COVID-19 and His Handling Of It? – The 2020 presidential election was particularly unique.
The coronavirus pandemic, a generational event with society-altering ramifications, was in full swing.
The virus, which would later mutate into less virile strains, was still in its most potent form. The economy was struggling. Unemployment was high. People were dying. Disagreements over how to handle the pandemic were exacerbating already stark partisan divides.
The daily lives of Americans, forced to socially distance from one another, to work remotely, to attend school remotely, to shelter-in-place, had become unrecognizable from anything familiar. And worst of all, perhaps, was the uncertainty; the road ahead was unclear; Americans didn’t know how long the pandemic would last or whether we would ever be able to “return to normal.” The media amplified the fear and uncertainty.
In all, the early days of the pandemic had an existential-type flavor.
Of course, the pandemic, which touched all aspects of American life, also affected politics. When America shut down, Doanld Trump was amidst his reelection campaign; the Democrats were sorting through dozens of candidates to find their nominee.
And suddenly, the number one issue, dominating the campaign wasn’t the economy, or foreign policy, or Trump’s first four years. It was the coronavirus.
Trump Wins if COVID Never Occurs?
Many pundits have speculated in the two years since the 2020 election that Trump would have won the election had it not been for the coronavirus. The general argument is two-fold. One, things were going well for Trump. The economy was strong. The MAGA base was as ardent as ever, while mainstream conservatives seemed to have made peace with Trump’s unorthodox mannerisms, given his adherence to conservative orthodoxy. So, Trump was well positioned for reelection had the coronavirus not struck.
Two, Trump’s handling of the coronavirus was perceived as negligent, meaning that on what would become the campaign’s number one issue, Trump was perceived as weak. Trump’s flippancy and callousness amplified the perception as much as his actual policy. When Biden would inherit the White House, the pandemic continued to linger, people continued to die; not much changed policy wise – aside from the new administration’s official tone, which spoke with reverence for the virus. Force Majeure events can make or break a presidential administration; coronavirus was a Force Majeure event that Trump failed to handle in a way that was politically beneficial.
A Trump campaign pollster, Tony Fabrizio, conducted a 2020 election autopsy that suggested “Trump lost the 2020 election largely because of his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.”
Fabrizio’s “27-page document shows that voters in 10 key states rated the pandemic as their top voting issue, and President Biden won higher marks on the topic,” the Washington Post reported.
FiveThirtyEight also considered whether Trump could have won reelection if not for the coronavirus.
“So, what can we ultimately say about the impact of COVID-19 on the 2020 election? Most likely, it worked against Trump. Had there been no pandemic, he may have still lost the popular vote, but considering how close the election was, he may have had a decent chance of winning the Electoral College,” Seth Masket reported. “Yet, the damage to his prospects was far from enormous, and that may have been mitigated somewhat by polarization. Indeed, a better response on Trump’s part that either helped reduce the spread of the disease or limit its economic impact could well have secured his reelection bid.”
Indeed. While it’s impossible to say whether Trump would have won the 2020 election if the pandemic had never happened, it seems reasonable to conclude that the pandemic did not help Trump’s reelection chances.
Harrison Kass is the Senior Editor at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, he joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison holds a BA from Lake Forest College, a JD from the University of Oregon, and an MA from New York University. He lives in Oregon and listens to Dokken. Follow him on Twitter @harrison_kass.