Will coronavirus or other indicators determine the 2020 Election?

This article first appeared at casino.org on 3rd April 2020

At every election, various theories are put forward about which indicators will determine the result. Most famously, “It’s the economy, stupid”.

Or does success or failure in foreign policy move the needle? Is it all about ad-buying, media coverage, or simply the electoral appeal of the candidates? Are current and long-term polling trends the best guide? All and more are worthy of consideration. 

Trump Consistently Trails Popular Vote Polls

Whilst the race has barely begun – we still don’t know for certain whom the Democrat candidate against Trump will be – there is no shortage of polls.

The current president has been regularly compared, head-to-head, with Joe Biden since entering politics in 2015. The long-term signals are grim for Trump, who has often trailed by double-digits. The current RealClearPolitics average is better though, with the deficit down to 5.8 per cent.

However even if he doesn’t transform those numbers, all may not be lost for Trump.

He lost the popular vote by 2.9M, or 2.1 per cent, in 2016 yet won the electoral college due to narrow victories in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. Polls in that trio of states, plus Arizona, Florida and North Carolina, are a better guide than nationwide surveys.

Political scientist Dave Wasserman has argued that Trump could even lose by 5M votes nationwide, yet still win.

Coronavirus Has Potential To Transform Every Aspect Of Politics

In any case, predicting politics at this current moment in history is fraught with risk.

Coronovirus is ruining economies everywhere and has the potential to transform politics. Caseloads and casualties are rising by the day. Policy responses are changing.

As this study shows, the likelihood of a deep recession – especially in the second quarter of 2020 – would, on historic measures, be terrible for a sitting president.

The fundamental problem with that theory is that no previous election year recession was caused by a pandemic. This is obviously a unique situation.

It is quite a stretch to assume voters will pin the blame on Trump for a crisis that started in China – a fact he will frequently stress.

Another caveat essential to any judgement is that we are likely at an early stage of the crisis. We cannot confidently predict how it will affect the national psyche, let alone the economy or polls. 

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