With less than two months to the beginning of the presidential election, it’s never been more important to put country before party. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the face of politics—for the better, as Americans are starting to put their differences aside to support their institutions and save them from collapse.
While Donald Trump’s re-election campaign and family have raised over $100 million, Democratic presidential hopefuls Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden have decided to remain in the race, risking their campaigns and perhaps even their lives to keep Americans safe and healthy.
The presidential election is scheduled to begin on March 3, amid a great deal of uncertainty about the health of the COVID-19 pandemic. The disease has infected more than 9.6 million Americans and killed over 400,000, according to a New York Times analysis, and experts predict that it could worsen before the summer is over.
Both major parties have suspended their nominating processes, and while the exact dates for the beginning and end of the election have not been set, it’s expected that COVID-19 will have a major effect on the outcome. The question is, how will it affect the odds?
The most recent example of a major election being derailed by a pandemic is Italy, where the COVID-19 outbreak began just two weeks before the March 4th election. As of March 10, a majority of voters in the country were classified as “essential workers” who were mandated to go to work regardless of their health concerns, leading to a rash of COVID-19 cases and several election day postponements. Ultimately, the election was held on May 2, with more than 70% of the electoral season’s ballots being cast by mail.
Who’s Winning Now?
Since the beginning of April, Trump’s re-election campaign and the GOP have consistently outraised their Democratic counterparts, with nearly every one of the president’s campaign finance reports revealing double-digit gains over the previous year. The trend continued in the most recent fundraising quarter, with the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee raising a combined $125 million, compared to $105 million by the Democratic National Committee and Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign.
Though Trump has been widely accused of misusing his office for personal gain, the economy appears to be flourishing under his leadership, with unemployment at a record low and more Americans with jobs than ever before. According to an April 2019 economic report by the nonpartisan Joint Economic Committee, there were 14.7 million new jobs between October 2018 and March 2019, with the report’s authors noting that “the number of job seekers increased by 7.5 million compared to a year earlier, while the number of job openings increased by 12.2 million.”
Trump’s re-election campaign and allies have also raised more money than any previous incumbent’s campaign finance committee in American history. The $125 million figure is the sum of the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee’s fundraising during the last three months of 2019, and it breaks the previous record of $75 million that Trump’s committee and the RNC had raised during the last three months of 2018. (Federal Election Commission data going back to 1989 is available here.)
Though the incumbent’s campaign finance records had not been broken before this year, the extraordinary sums raised prove that GOP strategists and donors see Trump’s re-election as a foregone conclusion. “There’s no question that the president’s job approval ratings are going to be a driving factor in whether or not Republicans can keep the House,” Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said at the February 24 press conference, announcing the party’s plan for the upcoming election. “People aren’t just thinking about this election, they’re living it. And they want a change. They want something different.
As the economy began to falter in the latter part of last year, Trump’s re-election campaign and the Republican Party began to see a decline in their fundraising, with the President’s personal finances taking a nosedive on Election Day 2018. Trump reportedly lost more than $400 million in personal assets due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to his 2019 financial disclosure documents, making him one of the most harmed individuals in US history from a purely financial standpoint. (Forbes)
It was a similarly dismal year for Trump’s re-election campaign and the GOP in terms of polling. Though a handful of public opinion polls taken in the closing months of last year suggested that a plurality of Americans were now undecided about whether or not they supported the president’s re-election, most polls taken before then suggested that Trump would coast to victory in a “cake walk.”
Will It Be Close?
Unlike Trump, the leading Democratic candidates appear to be trying to make this year’s elections about something other than the president, with the most recent polls showing that voters are more focused on the issues. (A recent Harvard-Harris poll found that 59% of voters are “very concerned” about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the country, and 34% are “somewhat concerned.”) Though Medicare for All and the Green New Deal remain unpopular ideas among the American public at large, the Democratic field has been united in support for the policies, with all candidates embracing the proposals.
The issue has largely driven the race, particularly after Trump announced his support for the Green New Deal in a bid to outflank his rivals on the left. A recent CNN poll found that 62% of Americans support the proposal, while 29% oppose it, and a majority of Democrats (52%) believe the US needs to transition to a 100% green energy system. (More here.)
Where Do I Vote?
There is still a lot of uncertainty about whether or not the COVID-19 pandemic will have a significant impact on the presidential election. Though there have been some cases of people exhibiting symptoms prior to voting and some restrictions on voting during the pandemic, experts don’t expect it to derail the election. (More here.)
As of April 30th, more than 64.8 million ballots had been cast in the Democratic primaries, with over 90% of the ballots being returned by mail. Though it is still early in the presidential race, the overwhelming majority of votes have gone to Biden and Sanders, indicating that Democratic voters feel that they have much to choose from in terms of alternative leadership.
There is also evidence that Republicans are changing their minds, with a growing number of voters identifying as “undecided” or having “second thoughts” about Trump. (Emerson College political science professor Mark Perry found that 18% of GOP voters were now open to voting for someone else.)
The only certainty at the moment is that, whatever the outcome, the 2020 presidential election will be remembered as the most expensive and consequential in modern history. With the country still in the midst of a pandemic and much of the economy on the rebound, the stakes couldn’t be higher. It will be a fascinating few months to follow.