory, and this has been a key talking point of Trump’s presidency

Highly polarised politics can sometimes fuel conspiracy theory, and this has been a key talking point of Trump’s presidency. One theory, named QAnon, which asserts that a group of Satan-worshiping paedophiles is running a global child sex trafficking ring and plotting against Trump, has been widely circulated recently.

Walker explained how he has seen some students in Bristol buy into this theory. He said: ‘certain individuals who I have spoken to… have brought into some of these ideologies surrounding QAnon.’

On trying to converse with these individuals, he continued ‘it’s so difficult to talk to them. From my perspective I’m talking to them and seeing they are becoming radicalised.’ The election of Biden could reduce the momentum behind these types of beliefs, whilst Trump’s re-election could result in the opposite.

Another more subtle impact of the American election in Bristol surrounds the topic of race. With the tearing down of Colston’s statue at the BLM marches this summer, Bristol became a centre for the debate around institutional racism in the West.

As Walker explained to Epigram, Bristol has a ‘unique history,’ with its involvement in the transatlantic slave trade. This encourages arguably ‘more reflection’ on these issues than other places.

Trumps re-election would likely heighten tensions in this area. Any continuation of police violence or increased policing in African American communities is likely to cause significant uproar, especially in a city and university as politically engaged as this one.

This could result in more protesting in Bristol, from students and citizens alike, and significant push back from the BLM movement.

Harry Walker, President of Bristol University’s Free Speech Society, believes this is ‘probably the most polarised US election, maybe since the Civil War’ | Epigram / Guy Taylor

On the impact of specific policies in Bristol, Biden’s election could mean the US re-joining the Paris climate agreement, which would have a global impact on the struggle against climate change.

This could galvanise the UK and other countries into more stringent action. As the UK’s greenest city, Bristol would likely be at the forefront of this, continuing with policies such as City Leap, which encouraged investment opportunities with the objective of decarbonising the city.

In trade, some ministers have questioned the impact of a Biden presidency on any US-UK trade deal. Trump has said that such a deal is a priority, whilst backing Britain’s decision to leave the European Union.

Biden, on the other hand, could prioritise a deal with our European counterparts, which could be significant on 1 January, as the UK will cease to follow EU trade regulations.

‘Connected by air to most major international cities and just over 80 minutes from London by train, Bristol is a major port with worldwide trade links,’ report Management Today, a leading publication for British businesses. Thus, any fluctuations in trade would have a significant impact in the city.

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There are currently over 150 international students from America at Bristol University, and they will be directly affected by the outcome. The election of Biden could provide financial relief for some students struggling during the pandemic, with Biden offering $10,000 of student debt forgiveness for the duration of the crisis.

Trump has provided some relief for students, announcing that he is waiving interest on federal student loans. However, he is not in favour of outright forgiveness.

Overall, the election promises to be a memorable one, with the outcome likely to impact Bristol’s - and indeed the world’s - political climate significantly.

Featured Image: Flickr / Gage Skidmore

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