How Will COVID-19 Shape the 2020 Elections?


Keren Binderman, Freelance Writer

With everything happening right now in the United States, it is hard to remember, and sometimes even harder to care, that 2020 is indeed an election year. After all, in a time where furious presidential debates and relentless campaigning are usually the norm, this election year has given news channels far more significant problems to report upon: COVID-19, economic deterioration, and systemic racism, just to name a horrible few. In a time where the faces, voices, and policies of the incoming presidential candidates would be inescapable, today they are nothing if not on the backburner. This poses some interesting questions for our new political atmosphere: how will this lack of coverage shape nationwide elections? Have the heartbreaking, exhausting events of the last six months changed public opinion towards the American government? How? 

To answer these questions, we must first understand how 2020’s struggles are affecting our candidates’ abilities to secure votes and insert themselves into public discourse. Only then can we recognize the effects on the voters themselves. So, without further ado, let’s call out the candidates of this year’s presidential election! We bring you… Trump the performative and Biden the direct! Let’s see why 2020 has eroded each of their support bases: 

The plight of the performative campaigner: Donald Trump amassed his following by, quite simply, magnifying his own voice as though a living, breathing megaphone. With his proud baritone, Trump advocates on a performative platform which paints him as not only the strongest, loudest opponent of government conspiracies (e.g. “fake news” and “democratic elitism”), but also as the strongest, loudest person in the room. In many ways, his demanding voice is his savior. Thus, Trump rallies became his main political battleground, or rather, his main political stage. As Stephen Reicher and S. Alexander Haslam, writing for The Scientific American, described Trump’s rally strategy: “A rally would start long before Trump’s arrival. Indeed, the long wait for the leader was part and parcel of the performance. This staged delay affected the self-perception of the audience members (“If I am prepared to wait this long, this event and this leader must be important to me”). It affected the ways audience members saw one another (“If others are prepared to wait this long, this event and the leader must be important to them”). And it thereby set up a norm of devotion in the crowd and a sense of shared identity among crowd members (“We are joined together in our devotion to this movement”).” Trump’s sensational shows, for lack of a better word, would become his main method of appeal during campaign season as chants of “Trump! Trump! Trump!” would echo from his auditoriums – auditoriums just as exorbitant as the rallies they housed. However, one can see how the current circumstances would hurt this spotlight-focused, in-person campaigning strategy. Today, there are no more crowded auditoriums or long lines waiting to hear the president speak. Today, even his tweets are scrutinized in a new context —one that neither Trump nor any other political candidate knows how to manipulate in the game of politics. For a sensationalist candidate who relies so heavily on his raucous rallies and his cult following of the American “common man,” a campaign of recorded videos and isolated debates will prove far more difficult to reach his audience. However, maybe the right balance of sensationalism is in fact the way to go in a political climate that is crowded with more turbulence, concern, and fear than ever before… 


The trouble of the direct campaigner: Joseph Biden is a candidate who thrives on debates and traveling interviews. He gained his following thanks to his clearcut policies for the nation and his background with the Obama administration. Still, with so many different things crowding voters’ minds at once nowadays, Biden’s formal campaigning tactics are simply not pressing enough nor performative enough to warrant significant attention, especially not when his campaign has been diminished from traveling nationwide to a few grainy zoom calls every now and then on the news. Think of the situation as an overwhelmed closet. You’ll certainly find your neon yellow t-shirt amid the mess, right? But will you find your blue jeans? So, while things like COVID-19 and, I daresay, even Trump have become the neon t-shirt of today’s political climate – the overshadowers and the shockers alike – Biden is proving time and time again to be the blue jeans of today’s political climate – the overshadowed and the shocked. Although Biden does have well-organized virtual events to raise money and reach voters, and while many do say that Trump’s growing recklessness and frustration with being homebound has made the job all that much easier for Biden, his stately campaigning manner has made him primarily one thing: ignorable. As U.S. News states, “Joe Biden is a campaign hostage, trapped in a basement bunker, where he pleads for the dollars and votes he needs to return him to the White House. The man he hopes to replace, President Donald Trump, is a free man, with the national stage that comes with the job and the liberty to say whatever he wants, whenever he wants, with the knowledge it will be broadcast around the world.” And whether or not his press is widely received, whether or not his frustration is worsening his future presidential promise, at least Trump’s name is coming up. According to Asma Khalid and Tamara Keith, writing for NPR, “The online arena is an arena where Biden is outmatched by his Republican opponent on a few levels. He doesn’t have the social media dominance that Trump does. He also doesn’t have Trump’s instincts to entertain and outrage.” His platform of empathy and experience is nothing in comparison to what campaign manager Brad Parscale recently coined Trump’s digital operation—the Death Star—“after all,” Khalid and Keith write, “every night at 8 ET, you can tune in to a Team Trump webcast on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and in the campaign’s app, starting with a slick intro that’s part campaign ad, part movie trailer, part cable news show open. Trump doesn’t appear live, but glowing descriptions of him are constant.” Biden’s virtual presence, so critical in these months, is still in development. 


