Covid-19 seems to be the winner of the historic US elections, affecting US domestic politics in a way no one could have predicted.
Many pollsters, except Robert Cahally, who also solely and correctly predicted the outcome of the 2016 presidential elections, thought that the 2020 elections would be a landslide for Democratic candidate Joe Biden and his allies in the House and Senate.
That has not been the case at all as both candidates are currently fighting a close battle for every single electoral college vote across the country’s battleground states. Much to the dismay of liberal pundits, President Donald Trump increased his share of votes across the country.
All of these make it clear that if the deadly pandemic had not hit the world, particularly, the US, killing more than 200,000 there and leading to an economic recession, Trump might have won the elections in a big way.
Trump has continuously downplayed the significance and deadly consequences of Covid-19, but the pandemic has proven to potentially be the president’s Achilles’ heel.
"Flu season is coming up! Many people every year, sometimes over 100,000, and despite the Vaccine, die from the Flu. Are we going to close down our Country?” wrote the president in a post on both Twitter and Facebook, which removed the statement on the grounds that it was factually incorrect.
“No, we have learned to live with it, just like we are learning to live with Covid, in most populations far less lethal!!!" he continued.
Current American deaths from Covid-19 are estimated to be ten times more than deaths from the seasonal flu last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
But no matter which is deadlier, if Trump loses, it is crystal clear that the pandemic has had a deadly effect on his chances to win the election.
Covid-19 affected rich and poor alike, and Trump himself, last month.
An infected president was hospitalised at the prestigious Walter Reed Military Hospital for immediate treatment, suggesting to even hard-core Trump supporters that Covid-19 might be a little more serious than regular flu.
In many ways, Covid-19 has appeared to work like an anti-Trump force.
The virus not only frustrated the president, who refused to abide by some basic health policy norms and long-term lockdowns advised by top disease officials like Antony Fauci but also changed the main election topic from “it’s the economy, stupid!” to “it’s health, stupid!”, creating an insurmountable political dilemma for Trump.
The refocusing didn’t favour Trump and blew his reelection strategy.
In June, he was asked about that: Was he comfortable with the change of topic for the upcoming elections?
“Well, I am, and I’m not,” he responded in his characteristic style, in which he loves to use contrasting positions within the same context.
“You know, it’s a very interesting thought,” he added.
On the one hand, the president has been forced to defend his response to the virus, claiming that he did what he had to do to respond to the pandemic.
“You know, I’ve built the greatest economy, and then it was turned off for good reason. We saved millions of lives by doing it. I think people are going to remember that,” Trump said.
On the other hand, a characteristic Trump has continued to diminish the importance of the pandemic, talking about the necessary toughness required to destroy “the Chinese virus”.
“We will swiftly defeat the China virus, end the pandemic,” he said in mid-October after he successfully recovered from the disease.
“I beat this crazy, horrible China virus,” he said in another interview.
Trump was correct in saying that he beat the virus, but it happened when the nation’s best doctors and medicines were at his disposal. Not many ordinary Americans, particularly senior citizens, have been that lucky.
As a result, “the China virus” has proved to be more difficult to defeat at the polls than Joe Biden himself.
Covid-19 vs. campaigning
The virus has also “tremendously”, a word Trump loves to deploy, affected the election cycle.
While he was briefly absent from campaigning due to his convalescence, he aggressively pursued the campaign trail. But the nature of American presidential campaigns has significantly changed due to the pandemic, where Republicans including the president, have been criticised on various grounds including for not wearing a mask.
“Now you have a president who doesn’t have to hide in his basement,” a frustrated Trump said, after his quarantine ended last month, criticising his opponent, Biden, for not campaigning hard enough like him.
Despite the fact that his hardcore supporters love such statements, for many, Biden’s calm approach to both the campaign and the virus attracted a lot of voters.
But the virus not only transformed the campaigning tone and style but also the way people are supposed to vote, bringing into play early voting and mail-in ballots, which have infuriated Trump more than anything else.
Fateful mail-in ballots
From the very beginning, Trump claimed that his presidential success story would be targeted by the American establishment or “the deep state” as he often refers to it. The narrative goes like this: no matter how much he does for his fellow Americans, the elites will undermine him.
In trying to make him fail, Trump alleged, resorting at times to conspiracy theories, that the elections would be “stolen” by the elites. He repeated that claim after the voting began as mail-in ballots were being counted.
With the pandemic measures, early voting and mail-in ballots were introduced - but Trump set the scene to allege these would be a setup for robbing the elections.
“Mail-in ballots are very dangerous. There is tremendous fraud involved and tremendous illegality,” Trump said back in May during a press conference.
“They are trying to STEAL the Election.” he wrote on Twitter, following the elections.
The underlying effect of mail-in votes, also referred to as absentee ballots, on the election day and its aftermath might prove why Trump has feared the process all along. Mail-in ballots overwhelmingly favour Biden. Many of his supporters before the elections said that they were considering using mail voting as they had not wanted to travel to polling stations in fear of the pandemic.
Trump believes that all votes should be counted on election day and the late counting of mail-in ballots, which is generally the case for mail-in ballots as they require extra verification like address checks etc., would just distort poll results. In the 2016 election, around 33 million votes were cast by mail - around a quarter of the total vote.
The percentage of early voting and mail-in ballots in the 2020 elections, which have also seen a record turnout, is also incomparable to any other election cycle in US history.
“According to the US Elections Project, as of 2 November more than 99 million Americans had voted early - either by post or in person. This is already more than the total number of early votes cast in the 2016 election,” BBC reported.
Different estimates put the total number of American voters in 2020 nearly 160 million.
By the way, Trump voted early and not on election day.