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COVID-19 Is Beating Trump

Summary:
US President Donald Trump's mishandling of the COVID-19 crisis has depleted his support among independents and moderates – the groups that will decide the November election. And with the virus raging out of control, he has no good options. MILAN/STANFORD – Given the stark differences between US President Donald Trump and Joe Biden, his presumptive Democratic challenger, the outcome of the November presidential election will have far-reaching implications not only for the United States, but also for the rest of the world. So should we brace for four more years of Trump, or is change coming? In today’s highly polarized environment, committed voters from either party are unlikely to switch sides. But there are too few

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US President Donald Trump's mishandling of the COVID-19 crisis has depleted his support among independents and moderates – the groups that will decide the November election. And with the virus raging out of control, he has no good options.

MILAN/STANFORD – Given the stark differences between US President Donald Trump and Joe Biden, his presumptive Democratic challenger, the outcome of the November presidential election will have far-reaching implications not only for the United States, but also for the rest of the world. So should we brace for four more years of Trump, or is change coming?

In today’s highly polarized environment, committed voters from either party are unlikely to switch sides. But there are too few such voters on either side to clinch the election. This means that moderates and especially self-identified independents will make all the difference. From this perspective, Trump appears to be in trouble.

This was not the case just five months ago, when the COVID-19 crisis first erupted in the US. At the time, Italy – with its overwhelmed hospitals, strict economic lockdown, and devastated economy – was dominating headlines. The US had no restrictions in place, and its health system was managing just fine.

This seems to have created the impression that the US was managing the crisis well. As Table 1 shows, Trump’s overall approval ratings rose in March, with a significant share of not only Republicans and moderates, but also Democrats and independents approving of his virus response.

COVID-19 Is Beating Trump

Since then, however, COVID-19 infections and deaths have skyrocketed in the US, and the Trump administration has done little to address the problem. On the contrary, some in the administration have attempted to undermine Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious disease expert, and Trump steadfastly refused to wear a face mask, even ridiculing Biden for doing so.

Meanwhile, unemployment has soared, and while some protections for workers and businesses were introduced, many expect a wave of evictions following the expiration of those measures. GDP contracted by 9.5% in the second quarter, or 32.9% year on year – the worst performance since 1947.

Not surprisingly, voter attitudes have shifted dramatically. As Table 2 shows, from the end of March to mid-July, approval of both Trump’s overall performance and his handling of the COVID-19 crisis declined among all groups. For moderates in both parties, the swing is medium to large. For independents – whose voting patterns are significant determinants of outcomes in swing states – the shift was very large.

COVID-19 Is Beating Trump

As disapproval of Trump and his COVID-19 response has grown, so has the number of Americans who plan to vote for Biden in November. As Table 3 shows, from late March to mid-July, the number of independents who intend to vote for Biden increased by a striking 23%. The number of self-identified Democrats who support Biden also increased modestly – by 4% – while the number of Republicans planning to vote for Trump declined by 3%.

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Michael Spence
Nobel Prize in economics, Economics professor at Stern School of Business NYU, author of The Next Convergence

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