Neither candidate inspires confidence
In six months, the United States will conduct its election for president. As they do every four years, the press proclaims this election is central for the future of the United States.
But this is an exaggeration. The election is limited in its importance. Whether Donald Trump is re-elected or not will not have much influence on the near future. The next three or four years will be dominated by recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.
The elected president will not have much influence on the economics of recovery. The Congress is likely to remain as at present -- the House controlled by Democrats and the Senate by Republicans. The bitterness of the election outcome will reduce cooperation. Hence one cannot expect any significant resolution of the main conflicts about the American future. The financial system will be central to the recovery and the Federal Reserve is the main player.
Chairman Powell is in a strong position, and will do what he can to bring about rapid expansion of the economy.
The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the raw failures of American society, but it is unlikely that there will be sufficient consensus to do anything about these shortcomings: Health care; income, education, and health care inequality; urban housing; the widespread rejection of science; and the structure of the financial system.
The election will be contested between Republican Donald Trump, 45th president of the United States, and Democrat Joseph Biden, formerly vice-president during President Obama’s administration. It will be an unusual election as the pandemic limits the size and frequency of public meetings.
But the impact of the pandemic on the election is complicated because the course of the pandemic is uncertain.
While it appears to be abating, there is widespread agreement that it will return in the fall; there is no agreement on how severe the anticipated second wave will be. It may be worse than the current wave, as it was in the Spanish flu in 1919; it may be more or less the same; or it may be weaker.
A strong resurgence before the election would almost certainly wreck the re-election chances for Trump; but a strong resurgence of the pandemic may also lead to an effort to delay the election, leading to a tremendous constitutional crisis. What do the opinion polls indicate? The following discussion is based on the compilation of polls and averaging of the polls by Real Clear Politics, a website.
The latest average of polls, the approval rating for President Trump shows 44.6% of the voters approve of him and 50.5% do not, a 5.9% difference. Trump has consistently had 40-44% of the voters approving of him as president.
His supporters tend to be male, white, not university graduates, older, and many hold evangelical religious beliefs. Those who do not approve of Trump tend to be female, non-white, university graduates, younger, and with more conventional religious beliefs.
In American politics, support focuses on individual candidates rather than political party or what the candidate stands for. There is an emotional connection between candidate and voter that is shaped by party and policy but is more dependent on a complex interaction between personalities. Trump’s support survives the most outrageous behavior on his part. His record of mistreatment and abuse of women has little impact on his supporters who otherwise would find such behaviour immoral. This almost religious fervour that surrounds the relationship between Trump and his supporters is remarkable and to those who find his behaviour repellant, incomprehensible.
Biden generates no such fervent support. He is there, widely believed to be a decent man but one will not find his rallies exploding with almost uncontainable support as one observes in Trump’s political rallies. The reaction of the voters to these two candidates is quite different.
In one way, the election in November is remarkable: It is between two men in their mid or late 70s, both with health problems. It is unlikely that either has the capacity for serious work required of the president of the United States. Trump has clearly demonstrated he is lazy, intellectually limited, and has no intention of doing the job properly.
Biden appears to lack concentration, has excessive memory lapses, and fails to project an analytical view of complex problems. Neither candidate inspires confidence. Either could be infected by Covid-19, have a heart attack, and both show signs of occasional dementia.
The American political system has failed to provide the voters with candidates able to deal with a terrible crisis and to heal the fractured society exposed by the pandemic. The flawed selection process does not inspire much confidence in the next few years.
As of the beginning of May, a direct contest between Biden and Trump shows Biden at 46.8% and Trump at 42.4%.
The difference of 4.4% is statistically significant. If the election were a direct popular vote then Biden would win, just as Clinton won the popular vote in 2016. However, the election for the American president is not a contest of the popular vote but is more like the choice of a prime minister.
In the typical Westminster parliamentary election, the country is divided into constituencies and a separate election is held in each constituency. Whoever wins the most constituencies wins the election.
In the American system, the country is divided into a number of states and an election is held in each state. States have different numbers of votes but after the states vote, whoever has the most votes becomes president. In the parliamentary system, each constituency has one vote in selecting the PM; but in the US system, the number of votes held by a state depends on the population.
Most states are expected to vote the same way as in the 2016 election. The outcome of the 2020 election depends on a handful of states. The position in four of these key, battleground states as reported by Real Clear Politics is as follows: (these are averages of available polls)
Of these four states Biden leads in three. The difference is significant in Pennsylvania and Florida. It appears Biden is ahead or even in these four critical states. But there is a long time to go and there will be many words thrown around before this election is decided.
At this time, early May 2020, Biden is the likely winner in the election.
Forrest Cookson is an economist who has served as the first president of AmCham, and has been a consultant for Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics.