Namık Tan

(R) Ambassador

U.S. President Trump is seen here in a meeting with his staff. (Photo: White House)

Before the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, the outcome of the 2020 Presidential Elections in the United States was more or less certain. Donald Trump appeared to have guaranteed a second term as President of the United States.
Antagonism that Trump seemed to trigger across large sections of American society didn’t seem to affect the support he enjoyed amongst his base. An important determinant was that economic indicators were historically high and the living standard of the electorate had increased substantially. Furthermore, his opponent former Vice President Joe Biden didn’t look like a strong candidate. He represented the establishment and he appeared too old to be able to rally the base of the Democratic Party.
However, the pandemic has shifted the balance dramatically. Trump’s most important leverage, the economy, is hit very hard by the pandemic. And the widely held belief that Trump botched the management of the Corona crisis, has also been a major blow. It now looks like the virus has evened out the chances of both Presidential candidates. Whichever candidate plays his cards better until election day, will become the next President of the United States.
Trump is holding a strong set of cards in his hands. First of all, the Republican electorate seems to have unified behind him despite heavy criticism about his style of politics and the perceived incompetence in managing the virus.

The Democratic build-up

Biden, on the other hand, is perceived old and doesn’t seem able to rally massive popular support. Even the support of the Democratic Party is weak as many Dems do not consider him to be the right candicate. In order to mobilize the support of the more progressive wing of his own party, the Bernie Sanders supporters, Biden named New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as his campaign director for environmental issues.
Biden still holds a very important card. He could change the dynamic of the election by announcing a running mate that would create new energy in the Democratic base. He has already committed to chosing a woman as the next Democratic candidate for Vice President of the United States. Considering Biden’s age and the fact that he is unlikely to run for another term, the right candidate could give a serious boost to his campaign.
Many within his party would like him to nominate an African American. Senators Kamala Harris and Amy Klobuchar are likely candiates. Harris is from Californian with an Indian American mother whereas Klobuchar is more experienced politician with strong support among Caucasian American communities. The Governor of Michigan, Mrs. Gretchen Whitman, is also among the candidates being considered.

Swing states

These various dynamics will decide the result in swing States like Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida, Texas, New Jersey, Virginia and North Carolina.
Polling results show that Biden would win the popular vote (as Hillary did as well) but he is trailing behind Trump in important swing states. As these States will ultimately decide who wins the election, Biden’s choice for VP will be pivotal.
Since the last elections voter demographics have also changed dramatically. More than 14 million voters are no longer eligible. Unfortunately for Mr. Biden, a majority of these disappearing voters are minorities in swing states that would have been more likely to vote for him. If Biden fails to mobilize new supporters in these swing states, he is unlikely to win the elections.
The Trump campaign continues to act very confident but they know that the economy, in large part, will decide the election and the current recession is causing them serious headaches.

The Trump factor

While unemployment has reached a record high and the stock market a record low, Covid-19 fatality rates are sprinting to reach 200,000 casualties. This should explain why Trump insists that a vaccine will be ready at the latest by the end of this year. He is likely to keep pushing that unsubstantiated statement throughout his campaign. But if fatality numbers increase aggressively, insisting that a vaccine is imminent will not help him.
The fact that the Supreme Court has decided to hear arguments on whether President Trump will be allowed to keep his financial records secret could also change the dynamic. A lot will depend on what the decision will be and when it is going to be announced. If they reach a verdict before the Election Day, and Trump is compelled to make his tax records public, then this could create serious problems for the Republicans.
Considering all of the above, it is difficult to make sound predictions but a lot will depend on the economy. Similarly the choice for Biden’s running mate could also be a major determinant.
What we can predict with great confidence is, however, that an invisible virus is the most important factor in deciding who will be the next leader of the U.S.