Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

Coronavirus Pandemic Changes the Prospect for the US Presidential Election
Toshihiro NAKAYAMA / Professor, Keio University

May 12, 2020
The US presidential election is developing in a way which could not be expected a short while ago. A number of significant surprises have surged and significantly changed the picture of the election itself. Among those surprises, perhaps the most significant is the novel coronavirus. Another presumably is former vice-president Biden’s “comeback” which has exceeded all expectations.

The Democratic Party’s greatest interest is in choosing a candidate who can prevent Trump from returning to power. For the Democrats, Senator Warren appeared last summer to have a clear statement in policy as the ultimate antithesis of Trump on issues such as health insurance, education and economic disparity. However, fickle voters could not be unified behind Warren and they started straying off course. During that time, nationwide public opinion surveys showed that Biden maintained the leading position almost consistently. However, his was by no means a “strong lead” but an “infinitely weak lead”.

The Democratic Party went astray because the structure of this election was an aberration from previous elections. The candidates were vying to position themselves for the overriding goal of preventing Trump’s re-election. They were propelled by a passion akin to a social movement. However, the Democrats consistently dithered over who would be the best candidate to prevent Trump from returning to power. They came together only when the primary kicked off in early February and the fear mounted within the party that, if nothing was done, the party would be snatched by Senator Sanders, who advocates “democratic socialism.” Once this sense of crisis permeated the party, Biden made a comeback at an unprecedented speed. The South Carolina primary held on 29 February determined the next course of events. Following this primary, moderate candidates Buttigieg and Klobuchar dropped out and announced their endorsement for Biden in the space of 3 days before Super Tuesday on 3 March. This narrowed down the moderate candidates to almost one. And Bloomberg, who joined the Democratic race late, followed suit. All these developed in quick succession.

Once a front-runner, Sanders must have thought of demolishing Biden’s advantages with the fervor of his social movement. The biggest strength of Sanders is his method to spur his campaign by fanning the fire of social change through his rallies. However, due to the breakout of the coronavirus, the campaign itself was depopulated, depriving Sanders of his greatest advantage.

Further, from the beginning of March, the sense of crisis about the coronavirus mounted rapidly. Amidst all this, Sanders’ message of appealing for “revolution” rang hollow, and the situation started working in favor of the bland-yet-stable Biden.

When President Trump delivered his State of the Union Address and his impeachment trial ended in early February, there was a general sense of the inevitability of his re-election. After that, however, as the sense of crisis from the coronavirus pandemic heightened, his initial downplaying of the pandemic and his repeated misstatements have given rise to a clearly different situation where he might not be able, as he had done in the past, to get away with it all.

Here again, as was the case with the dynamics within the Democratic Party, there are increasing chances that being a maverick does not work in Trump’s favor. In fact, there is emerging a pattern which may be more advantageous to the “stable Biden”. That said, being a “wartime president” could benefit the incumbent.

It is said that, in the 2000s, the response to hurricane Katrina in 2005 caused George W. Bush’s presidency to go into a stall. The coronavirus crisis for the Trump administration is probably a bigger challenge than Katrina was for Bush. History may well assess the Trump administration for its response to the coronavirus
The pandemic will have a serious impact on the economy, which has been touted as Trump’s greatest strength. It is also worrying that both Biden and Trump are rather old and belong to the “risk group”. Can the 2020 general election be held under normal conditions? Will the pandemic be over by then? What will happen to the national conventions of both parties in the summer? Much remains too uncertain to predict.

Toshihiro Nakayama is a professor at Keio University. This is a summary of the article published in the Nikkei Newspaper dated 30 March 2020.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

コロナ感染拡大で様相一変 米大統領選の行方
中山 俊宏 / 慶応義塾大学教授

2020年 5月 12日









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English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > Coronavirus Pandemic Changes the Prospect for the US Presidential Election