Would Donald Trump Have Won Reelection Without Coronavirus?

author
Dr. Louis Perron
blog post louis

While last year’s U.S. presidential election was actually not really close, it was narrower than what many had expected. Donald Trump in particular outperformed his nationwide polling average by about 3% on election day. Would he have won reelection without the coronavirus? Nobody knows and you might think that the question is moot and academic anyways. Well, first of all, I do have an academic background and part of my work, and second, I will tell you in a moment why I think the question is relevant. But to answer it first, yes, I do think that the race would have been closer without the pandemic. At the beginning of the election year, it looked like Trump would head into campaign season with the winds of a roaring economy at his back. Conventional wisdom has it that an incumbent with a booming economy and absent a major crisis, is difficult to beat. Now, this matters because it says as much about Trump as about the coronavirus. It seems to me that populist leaders in particular, such as Trump, Johnson and Bolsonaro, suffered in the polls once the pandemic happened. Other leaders, however, even added support to their approval rating when voters saw their respective crisis management. Angela Merkel, for example, was at a real popularity high last fall. All leaders worldwide faced the same pandemic, the difference is how they handled it. Trump basically chose to downplay the virus, a strategy that became untenable by election day.

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