COMMENT: COVID-19 ended Trump’s presidency after one term – and here’s why – National


Has the COVID-19 pandemic condemned the re-election of Donald Trump?
Our study examining the effect of COVID-19 cases on county-level voting in the United States shows that the pandemic led to Trump’s defeat on November 3.

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Our analysis suggests that, other things being equal, Trump would likely have been re-elected had COVID-19 cases been 5-10% lower. In particular, Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin – which President-elect Joe Biden won by a slim margin – would have remained red if the cases had been 5% lower.

Trump would also have added Michigan to this list if the cases had been 10% lower.

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This finding is at odds with some initial news scans which indicated that regions with the worst COVID-19 outbreaks voted for Trump.

In fact, national polls and academic studies suggest that Trump voters are much less likely to wear masks and adhere to social distancing, which in turn increases the likelihood of outbreaks. So Trump voters in pro-Trump jurisdictions, due to their aversion to wearing masks, had more dramatic COVID-19 outbreaks ahead of the election.

Most of the maskless Trump supporters gather for a rally in Miami on November 1, 2020. (Photo AP / Rebecca Blackwell)

The COVID-19 effect

We estimated the effect of COVID-19 cases and deaths on the evolution of Trump’s vote share at the county level between 2016 and 2020.

To account for potential alternative explanations, we included a large number of pandemic-related checks, including social distancing measures, which captured the differences in virus containment measures that could have affected cases and had an impact. impact on Trump support.

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In an attempt to measure the cause and effect relationship between COVID-19 cases and votes for Trump, we used the share of workers employed in meat processing plants associated with COVID-19 outbreaks as a source of variation. external cases of COVID-19. This has mitigated the risk of a spurious correlation between the impact of the pandemic and Trump’s support.

We found that voters living in counties with a high number of COVID-19 cases were less likely to vote for Trump. This effect appears strongest in urban areas and in swing states. The good results in the cities are likely due to the suburbs, where Trump performed much better in 2016 than in 2020.

These results suggest that some Trump voters may have switched to Biden due to the pandemic. Additionally, we found no evidence that counties where unemployment rose sharply from the pre-pandemic period were more likely to move from Trump to Biden. This last result seems to indicate that health problems prevailed – pardon the pun – economic conditions.

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Retrospective vote

Now that we have an answer to our initial question, how do we explain these results? There are two possible explanations for why the pandemic ruled the 2020 presidential election.

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On the one hand, voters may have sanctioned Trump for the way he handled the pandemic. Prior to the pandemic, the U.S. economy was performing well and Trump, while extremely polarizing, enjoyed strong support from Republican voters.

The virus changed the narrative, and Trump’s response was widely criticized. He consistently downplayed the risks of the disease, refused to adopt basic health precautions such as masks, and repeatedly criticized epidemiologists and scientists, including those who counseled him.

Protesters wearing personal protective equipment hold signs that read Disinfect the White House and Vote 'em, with the White House in the background, in October 2020.
Protesters stand outside the White House to demonstrate against Trump’s lax handling of COVID-19. (Photo AP / Evan Vucci)

Its response, unlike leaders of other developed democracies, has been deeply unsuccessful, as the recent dramatic surge in cases has once again demonstrated.

This explanation conforms to a well-established theory in political science: retrospective voting. In short, this is when citizens assess and vote based on their perceptions of the performance of the incumbent. If the incumbents are perceived as incompetent, the citizens vote them for their resignation.

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Although intuitive, this theory has not always been empirically true. However, this appears to have some value in explaining the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.

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Economic fears, need for a social safety net

On the other hand, some voters may have switched from Trump to Biden due to the pandemic-fueled recession. A serious threat to public health and major economic losses may have shifted preferences in favor of a widening of the social safety net, including health care and unemployment insurance programs.

Volunteers load boxes of food into a queue of waiting cars.
Volunteers load boxes of food into cars during a food distribution at the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank in Duquesne, Pa. On November 23, 2020. (Photo AP / Gene J. Puskar)

Since the Democratic Party and its presidential candidate are more likely to defend these policies, Biden has reaped the electoral benefits of this shift in voter preferences.

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This explanation is consistent with studies which suggest that political preferences are shaped by personal experience. The same studies show that this change in political preferences is often lasting.

For example, there is evidence that people who grow up in a recession are more likely to favor government intervention and large welfare programs.

This second explanation would be good news for the Democratic Party, even in the next election, when hopefully the pandemic will not dictate the campaign narrative but may still be fresh in voters’ memories.The conversation

Abel Brodeur, Associate Professor, Health Economics, The University of Ottawa / University of Ottawa; Leonardo Baccini, Associate Professor, Political Science, McGill University, and Stephen Weymouth, Associate Professor, International Business, Georgetown University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


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