Podcast | Race to the White House: How coronavirus is changing the US elections

V Nivedita | Updated on: Apr 24, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic is changing the election in the US. It is changing the way how people will vote, the issues at the forefront and how Donald Trump and Joe Biden are reacting to them.


Hi, I am Nivedita Varadarajan and welcome to an all new episode of the Race to the White House.

This week, we'll look at how the coronavirus pandemic can influence the election in the US -- from voting behaviour, the issues at the forefront of the campaigns to the polling process itself.

Before the pandemic, immigration and trade would have been the rallying points of US president Donald Trump's campaign. For the Democrats, many of Trump's past indiscretions -- his Muslim ban, illegal immigrat family separation policy, push for a border wall, withdrawal from Paris Accord -- are all on the backbench.

Now, all that matters is tackling the coronavirus outbreak, and providing relief to the 26 million who have lost their jobs and the millions who are suffering from the illness.

On Thursday, the House passed a much delayed coronavirus aid package to help small businesses and hospitals. A part of nearly $500 billion package will be used to provide loans to small businesses. This will be used to keep employees on payroll.

A new Gallup poll finds that Trump's approval stands at 43%. His disapproval rating is at 54%. This is down significantly from 49% in March, when people were satisfied with Trump. This poll also shows that trump's disapproval rating is up 9 points from last month.

In the US, when there is a national crisis, people tend to support the president. So, the president's approval ratings will increase. This bump in ratings -- called the "rally around the flag" effect -- is what Trump gained in March, experts say. But they are also quick to point out that the bump was very short, in terms of number of days, and quite marginal, in terms of the increase.

CNN's Senior Writer and Analyst Harry Enten, in a report, says that Trump's net approval rating stood at -10 points among voters in an aggregate of polls as late as March 11. Less than three weeks later, it went up to -4 points on March 27, before falling down to -8 points.

At it's peak, the bump in Trump's ratings was a jump of just 6 points. It's only about half that of what Barack Obama got after the killing of Osama Bin Laden. George W. Bush received a nearly 70 point jump in his approval ratings after 9/11.

According to a Monmouth University Poll, more people are more likely to vote for Biden (48%) than Trump (45%).

But, this doesn't mean that politics is taking a backseat. Trump's campaign had previously released a scathing advertisement targeting Joe Biden, his son Hunter and accused him of being soft on China. In response, Biden released an advertisement that laid out some facts. The takeaway is that both Trump and Biden are indulging in a blame game. Trump has it bad both ways-- on one hand, he is unable to control the spread of the virus and on the other hand, he is unable to open the economy again. Biden is unable to lead the narrative on both issues.

The biggest impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the US election is how polling could be take place.

After the primaries in Illinois on March 17, it is reported that a poll worker stationed at a Chicago voting site on election day, died from the coronavirus last week. This has prompted authorities to trace all those who voted at the booth. There are also some reports that claim that 19 people in Wisconsin appeared to have contracted the coronavirus after voting in the primaries on April 7. 

This has raised multiple calls for voting by mail. According to a NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll released on Tuesday, two-thirds of voters said they support voting by mail for the November election.  It also found that 67 per cent of polled registered voters approve of this year’s election being held through the mail. That includes 58 per cent who said voting by mail should be a permanent change and 9 percent who said it should only be allowed this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Published on April 24, 2020
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