Election Amid a Pandemic

By Milo Mandelli-Valla ’24

President Trump and Former Vice President Biden (Photo Credit: CNN)

2020 is a presidential election year in America. Unlike most elections, this one is unfolding as a pandemic envelopes the world, altering everyone’s lives. Many argue the most notable change has been economic turmoil. President Donald Trump has touted the economy as one of his greatest accomplishments. However, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average having dropped quickly down to 18,000 points on March 23 from around 29,000 points a few weeks prior, President Trump’s economy has weakened. The Dow has climbed to 25,000 points since then in anticipation of a strong reopening, but any bleak outlooks from the media could deter this swift rebound. Unemployment has also increased exponentially due to the pandemic, but as the economies of states reopen, people are starting to return to work. However, Americans returning to work does not change the fact that unemployment is still north of 13%, while it was at 3% prior to the pandemic.


Many expect all of the chaos and uncertainty surrounding the pandemic to play a role in the upcoming election—particularly in voter turnout. Despite unrest due to the pandemic, President Trump’s most recent approval rating among Republicans sits above 90%, per a poll conducted by Gallup. This rating is high for a president in any scenario, let alone in the midst of COVID-19. His national approval rating among all Americans sits at almost 40%, as Democrats approve of him at rates as low as 4%, also from the polls conducted by Gallup. This data alone shows how politically divided the nation is.


When President Trump held a rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the turnout was relatively low despite one million ticket purchases. The number of tickets bought actually turned out to be a prank, as people used social media apps like TikTok to spread the word to reserve seats with the intention of selling out the event without actually attending, leaving President Trump with an emptier crowd. Uncharacteristically, the Trump supporter crowd in Tulsa was not very excited or passionate. Many speculate that President Trump needs to increase the Republican turnout at events to have a stronger chance in November.


There is also significant uncertainty surrounding Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign. The ambiguity is largely speculation over who his Vice Presidential pick will be. During his last debate with Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT), Vice President Biden promised to select a woman as his running mate. Former front runner Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) ruled herself out of the running after the murder of George Floyd. Sen. Klobuchar said, "I think this is a moment to put a woman of color on that ticket," boosting the chances for a woman of color to be selected. Vice President Biden could pick someone who considers themselves as more progressive, like Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). This would attract the more liberal group of Democrats to the Biden campaign, which would be wise as many argue that not choosing a progressive enough running mate was Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s downfall in 2016. Vice President Biden could also choose a Black vice president like Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) or Former Representative Stacey Abrams (D-GA), who lost a close senate race in Georgia. Most think choosing a Black running mate would bolster Vice President Biden’s chance of earning the Black vote, despite a recent Biden gaffe that offended many Black Americans on “The Breakfast Club Radio.” Vice President Biden said, “Well, I tell you what, if you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t black,” showing his taking the Black vote for granted.


At 78 years old, Vice President Biden would be the oldest president ever elected, which increases the chances that the vice president would have to take over the presidency at some point in Vice President Biden’s term.


Vice President Biden has caused a noticeable divide in the Democratic party, so the vice president will need to be able to win over undecided voters. According to The Hill, while the majority of Democrats are satisfied with Vice President Biden as the party’s nominee, 15% are unsatisfied with the pick, and 12% are upset with the pick. The people that were the least satisfied were those who are under 45.


Although picking a more liberal running mate may attract voters further to the left on the political spectrum, it could also potentially drive away many moderates and independents who would have otherwise voted for him. Either way, Vice President Biden will likely lose a group of supporters in the process of gaining another.


President Trump will likely be judged on his handling of COVID-19. Vice President Joe Biden will likely be judged on his ability to serve despite his age. But how will Americans find material to judge them on? It could possibly come down to the debates, which are another matter of uncertainty. How many debates will there be? What format will debates take? For now, three debates throughout September and October are scheduled in the typical format, but that is subject to change.


Ultimately, though, it is too early to project election outcomes. Election day is months away—there is time for things to sway in either direction.


Update: On August 11, Vice President Biden chose Black- and Indian-American Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) as his running mate.

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