Election watch: an inside perspective on US politics
Matt Miller
Political Economist
  • Don’t put much faith in the US presidential election polls now – five-plus months is a lifetime in politics; we can expect endless cycles of change before the vote
  • Keep your eyes on the fight for the Senate – even if Joe Biden wins, with a Republican Senate, most ambitious Democratic measures would be non-starters
  • Markets may remain volatile during this unprecedented period of dual health and economic crises


What is your take on how the US administration has been handling the COVID-19 pandemic?

This is obviously an epic crisis for the world. And in the US, the impact of the pandemic has been strangely divisive, in large part because of the depolarisation of US politics today and the communication style of the current American president. Normally in times of crisis there’s a rallying around a leader and sense of common purpose. But while President Trump enjoyed a boost at the beginning of the crisis, as the depth and seriousness of the public health and economic calamity that was facing the US became clear, the president’s own divisive style, and the widespread concern that the earliest phases of the outbreak had been mishandled, created a very polarised climate. 

Some might argue that, in the debate about reopening the economy and getting people back to work, the president has attempted to stoke the partisan division between the so-called red and blue states1 in the US – and with the US presidential election only five months away.


Do you think the US response to the pandemic was fast enough? 

There is much debate taking place over this. While Trump and the Republican Party would argue that they took prompt action that saved lives, such as stressing the travel ban from China, others would say that these measures were porous.

Certainly, many believe that at the Federal level, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention botched the earliest phase of the testing, which set the US back in terms of being able to have even close to an adequate amount of testing in the earliest phases of all of this. My hypothesis is that in two to five months from now it is likely that the testing regime will be in a much better place, but I think critical time was lost compared with countries that had, for example, experience with SARS and were therefore more prepared in their response to the COVID-19 pandemic. I think by most fair-minded analysis the US response was slow and not adequate to the scale of the challenge.


What do you think are the chances of Donald Trump becoming re-elected?

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, in raw political terms in the US, Trump was set up for a classic re-election campaign where he was going to focus on prosperity – for example, strong US stock market returns and the lowest level of unemployment in 50 years – as well as highlight relative peace and claim to have successfully eliminated prominent terrorist leaders. He had a clear narrative of what he wanted to say.

Trump appears to have now abandoned this narrative and instead rebooted himself as a “wartime” leader. His attempt to reboot has in some ways been hampered by his traits. The scale of this crisis has highlighted divisions and a lack of empathy, rather than bringing the country together. Trump’s current position might be characterised as that of a divisive “wartime” leader, which is an oxymoron. 

I’ve been speaking with my colleagues at Capital Group as the situation has unfolded, and many have said they believe that Trump has no chance to win the election. However, I would caution against this view. The election is still five months away.

There are so many unknowns about how the climate will feel between now and November. We have no idea what economic activity in the US will look like. We have no idea what the state of the pandemic is going to be or whether the arguable initial mishandling of the crisis will feel like a distant memory. We don’t know whether there will be further promise about treatment, or even vaccines, in November, or whether the measures taken to reopen the economy will have succeeded. It’s way too soon to write Trump off.

1. Red states and blue states refer to states of the United States whose voters predominantly choose either the Republican Party (red) or Democratic Party (blue) presidential candidates.

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Matt Miller is a political economist at Capital Group. He was formerly a senior advisor at McKinsey, a Washington Post columnist and author, host of public radio's "Left, Right & Center" program, and a Clinton White House aide. He has a law degree from Columbia and a bachelor's from Brown.

Past results are not a guarantee of future results. The value of investments and income from them can go down as well as up and you may lose some or all of your initial investment. This information is not intended to provide investment, tax or other advice, or to be a solicitation to buy or sell any securities.

Statements attributed to an individual represent the opinions of that individual as of the date published and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Capital Group or its affiliates. All information is as at the date indicated unless otherwise stated. Some information may have been obtained from third parties, and as such the reliability of that information is not guaranteed.