US Election: How Joe Biden differs from Donald Trump on key issues, and what his presidency will mean for the world

Joe Biden is closer than ever to becoming the next President of the US after Michigan certified his win in the state and funds allowing him to begin his transition were authorised for release.

But he's got his work cut out to change the country's policies and rebuild America's "severely tarnished" global reputation, a leading international relations expert says.

The Democratic nominee, who won the US election earlier this month after clinching several battleground states, will take the reins from outgoing President Donald Trump on January 20, 2021.

As a 77-year-old who served for eight years as Vice President and in the US Senate for another 36, Biden has more political experience than almost anyone who has ever occupied the Oval Office before him.

But Robert Patman, a Professor of Politics and International Relations at the University of Otago, says the scale of task Biden faces - to unify the nation, change attitudes on climate change and COVID-19, and repair America's international prestige - is monumental.

'You won't see Biden hanging out with Kim Jong-un'

Among the biggest changes Biden will be eager to bring about is to foreign policy, and how the United States interacts with other global powers.

During his four-year tenure, Trump openly distrusted international institutions like the United Nations (UN), World Health Organization (WHO) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

He also adopted fiercely nationalistic rhetoric, opting for a US-first approach over cooperation with other states.

But the US played a key role in the establishment of many of the same international institutions Trump rejected, and has traditionally been a peacekeeping force in the global community.

Prof Patman says Biden, when he comes into power, is likely to throw support back behind these international institutions and submit to their protocols, in an approach more akin to Trump's predecessors.

Biden is likely to throw the United States' support back behind international institutions when he comes into power.
Biden is likely to throw the United States' support back behind international institutions when he comes into power. Photo credit: AAP

"What I would expect is that the Biden administration will accept international rules and try to rebuild America's international reputation, which has been severely tarnished during the Trump years," Prof Patman said.

"I think Biden will be much more like previous Presidents to Trump, because America did a lot to create these institutions like the WHO, the WTO (World Trade Organization) and the UN, and therefore want to see them work."

Biden is also anticipated to take a harsher approach on Russia and North Korea, whose respective leaders Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un enjoyed a chummy relationship with Trump and have yet to acknowledge his opponent's election win.

"You won't see Biden hanging out with dictators like Kim Jong-un. He'll only meet them if there's something to discuss, and they will have to make concessions in advance," Prof Patman said.

"Putin will no longer get the softly-softly treatment he's had from the Trump administration. I think he's just another dictator in Biden's eyes and he'll get treated as such."

It's bad news too for UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his government, who Prof Patman says "very much hitched their wagon" to Trump and the movement he represented.

He says Biden's appointment is likely to shake up the relationship between the two old allies, and throw a spanner into the works on a free trade deal between the two countries.

"Biden's got no time for Brexit - he believes, like Obama, that Britain has shot itself in the foot, and I don't think he'll pull any punches," he explained.

"He's also said there will be no free trade deal with the UK if Great Britain breaks international law as it has done with its past legislation, which amended the withdrawal agreement with the EU."

The one common thread between Biden and Trump will be their stance on China - a country that has attracted recent criticism for alleged human rights abuses like its treatment of Uighur Muslims, its controversial Hong Kong security law and its reluctance to allow Taiwan to join the WHO.

"I don't think he'll be any soft touch for the Chinese," he predicted. "There will be a change in the relationship with China, but I don't think Biden will relent with the pressure on China - particularly where it seems to be acting in ways which don't seem consistent with its own commitments."

Climate change and COVID-19 to become key priorities

Under Trump, climate change took a backseat in the US.

One of his most notable decisions was to pull the US out of the Paris Climate Accord - a multilateral agreement that sees member states commit to measures that limit temperature rises to less than 2C this century.

But it wasn't the only one. Researchers at New York's Columbia University identified 164 actions he'd taken to roll back environmental regulations in the US since taking office, with Professor Michael Gerrard lamenting that Trump believes regulations are "all cost and no benefit".

"He denies that there really is such a thing as anthropogenic climate change, or at least that it is bad," he said. "He believes that if you cut back on regulations of all kinds, not just environmental, but also occupational and labour and everything else, it'll create more jobs."

By contrast, Biden campaigned hard on combating climate change - an issue he says is an "existential threat to humanity" - and has committed to making it one of four major priorities in his first term.

Trump has taken 164 actions to roll back environmental regulations in the US, researchers say.
Trump has taken 164 actions to roll back environmental regulations in the US, researchers say. Photo credit: Getty

Prof Patman says it's clear Biden means business. The President-elect has already warned oil companies of an imminent shift to renewable energy sources and vowed to rejoin the Paris Climate Accord as soon as he's in office.

"He'll feel that every day counts," Prof Patman said.

"He said it's unthinkable that we should saddle future generations with the problem that we could avoid now. I'm shocked people seem to think the world will be oil-based for decades and decades to come. It's just not sustainable.

"If we want to wreck the world then we'll just go down that route, but Trump's approach is 'oh it's fine' and he doesn't take science seriously - well a lot of people do."

Prof Patman says not listening to the science has been a theme of Trump's leadership - most notably in regard to his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The President was criticised as slow to close borders when the virus spread beyond China, and for his unwillingness to implement restrictions to prevent further infection. More than 12 million Americans have contracted the disease since it made landfall in the US, causing the deaths of 257,000.

Joe Biden has promised to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic head-on.
Joe Biden has promised to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic head-on. Photo credit: Getty

The Biden administration, in marked contrast, has assembled a panel of top healthcare professionals and scientists to begin their work on coming up with a coherent nationwide approach to stymieing the disease.

"Biden's saying 'you can't separate the economy from the treatment of COVID-19'," Prof Patman explained.

"You can't say 'oh, we need to keep the economy open and it's a shame people got it but ultimately the economy prevails'. This argument is ultimately the economy will remain wounded and impaired until we get the virus under control. 

"That's the linkage Trump hasn't quite made - we've made it in New Zealand, but they haven't in the US. There's always been the assumption that somehow the economy can be kept dynamic despite COVID-19 rampaging through the country."

Where Biden stands on other key issues

The economy

Donald Trump's strongest claim to success during his four years in power was the economy.

The former businessman guided the US to strong economic growth in every quarter before the COVID-19 pandemic struck - albeit by cutting taxes and spending more.

Biden says he'll take away Trump's tax cuts when he comes into power, as well as raising the minimum wage and investing $2 trillion in renewable energy.

He has also said he will spend "whatever it takes" in the aftermath of the coronavirus crisis to provide loans to keep small businesses afloat and increase welfare payments to struggling families.

However he'll stick with Trump's push to keep more manufacturing in the US, pledging $300 billion for the federal government to invest in American-made goods, services, research and technology. He's also expressed support for a law change that will ensure transport projects are US-made.


Biden is pro-choice when it comes to abortion.

This is in contrast with Trump, who in 2016 said he wanted to overturn Roe v Wade, a landmark 1973 case that set a precedent enshrining a woman's right to abortion until 28 weeks pregnant.

While he hasn't managed that, he has stacked the Supreme Court with conservative judges. This has seen the conservative state of Alabama introduce near-total abortion bans in an attempt to overturn the Roe v Wade ruling for good.

However Biden wants to pass a federal law protecting a woman's right to abortion, rendering any new ruling challenging the precedent set by Roe v Wade redundant.

He also wants to repeal the Hyde Amendment, which currently makes it illegal for taxpayer money to be used to fund abortions except in cases of rape, incest or danger to the mother.

Health care

While he won't commit to universal health care, Biden says he will introduce a policy that will provide health cover for 97 percent of US citizens.

He will expand former President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act - a policy he's described as the "crown jewel" of that administration - at a cost of $750 billion over the next 10 years.

This will mostly be paid for by resuming taxes on America's wealthiest, which were cut while Trump was President.