COVID-19, Unemployment: Factors Riding Against Trump’s Re-Election

Donald Trump came to power four years ago on a promise of success – ‘Make America Great Again’. But did he succeed?

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US President Donald Trump came to power four years ago on a promise of success - ‘Make America Great Again’.
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US President Donald Trump came to power four years ago on a promise of success - ‘Make America Great Again’. So his road to re-election would naturally hinge on that same path. But he seems to have had run out of luck.

Two days before Wednesday’s US election, the FiveThirtyEight national aggregate gives Biden an 8.6 percent lead over Trump (52.0 percent to 43.4 percent). In the key states, Biden leads by 8.3 percent in Wisconsin, 8.2 percent in Michigan, 4.8 percent in Pennsylvania, 3.1 percent in Arizona and 2.2 percent in Florida, reports The Conversation.

From someone who pulled off a stunning upset in the 2016 contest against Hillary Clinton to trailing Biden in the national polls, it appears that Trump could have had a better re-election campaign. So what are the factors that are riding against Trump?

1. Weak Response to COVID-19

Trump, who recently contracted and then recovered from COVID himself, has been roundly criticised for his handling of the pandemic, not just by his opponents but also voters, a majority of whom say that he handled the crisis poorly, according to AFP.

More than 2,22,000 people have died from coronavirus in the US, higher than any other country, and more than 8.4 million have been infected since the pandemic began, reported CNN.

Biden has cited Trump’s mishandling of the coronavirus as the primary reason for him not being worthy of being elected for a second term.

“You hear nothing else I say tonight, hear this: Anyone who’s responsible for not taking control, in fact… saying I take no responsibility initially, anyone who’s responsible for that many deaths should not remain as president of the United States of America,” Biden said in the last presidential debate.

American journalist Bob Woodward in his book titled Rage writes that Trump allegedly played down the severity of COVID-19 all through January and February by telling his people that the virus is "going to disappear", despite being fully aware and that it was "more deadly than even your strenuous flus”.

There are even several instances to show that instead of taking the pandemic seriously, Trump has downplayed the virus, insisted that it will go away on its own, and mocked those attempting to shield themselves from it, while dismissing a need to wear masks.

2. Dismal Jobs Record

According to a Bloomberg report, Trump had boasted in 2016 that he would be the “greatest jobs president that God ever created.” But in November 2020, he enters the election bearing the mantle of the first US leader since World War II to have a net loss of jobs during a four-year term. In fact, the unemployment numbers from his term are close to those around the post 2008 recession numbers.

According to the latest US jobs report released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics on 2 October, the last one prior to the 3 November election, employers added 661,000 jobs in September, pushing the unemployment rate down to 7.9 percent from 8.4 percent in August.

It may be noted that the unemployment rate when Trump took office in January 2017 was 4.8 percent.

The data also shows a disproportionate impact of the unemployment crisis on people of colour. The unemployment rate in September for white workers was 7 percent, while it was 12.1 percent for Black workers, 10.3 percent for Hispanic workers and 8.9 percent for Asian workers.

While Trump can point to the 11.4 million jobs that have been recaptured since the shutdown of March and April, it remains a fact that jobs recovery in the US actually slowed in September (661,000), down from the 1.4 million in August, falling short of that of July (1.8 million) and far lesser than June, when 4.8 million jobs were added.

In April, the unemployment rate had peaked at 14.7 percent, showing an increase of 10.3 percentage points, owing to the COVID-19 pandemic and stay at home orders. According to the Labour Department, this is the highest rate and the largest over-the-month increase in the history of the series.

This means that this is the worst figure on record since monthly jobless statistics began to be recorded in 1948, eclipsing the previous record rate of 10.8 percent.

Moreover, according to a Bloomberg report, Trump’s job gains were nearly similar to those during former President Barack Obama’s second term. And even before COVID-19, Trump was failing to make good on his 2016 campaign pledge to create 25 million jobs over the next decade.

3. Black Americans

The Guardian reports that Black Americans could decide the 2020 presidential election, particularly in battleground states like Wisconsin and Florida. But they are going into the election on the back of dismal statistics under Trump’s presidency – one in 1,000 have fallen victim to COVID-19 and African Americans are twice as likely to have lost a job.

Associated Press reported in June that Trump has been exaggerating economic gains for African Americans during his administration by claiming all the credit for achieving the best economic figures for the community. But the drop had begun from Obama’s time, falling from 16.8 percent in March 2010 to 7.8 percent in January 2017. The report also said that household median income also was higher for the community before Trump took office.

Moreover, the pandemic has actually made things worse, with black unemployment reaching 16.8 percent in May, compared with 13.3 percent for the overall population.

According to a report by The New York Times, in a key battleground state like Florida, many Black people have expressed a dislike for Trump, “borne of the conviction that he’s a bigot and because of his cavalier handling of the coronavirus crisis, which has disproportionately impacted African-Americans.”

On the back of a summer littered with protests for racial justice, a large number of Black Americans have been encouraged to vote, reports Financial Times. The memory of the killings of George Floyd and Jacob Blake Jr are still fresh in their minds.

“When Donald Trump gave police the green light to do whatever they need to handle their obligations, that really inspired me to register to vote,” an 18-year-old Black voter in Wisconsin who “did not appreciate the president’s impulse to protect officers who fight back against protesters” told Financial Times.

After the protests over Floyd’s death began, Democratic voter registration spiked nationwide, Democratic data firm TargetSmart says. Further, lower turnout among black voters in 2016 contributed to Trump’s victory, the report says.

4. Indian-Americans

On 15 September, Indiaspora and AAPI Data released a joint report on Indian-American voters’ attitudes ahead of the polls, documenting the strengthening political power of the Indian American electorate in the US.

Trump and Biden have both been wooing the 1.3 million strong Indian-American electorate in the run-up to the US presidential election. Although only about 2 percent of the entire population of the United States, the Indian-American voter base is an electorate coming of age in American politics.

The study found that 66 percent of Indian-Americans favour Biden as their future president, while 28 percent favour President Trump, and 6 percent are undecided.

In 2016, less than 20 percent of Indian-Americans voted for Trump. But this statistic is predicted to rise in 2020, after Modi nudged the community in support of Trump, proclaiming ‘Abki baar, Trump sarkar’ at the Texas rally.

However, the Christian Right and White Nationalism are rising under the Trump government. This begs the question – Are Trump’s Hindu supporters ready for a more Christianised America under his likely second term in office?

Further, Trump’s visa policies haven’t been pleasing for the Indian migrant population. The H1B ban, the green card suspension, and the proposal to send foreign students back have all disproportionately affected Indian workers and students in the United States.

Milan Vaishnav, a senior fellow and director of the South Asia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told The Quint that Indian-Americans have historically tilted toward the Democratic Party, at least as far back as the mid-2000s.

“According to our survey, Indian-Americans by and large view the Republican party as fundamentally unwelcoming on account of its perceived hostility toward minorities. Most ethnic minorities in the United States, though not all, tend to affiliate with the Democratic Party for this reason.”
Milan Vaishnav

Could Trump still pull off a stunning upset like last time? Analyst Nate Silver says that while Trump can plausibly win, he would need the polls to be wrong by far more than in 2016.

Further, Biden’s lead in Pennsylvania is almost four points below his national lead, and that gives Trump hope of pulling off an Electoral College/Popular Vote split.

What factors will work, what won’t? We’ll find out in the next few days.

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