COVID-19 And American Elections 2020

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Context

Before the arrival of Coronavirus to the US, President Trump appeared pretty comfortable with his prospects of winning the 2020 elections. However, the unfolding pandemic has adversely impacted the election season and many questions have since been raised on if the voting could even be held on time towards the end of the year.

A parallel discussion is raging on if alternative methods of voting, such as by mail or absentee ballot, will work, with Democrats in favor of it while the Republicans opposing it. Republicans claim such methods, other than in-person voting, increase the chances of fraud, and some believe such methods are likely to favor the democratic voters.

The Economy

One of the positives President Trump had going for him has been the economy. However, Coronavirus has jolted the Wall Street seriously. According to some estimates, all three major indexes had lost 20% of their value by mid March. Over the last three weeks, close to 17 million people have applied for jobless benefits, and the figure reportedly could go as high as 47 million by summer.

This has the made the present administration nervous. If they mishandle the crisis and it prolongs, the chances of Trump getting reelected are going to diminish. On the other hand, if Trump effectively deals with the pandemic and is able to contain it in the short term, then the American economy could possibly be on track to recovery come election time.

However, if the pandemic spreads and the crisis deepens, then the societal fissures are likely to become more acute. As witnessed during the economic crisis of 2008, while the corporations were bailed out, the benefits did not trickle down, and the middle class significantly lost its economic prowess. This in turn will also erode the public confidence in the political system and reinforce the argument that the political system is tilted towards favoring the few – at the cost of many. 

Short Term Scenario

If matters can be brought under control in two to three months, then the chances of normalcy returning are higher – just because the economic consequences of the lock down will be less. However, the system-level impacts and disruption to the supply chains will still linger for time – and so will be the questions regarding hard choices that will have to be made.

Then there is the aspect of staggering. The crisis that seems to have originated in China, gradually shifted to Europe before heading to the US. Within US, it hit Seattle hard before targeting New York. Many fear that its now heading to the other major suburbs of the US, and thus prolonging the crisis and making it difficult to manage the economic and political costs.

Then there is the lingering question, if the lockdowns are ceased too soon, will the infections resurge again? Gauging from where Coronavirus has treaded before, these questions have to be very carefully examined.

Long Term Scenario

However, if the situation extends for a period longer than 3 months, a direr situation could emerge. It would lead to stark choices regarding where the government spending would have to be cut – so that it can be beefed up for social programs. And the obvious area to be addressed would be the defense and security related funding. Moreover, it would lead to tensions between the state and the federal levels of government on budgeting issues. This would obviously further complicate politics.

In the US, these fissures are already beginning to emerge, but the debate has not shifted towards defense spending. Although US was already in the process of withdrawing from Afghanistan, and drawing down its presence in Iraq. And it has also been pressuring NATO members to increase their defense spending. 

State of Emergency and Election Delay

If the long-term scenario does play out, there is a likelihood of an emergency situation, which can cause elections to get postponed. As this step is unprecedented, some have considered this to be a far fetched idea. However, the pros and cons of this prospect are being discussed. For example, in a recent tweet Hillary Clinton stated: “Let’s be clear. Trump does not have the power to cancel or postpone the November election.”

Without getting into the legal aspects of which institution has what power, there is a fear that President Trump may consider and impose emergency while postponing elections. This is especially true in the case of long-term scenario kicking in, when things don’t look promising for Trump to win.

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