With November’s presidential election just over four months away, voters are wondering how the vast economic downfall and the ongoing rise of tragic pandemic casualties will affect the battle between Donald Trump and Joe Biden. As the first real crisis of his presidency so far, will it be enough for Trump to lose the very supporters who sent him to Washington?
The recent wave of protests following the killing of George Floyd and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic have caused massive uncertainty as to how the election might be held. Will it be safe enough for people to go out and vote by then? Primaries throughout the U.S. and easing of pandemic restrictions have shown the potential dangers of what can happen if the polls open too soon without adequate safety measures. Re-opening of states has already led to increased COVID-19 infections.
The potential danger has led to national conversations about vote-by-mail. Although Oregon’s say in the electoral process usually comes way too late to often matter, this year Oregon is exerting tremendous influence nationally as its voting by mail system is providing an example for what a general election, in which everyone votes from home, would look like. As people have been going out to vote since the ancient Greeks, would a sudden change like this be accepted?
The vote-by-mail (VBM) system here in Oregon is one of only a few in the entire country. In 1981, the state began to send ballots straight to registered voters, at first, just for local elections. Over time, the Oregon legislature expanded VBM to include special and statewide elections. VBM quickly became popular for its ease and convenience. In 1998, supporters of the system pushed to expand it to presidential primaries and general elections. Supporters got their wish as the measure was soon approved by voters in a two-to-one margin. Oregon then became the first state to hold every single one of its elections through the mail, following the presidential election in 2000.
Colorado, Utah, Washington and Hawaii have since been the only other states to pass widespread vote by mail. However, now that a contagious and deadly virus threatens public safety, many others are now looking to follow suit after watching the fall out from states such as Michigan and Wisconsin.
The Michigan Democratic Primary, one of the most consequential races this cycle, was, coincidentally, held on the same day officials confirmed the first coronavirus case in that state. According to The Detroit News, at least 365 Michigan residents were already experiencing symptoms prior to the March 10 election. Some epidemiologists believe the election played a direct role in spreading the virus there, as Biden and Sanders each held multiple packed events across the state in just a matter of days. Voters then had to wait together for hours at a time in lines and at polling stations. The CDC reports that Michigan now ranks second in the Midwest for the highest number of confirmed cases, and has the sixth-highest number of deaths in the country, behind Pennsylvania, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York.
Michigan’s primary was not the only one to precede a spike in confirmed COVID-19 diagnoses. In Wisconsin, Gov. Tony Evers attempted to change the April 7 election there so it could also be conducted entirely by mail. But, the state’s legislature and Supreme Court blocked his request, leaving the polling booths open. After the election, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services announced 52 people who were at the polls that day later tested positive for the virus, potentially spreading it even further. Following Florida’s vote on March 17, the Miami Herald reported two poll workers in Broward County were later confirmed to be symptomatic.
From lack of guidance on polling health measures to overall confusion, the federal government’s response to the global pandemic has largely been seen as a problem in and of itself. The public is showing a lack of faith in the way President Trump has been handling the crisis, which has been anything but helpful to his reelection chances. Once the president declared the National State of Emergency on March 13, he did start to see a rise in his approval ratings. In fact, he had never been more popular since the end of 2016 when nearly 45% of the country had a favorable opinion of him, based on polling averages conducted by the political news-site RealClearPolitics. Once the death toll started rising, though, things did turn. Voters seemed to have directly (or indirectly) started to base their opinion of him on how they have viewed his leadership during the outbreak. Polling aggregate Fivethirtyeight estimates that roughly 55% of voters both disapprove of him personally and of his response while 41% approve of the job he has done.
This response to the pandemic has largely led to a race that seems like Trump’s to lose. As the president is forced to take a larger role in American life throughout this crisis, his opponent has been sitting back and letting him do all the work. Joe Biden, whose appearance has been restricted to mostly long distance TV interviews and internet live streams, is currently beating the president in an average of both national polling and in polls of states that equal more than the 270 electoral votes needed to actually win the presidency. The former VP is ahead by more than 8% nationally, according to RCP. At this point in 2016, Clinton led Trump by an average of only 4%. Biden also leads in the states Clinton won, as well as in crucial swing states that gave Trump the White House. He is also breaking new ground in longtime Republican states.
The Washington Post calculates only a difference of 80,000 votes in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin would have given Clinton the election. Trump was able to pull off a remarkable victory, overcoming that deficit and going on to win each by less than a percent. If the election were held today, Biden would probably win all three. The latest average of polls compiled by RCP has him up in Pennsylvania by 3%, Wisconsin by 4% and Michigan by 7%. In Florida, a state which voted for Obama twice but went for Trump by just over 1%, Biden is currently up by 3% as well. He also seems to be on the verge of something no Democrat has done in 24 years: win the state of Arizona. President Bill Clinton was the last to carry the state, doing so by less than 3% of the vote.
Biden now leads Trump in the traditionally conservative Arizona by yet another 3%. Now, while all these numbers do paint a still very close but grim picture for the president’s odds at a second term, he did beat expectations last time around and outperformed his polling numbers. With more than 140 days still to go, Trump is likely grateful to have a lot of time to try and turn things around not only for himself, but for the good of the country as well during this extremely uncertain time in history.