US Election: Does Coronavirus help or hinder Donald Trump?

US President Donald Trump
As usual, Trump's response to the crisis is like no other leader

Donald Trump remains relatively weak on Betfair markets as the Coronavirus pandemic continues. Paul Krishnamurty analyses how it might affect the election...

"Comparisons between Trump, his administration and others across the world are to a large extent meaningless. The Donald is like no other person ever to enter politics."

As the world begins to come to terms with the shock of Coronavirus, every assumption, every preconception, has to go. That is already evidently the case with regards economics, work and productivity. So it must too with politics.

It means that even I - the archest of Trump critics, somebody whom his supporters call a hater, incapable of objectivity - must reassess my election forecast. To be clear, not change it, but acknowledge that the facts have changed.

My average lay position is 2.39 - when his odds fell to 1.654/6 a few weeks back compared to today (March 24), I laughed at how wrong they were. Despite them since drifting back to 2.26/5, I'm more open to the idea of him winning again than ever before.

Crises can work in a government's favour

Why? The context and narrative of this election has been completely transformed. Perhaps too the psychology of the electorate. Disasters have the potential to unite even the most divided of nations. Crises can make a leader. It can become impossible for the opposition to cut through and when they do, will be accused of 'playing politics'. A public desperate for answers, solutions, stability, can rally around the government.

That appears to be the case elsewhere. There are plenty of valid criticisms to be made of the UK government's handling of the crisis - and they are being made in the mainstream media. Yet the Conservatives have rarely if ever polled so well - ranging between 49 and 52% in the last three surveys. In the worst-hit country, Italian PM Guiseppe Conte's ratings have soared.

Other Trump scandals fading from prominence

In the particular case of Trump, this may prove a welcome diversion from a litany of scandals. Impeachment feels like a lifetime ago. Ditto the Mueller Report, Russia scandal, imprisonment of his manager Paul Manafort and long-term ally Roger Stone. The Supreme Court has postponed deciding on Trump's extraordinary legal battle with his own bankers and lawyers - a scandal waiting to break that could finally expose everything.

Already there is some evidence of improvement in the polls. His latest approval rating with Monmouth was 48%, tied with disapproval, compared to -7% a month ago. Admittedly this could be an outlier - Reuters, Yougov and Politico all recorded double-digits negative approval only two or three days earlier.

It remains to be seen whether the crisis shifts what appear to be entrenched long-term trends between Trump and likely opponent Joe Biden. The former VP has led in almost every survey between them over the past five years, often by double-digits.

Likewise the Democrats remain an average 8% ahead in the Generic Congressional Ballot. Compared to the House of Representatives vote they lost in 2016, that points to disaster for Republicans.

We are, of course, far too early in the crisis to predict how it will pan out, let alone how voters will respond. With no expertise in the subject, I'm loathe to get involved in making such predictions.

Worst of the crisis is yet to come

It is worth noting, nevertheless, that the US caseload is rising faster than anywhere else in the world and the Federal government's response seems slower and more confused than other governments. States are ill-prepared and the lack of public healthcare may well mean catastrophic effects in the USA.

Those grim projections, the stock market crash and inevitable recession, are indeed logical reasons why Trump has drifted so badly on Betfair markets in recent weeks.

I would also add that comparisons between Trump, his administration and others across the world are to a large extent meaningless. The Donald is like no other person ever to enter politics. He is incapable of responding in the way that Boris Johnson or Giuseppe Conte have.

What other leader in world history, for example, would respond to a question like this?

What other leader in world history would make a sarcastic joke about one of his colleagues being isolated due to the virus?

None of those other leaders are on record calling the virus a hoax, despite having received intelligence. None revelled in holding mass rallies when every expert on the planet was recommending social distancing.

The election campaign will be full of videos exposing
Trump and his Fox News cheerleaders have performed a remarkable 180
on the subject. Ads like this will be everywhere. Backed by the Bloomberg billions, the Biden campaign will launch a devastating blitz.

Logic would suggest this will be a nightmare campaign for Trump. Perhaps even as bad as the one I'd envisaged, where he'd be on trial, exposed for corruption, ties to Vladimir Putin and Russian organised crime. Then again, we've been here before. Teflon Trump has a tendency to defy the rules.

Follow Paul on Twitter and check out his website, Political Gambler.

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