Does Coronavirus help or hinder Donald Trump?

Does Coronavirus help or hinder Donald Trump?

As the world begins to come to terms with the shock of Coronavirus, every assumption, every preconception, has to go. That is already evidently the case with regards economics, work and productivity. So it must too with politics.

It means that even I – the archest of Trump critics, somebody whom his supporters call a hater, incapable of objectivity – must reassess my election forecast. To be clear, not change it, but acknowledge that the facts have changed.

My average lay position is [2.39] – when his odds fell to [1.65] a few weeks back compared to today (March 24), I laughed at how wrong they were. Despite them since drifting back to [2.2], I’m more open to the idea of him winning again than ever before.

Crises can work in a government’s favour

Why? The context and narrative of this election has been completely transformed. Perhaps too the psychology of the electorate. Disasters have the potential to unite even the most divided of nations. Crises can make a leader. It can become impossible for the opposition to cut through and when they do, will be accused of ‘playing politics‘. A public desperate for answers, solutions, stability, can rally around the government.

That appears to be the case elsewhere. There are plenty of valid criticisms to be made of the UK government’s handling of the crisis – and they are being made in the mainstream media. Yet the Conservatives have rarely if ever polled so well – ranging between 49 and 52% in the last three surveys. In the worst-hit country, Italian PM Guiseppe Conte’s ratings have soared.

Other Trump scandals fading from prominence

In the particular case of Trump, this may prove a welcome diversion from a litany of scandals. Impeachment feels like a lifetime ago. Ditto the Mueller Report, Russia scandal, imprisonment of his manager Paul Manafort and long-term ally Roger Stone. The Supreme Court has postponed deciding on Trump’s extraordinary legal battle with his own bankers and lawyers – a scandal waiting to break that could finally expose everything.

Already there is some evidence of improvement in the polls. His latest approval rating with Monmouth was 48%, tied with disapproval, compared to -7% a month ago. Admittedly this could be an outlier – Reuters, Yougov and Politico all recorded double-digits negative approval only two or three days earlier.

It remains to be seen whether the crisis shifts what appear to be entrenched long-term trends between Trump and likely opponent Joe Biden. The former VP has led in almost every survey between them over the past five years, often by double-digits.

Likewise the Democrats remain an average 8% ahead in the Generic Congressional Ballot. Compared to the House of Representatives vote they lost in 2016, that points to disaster for Republicans.

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