To win the presidency of the United States, 270 electoral votes are required. According to The Economist’s “2020 US Election Outlook” report, the winner today would be Joe Biden by garnering 350 votes compared to 188 by current President Donald Trump.
A full 11-page report from The Economist’s Intelligence Unit looks at the prospect of the elections to be held in November and warns that “it has changed dramatically in recent months.”
It states that in early 2020, Trump seemed ready to win a second presidential term. At the time, the economy was on its longest streak of growth, with an unemployment rate at a record low, and the Democratic party was in disarray, with large numbers of candidates threatening to split the Democratic vote.”
However, the study notes, everything has changed. The research explains that the coronavirus pandemic has led to the most severe economic downturn since the 1930s, eliminating years of job growth.
“The United States is also experiencing its worst wave of civil unrest in half a century, as public frustration at racial inequality and police brutality has sparked protests across the country,” it says.
Donald Trump’s response to both crises “has further exposed his divisive style, which is unpopular with independent voters,” who “will be critical in deciding the outcome of the election.” Meanwhile, Democratic voters have rallied behind their nominee, Joe Biden.
The presidential race will be closely contested, but The Economist’s Intelligence Unit (EIU) argues that the odds shifted strongly in Biden’s favor.
Trump lost the popular vote
The collapse of the popular vote for the current president is around 2%, but his margins in four states are changing: Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida and Wisconsin have earned him the majority in the Electoral College in the past.
While Trump still enjoys a solid base estimated at around 40-44% of the population, he will still need to attract voters to defeat Biden.
Both candidates have a solid base, so the outcome of the 2020 elections will be decided by two main factors:
1) The behavior of independent voters, particularly those located in distressed suburban and industrial areas, many of whom supported Trump in 2016.
2) The electoral participation in general.
In this context, the report highlights the fact that “Trump’s campaign has lost most of its previous advantages in recent months.” As a result, The Economist notes, “We do not expect that it can generate enough support from the ‘undecided voters’ to follow the same narrow path to victory in 2020.”
Key change: the US economy
The most important change for Trump’s campaign is the state of the economy. The hope that it will recover strongly during the third quarter of 2020 as the coronavirus measures are lifted “seem exaggerated.”
The research finds it unlikely “that consumer spending will recover to pre-coronavirus levels until a vaccine is widely available,” which will not happen until the end of 2021, at best.
Furthermore, weak demand “will continue to affect businesses and will likely keep unemployment at around 10% at the time of elections (compared to 3.5% in February).”
Coronavirus crisis management
As president, Trump is central in the effort to combat the coronavirus pandemic. This offers him a level of media attention that any candidate would envy.
In contrast, Biden has been forced to campaign from home, unable to generate the same level of momentum (or donations) that he would normally get from campaign rallies.
However, “for Trump, developing national crises have undermined the traditional benefits of incumbency.” His decision-making power carries responsibility, and “his intense exposure to the media carries risks.”
“Most Americans disapprove of the way the Trump administration has handled the COVID-19 crisis,” according to results published by the FiveThirtyEight website.
These perceptions clearly fall along party lines, with a majority of Republicans approving of Trump’s handling of the crisis. But the president does not need to convince staunch Republicans; “You need to convince undecided voters.”
Furthermore, “less than 40% of independent voters approve of their response,” adds The Economist.
Tensions between the United States and China
A possible further deterioration in relations between the United States and China could also influence the elections, particularly if the trade agreement between the two countries collapses, hurting American farmers, whose votes are critical to Trump.
The election of the vice president by Biden also affects, given his age (77).
He said he will choose a running mate, which could help calm concerns among voters about allegations of sexual misconduct (which have not been confirmed and which Biden denies).
If Biden elects a progressive Democrat, it may be easier for him to win over former Sanders supporters, by strengthening their support base.
Incidence of protests in the country
On the other hand, the “aggressive Trump response to protests” across the country following the murder of unarmed George Floyd on May 25 by a police officer will also affect his prospects for reelection.
Trump applies hard control measures, pointing to protesters as “extreme left radicals” and “encouraging the intensive use of force to disperse demonstrations.” This focus on law enforcement will resonate with its main supporters.
However, his disdain for the protests will mobilize black voters and could antagonize suburban voters. In this regard, The Economist estimates that “most likely it will strengthen Biden’s electoral participation based on these two key demographic characteristics.”
The study notes that since the Black Lives Matter protests began in late May, “Trump’s net approval ratings have fallen from -10.8% to -14.3%, a 18-month low and an unenviable starting point for any candidate for reelection ”.