Podcast | Race to the White House: Episode 9: Elections during coronavirus

V Nivedita | Updated on April 06, 2020 Published on April 05, 2020

The coronavirus has been devastating for the US. Over 3,11,000 people were infected by the virus in that country as on Saturday, the fourth of April and a little under 8,500 people died from it. New York has more than 1,13,000 cases – that is as the whole of Italy – and 3,565 people have died in the State.

It is just not New York, California, Louisiana and other States are reporting lots of new cases. With these numbers, it is no surprise that the US has become the latest hotspot for the coronavirus.

Hi! I am Nivedita Varadarajan, and welcome to ‘The Race to the White House’. This week, we’ll look into the potential impact of the ‘Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act and how the US is preparing for the elections in these abnormal times.

After passing the CARES Act, Trump’s administration became more serious about tackling the virus, and the economic devastation in its wake. Last week, I told you that a record number of people filed for unemployment claims.


A report in The Fortune magazine that quotes data published by the US Bureau of Labour Statistics on Friday, said that a total of 7.1 million Americans were unemployed in the month of March, this is up 1.4 million from last month.

The report gives a far more accurate picture of the ground reality -- the actual number of Americans out of work is far greater. In the two weeks ended March 21 and March 28, the country saw a combined 10 million initial unemployment claims.

The report adds: “If you combine the number of Americans unemployed in the March jobs report and the following two weeks of unemployment claims, then the unemployed total sits above 17 million — a number more massive than the Great Recession’s peak of 14.7 million in June 2009. In fact, 17 million unemployed Americans would be the highest level in the country’s history.”


Unemployment levels rose to 4.4 per cent in March, which is up from a 50-year low of 3.5 per cent in February.  This means that until the coronavirus pandemic struck, employers were having a hard time filling open positions.

S&P noted that the longest economic expansion in US’ history has ended rather abruptly.  In its revised GDP growth forecast for 2020, it said that the US would see a contraction of 1.3 per cent, including a 12 per cent decline in the second quarter, from the first.  It also sees that the unemployment rate will peak above 13% in May, before coming down in the second quarter.

It says that the federal government's $2 trillion fiscal package would cushion the blow by injecting money into households, extending unemployment benefits to 13 weeks, funding hospitals and local governments and providing guarantees and subsidized business loans.

But, all that will come only after the threat of the coronavirus subsides. Trump warned that the nation is in for some rough time in the coming weeks, before things become better. Trump, on Thursday, said that the US is doing everything it can to protect the people. Let’s have a listen

Democratic presidential frontrunner, Former Vice president Joe Biden, in a series of tweets on Saturday asked, “The CARES Act provides money to help working people—how do we make sure it gets to them as quickly as possible? There’s money for major corporations—how do we make sure that there is rigorous oversight to ensure it is used to help workers and not enrich top executives? Those are the kinds of questions Trump will be responsible for.”


“Being president is about taking responsibility. The blame game won’t cut it. Too many lives are at stake,” he added. He gave details of his plan to tackling the virus, which includes starting work on another economic aid package now.

The other Democratic nominee Senator Bernie Sanders said that healthcare is basic human right. He said that he is working on a new emergency economic package, which will cover all Americans get access to healthcare during the length of the crisis.

Finally, how are everyday Americans viewing this crisis? Let us look at a poll conducted by ABC/Ispos poll which released its results on Friday.

According to the poll, just over nine in 10 Americans say that the outbreak has disrupted their daily routine. Among those saying this, 44% said they think they will be able to resume their regular routine by June 1, including 13% who said by May 1, while a combined 84% believe that will happen by the end of the summer.

89% of those polled say that they are concerned that they, or someone they, know will be infected with the virus, compared to 79% in a poll conducted on March 18-19 and 66% in a poll in the field on March 11-12.

The report noted that 97% of the Democrats concerned about getting the coronavirus, while 92% of the independents polled had the same concern. Among the republicans however, 80% of those polled were concerned.


Trump's approval for his handling the coronavirus pandemic has fallen again, after recieveing a slight bump in a previous poll. 47% approved Trump's actions, while 52% did not. In March 20, when the same question was asked, 55% approved. In the March 13 poll, it was 43%.

Against all logic, the State of Wisconsin is likely to hold its primaries on April 7. The election will also be in-person. The election will be held even as there is a severe shortage of poll workers – take for example Milwaukee, which typically has about 180 polling sites, announced it would have just five open.

Trump is expected to win the elections in Wisconsin, thus giving a fillip to his re-election prospects. On the other side, polls show that Biden has a big lead over Sanders. Sanders defeated Hillary Clinton in the State by 14 percentage points in 2016.

In the next podcast, I’ll bring you all the latest updates on this primary and all other election related news from the US. Till then, stay safe and practise social distancing!

Published on April 05, 2020
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