Both candidates are doing their best during these elections to stay on top of the game and maintain—at the very least—an active online presence to support their parties. But now, after having learned all the ways in which their campaigns falter, we must ask the simple question: do we know enough for civil participation in November? Many students at CHS have admitted that they lack a substantial awareness of the current presidential election.

So, if even America’s youngest and newest voters – the ones most primed and open to interacting with social media – don’t know enough about the candidates’ policies and campaigns, who will? And for that matter, an important point to consider is that even those actively listening to and educating themselves on the presidential campaigns this year are only getting half the story as campaign subjects themselves are being crippled to really only discuss COVID-19 testing and not much else. While this subject remains indisputably important and the most dire, how can we even pretend to have the capability to pick a competent candidate for America’s future—its full future—when each campaign is more narrow-minded than the other? After all, do we really know anything about Trump’s foreign affairs policy for the next four years? Or Biden’s position on the economy and plans to improve it? Or either candidate’s plans for climate change, LGBTQ rights, and gun control? These things may not seem important right now… but one day they most certainly will be. And when that day comes, whether it be tomorrow, next week, next month, or next year, how will we know we picked the right guy for the job? 

Today’s constraints of campaigning topics, campaigning abilities, and the public’s political education pose more than just the problems described above, however. Quarantine also presents problems with the act of voting itself.

“I can vote in the next coming election,” says Junior Yuval Brillant, “but I’m kind of nervous of going to a crowded polling area right now… maybe I’ll go late at night, I don’t know. Or maybe I’ll just go in the next election when this has hopefully blown over.” And this feeling of fear, uncertainty, and doubt in regards to voting in an era of facemask and social distancing is in no way a singular phenomenon. It is sweeping every district and every state around the nation as COVID-19 leaves millions under virtual house arrest. 

And to make matters all the worse, according to the Los Angeles Times, “evidence increasingly shows that Americans are losing faith in the integrity of the nation’s elections, putting the U.S. in unaccustomed company. When the project began in October 2017, about 60% of those surveyed said they believed U.S. elections were free of fraud. Now only 45% say they believe that. Trump’s repeated warnings of mass robbing of ballots from mailboxes, rampant forgery and flocks of illegal immigrants being permitted to hijack elections” have put the nation’s voters at clear unease. Unfortunately, in a time as troublesome and difficult as 2020, when thousands of small businesses are waving the white flag, millions of people are isolated for fear of a pandemic with no cure, and thousands are protesting the heartbreaking continuance of systemic racism, when the trust in the government is already so low, these beliefs are only contributing to a smaller and smaller potential for necessary voter turnout. 

However, looking at state elections, we may be seeing some uplifting hope for candidates and public interaction with politics. The campaign manager of Suraj Patel—a New York democratic congressional candidate running for the 2020 election—explained that in this tough time there are some unexpected successes in reaching large audiences: “surprisingly, while we can’t do rallies or speeches, phone banking has given us the opportunity to reach more voters than ever before. Take for example, the elderly man who wouldn’t have come out in the first place to hear Suraj speak. Now, we can call him, talk to him, and encourage him to vote with an absentee ballot from home! Before, we may never have been able to get him to take this step.” 

Is this the same for presidential elections? No. Phone banking may work on the minor scale, but not on the grand scale that is needed for the presidential election. So, for the time being, we can only wait and see what is to come of the 2020 election. We can only wait and see how Trump and Biden attempt to save their sinking ships. And we can only wait and see how America’s relationship with the politics of Washington D.C. changes as a consequence of our new “normal”.