In case you somehow haven’t heard, on Friday morning, President Trump tweeted that he and First Lady Melania Trump had tested positive for COVID. Like everything else at this point, Trump’s COVID diagnosis has been politicized, leaving one big question on everyone’s mind: how might this impact the election? Here are all the angles:
Campaigning and Fundraising: Advantage Biden
It’s no secret Trump heavily relies on rallies and in-person fundraisers to drum up support. The president’s rigorous campaign schedule – which included visits to Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Georgia, Florida and North Carolina in just the past week – is on indefinite hold.
The diagnosis may also hamstring Trump’s ability to raise cash for the final weeks of the campaign. Biden set another fundraising record in September, surpassing the unprecedented $365 million it raised in August. Trump fell $154 million short of Biden in August, and his campaign has pulled back on television advertising in swing states even as the Democrat fills the airwaves.
Meanwhile, it seems unlikely Biden will suspend activities while the president is off the trail, but his campaign may have to re-evaluate whether its recent activities should again be curtailed. Recently, Biden had stepped up his in-person campaigning, including a train tour of Ohio and western Pennsylvania on Wednesday.
Approval Rating: Advantage Trump
A handful of world leaders contracted COVID-19 this spring and summer, most prominently British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. And with the massive caveat that it was not election season in the United Kingdom, support for Johnson’s Conservative Party held steady at 51 percent for weeks following Johnson’s diagnosis.However, it may have caused a small uptick in his approval rating, which rose from 62% to 66% after he was hospitalized.
Closer to home, three governors have contracted COVID-19: Oklahoma’s Kevin Stitt in July, and Missouri’s Mike Parson and Virginia’s Ralph Northam just last week. And while Parson’s and Northam’s diagnoses are too recent for us to have any polling data, Stitt’s popularity appeared to ebb after his diagnosis — though, of course, that could be due to any number of factors.
Despite the turmoil this year, this presidential race has been remarkably stable. And Trump is extraordinarily immune to changes in the political-economic spectrum. On one hand, the public has consistently given the president low marks for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, so anything that puts the focus on the disease is potentially damaging for his re-election prospects.
On the other hand, historically during times of national turmoil, the American public tends to rally in support of the president. The Trump administration is notoriously good at dodging tough questions that will arise, and he and his wife will also be the recipients of national sympathy and prayers for the health ordeal that confronts them.
Trump’s diagnosis flies in the face of his previous messaging around the virus, often urging Americans to return to work and school and downplaying the risk. It will be interesting to see if his brush with COVID increases the seriousness with which he regards this disease or if the president may be further emboldened in his dismissal of it.
The Economy/Wall Street: Advantage Biden
I don’t think anyone fully understands the “animal spirits” that influence stock market moves, but if one thing is for sure, it’s that the market does not like uncertainty. The S&P 500 Index dropped more than 1% and the tech-heavy Nasdaq 100 fared even worse in early trading Friday morning. The political uncertainty could further disrupt whatever economic recovery was under way, as public confidence plummets and businesses again brace for a drop in revenue. With the economy being such an important boon to Trump’s campaign, a precarious economy may hurt his chances.
White House: Who Knows
What other political knock-on effects could come from this news could depend largely on how far the virus has spread in the upper echelons of US government and how the president responds to his treatment. There may be implications for the next COVID stimulus package and Supreme Court confirmation, but time will tell.
There is certainly a lot still up in the air. The president’s COVID diagnosis could change the election drastically or very little depending on the severity as well as how each candidate responds and adapts. For now, we’ll just keep refreshing the news every 10 seconds and hope for the best.