Will Trump be the first political 'casualty' of a post-pandemic world? What it really means

COVID-19 could cause a possible realignment in global politics

Virus Outbreak Trump US President Donald Trump

If presidential elections were to be held today in the United States, incumbent Donald Trump would likely emerge a loser, multiple polls have indicated. With the country's general elections set to occur just five months from now (in November), questions are rife about his re-election prospects. Multiple national polls that emerged this month have put Trump at a staggering disadvantage when it comes to his Democratic rival Joe Biden. 

Polling organisation Gallup recorded Trump's support as declining over 10 points to 39 per cent; Biden leads him in most of the key battleground states. A CNN poll showed Trump lagging behind Biden by 14 points nationally. A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll reported that 80 per cent of Americans feel the country is spiralling "out of control". Now, Trump's former defense secretary—with the backing of Trump's former chief of staff—warned that Trump was violating the Constitution and needlessly dividing Americans.

And, the coronavirus pandemic was a big factor in Trump's fall in popularity. COVID-19's mounting human and economic tolls—and the president's defiant response—are believed to have cost him support among white, rural constituencies key to victory. His signature rallies had been frozen for months, and his cash advantage over Biden, while vast, wasn't growing as quickly as hoped because the pandemic put a halt to high-dollar fundraisers. Internal campaign surveys and public polling showed a steady erosion in support for Trump among seniors and in battleground states once believed to be leaning decisively in the president's direction, multiple news reports claimed. 

Biden, in particular, is focused on maximising black turnout and expanding his alliance with white suburbanites and city dwellers, young voters, Asian Americans and Latinos. Trump hopes to demonstrate strength among his base of white voters in small towns while holding his own in metro areas.

After the virus came the renewed national conversation on racial injustice after the death of George Floyd. The high-handedness with which the president dealt with the protesters, and his perceived lack of reaction to the custodial killing of the African American man, could swing one crucial constituency against him: Democratic Party base black and younger voters whose lagging enthusiasm for Hillary Clinton in 2016 cleared the way for Trump's narrow victory. This will be a big factor to look forward to. Politically, the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, who have grown in size and activity over the years, have only reluctantly rallied behind Biden's candidacy after their preferred choices in Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren were defeated in the Democratic primary. Trump will serve as a target—a great unifier of sorts for Democrats this fall—but it remains to be seen whether Biden can energise the significant portion of the Democratic base that remains outright hostile to his moderate leanings.

Even the race protests, which has been simmering under the surface for quite a while, cannot be completely divorced from the coronavirus impact, experts have argued. The African-American community has been the most affected by the coronavirus. First came the massive loss in jobs, wages, and hence health insurance options. Then came the quite disproportionate public health impact. Anthony Fauci, Director National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease at the National Institute of Health, said the African-American community traditionally have been disproportionately afflicted by diseases like diabetes, hypertension, obesity, and asthma. “Unfortunately, when you look at the predisposing conditions that lead to a bad outcome with coronavirus, the things that get people into ICUs that require intubation and often lead to death, they are just those very co-morbidities that are unfortunately disproportionately prevalent in the African-American population,” he said.

Surprisingly, the combined pandemic-racial injustice effects are being felt in states that Trump carried with flying colours the last time around. The president faces possible upset in Ohio (Trump won by 8 percentage points four years ago), Arizona and deeply conservative and Republican states like Georgia. The racial protest movement over George Floyd injustice has now spread deep into predominantly white, small-town America, notably throughout parts of the country that delivered the presidency for Donald Trump. Across Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, more than 200 such demonstrations have taken place, many in cities with fewer than 20,000 residents, according to online tracking tool CrowdCount.

The protests in these Republican-leaning areas offer a test of the president's ability to reassemble his older, white voting bloc. If he cannot replicate that coalition, it would leave Trump with few options, especially since he continues to lose support in suburbs. "If President Trump cannot hold onto white, working-class voters in rural, small-town Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Ohio, I don't know how he wins the election," said Terry Madonna, director of the Center for Public Affairs at Franklin and Marshall College, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, reported news agency AP. 

What does a post-pandemic mean for global politics?

Much has been said and written about the "post-pandemic impact" on the global political sphere. Trump's loss of support among his most rabid supporters is an indication of its magnitude. Even a massive realignment, though there is no surety of the direction in which the winds are blowing, could be on the horizon. Several millions have already lost jobs, and the world economy is predicted to suffer from a major recession which could be magnitudes greater than the Great Depression. Countries that were affected early such as China, South Korea, and Italy have suffered large contractions in manufacturing activity and services. Rising malnutrition is expected as 368.5 million children across 143 countries who normally rely on school meals for a reliable source of daily nutrition must now look to other sources.

Economic activity among advanced economies is anticipated by the World Bank to shrink by seven per cent in 2020 as domestic demand and supply, trade and finance have been severely disrupted. Emerging Markets and Developing Economies (EMDEs) are expected to shrink by 2.5 per cent this year, their first contraction as a group in at least 60 years. 

Take the Euro Zone. US-based Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI) reported that Italy will struggle to boost its economy, as, courtesy its large debt burden, Italy is prohibited by European Union rules from running a substantial budget deficit and hence cannot spend additionally. Standard Chartered noted in a study that, only on March 17 did European countries agree to the 30-day closure of EU and Schengen external borders. "Europe’s ability to stage a unified response to the crisis has also faced initial setbacks amid disparate [or even contradictory] national responses; coordination issues between France and Germany [on the border closing, for example]; and chaos at borders between countries that took unilateral decisions to close them," according to the study. 

The national debate on Brexit has surged in UK again, with the country one of the worst hit by the pandemic.

In Spain, the incumbent premier Pedro Sanchez and his minority government remains on knife edge amid popular discontent and mass protests from far-right fringe parties against the lockdown. Sanchez's support has been waning with every vote to extend the state of emergency, which gives the government the power to restrict constitutional rights such as free movement and assembly.

Globally, leaders like South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe are under fire. FPRI noted in its study: "Speculation is growing that Prime Minister Abe may be forced to leave office earlier than expected. President Moon, meanwhile, faces a petition signed by hundreds of thousands of citizens to remove him from office. Taiwan seems to be the only country where the government’s approval rating has increased, thanks to deft handling of the virus by the Tsai Ing-wen administration."