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How might COVID-19 and social protests affect the 2020 election?
Matt Miller
Political Economist

Questions for an uncertain time: Elections


The past six months have provided a master class in uncertainty. COVID-19 touched nearly every aspect of daily life for hundreds of millions of people. Stocks fell drastically as the outbreak erupted — the fastest retreat to a bear market in modern history. They then recovered much of that decline in less than two months.


We asked Capital Group economists and analysts their opinions on COVID-19’s effects, both in the short and long terms. They covered topics as broad as the future of global trade networks and as narrow as the prospects for telemedicine.


Below, you’ll find political analyst Matt Miller’s ideas about the presidential election.


You can also see economist Jared Franz’s opinions and insights on entrepreneurshipeconomist Darrell Spence’s take on the labor market and economist Talha Khan’s ideas about international interconnectedness.


How might COVID-19 and social protests affect the 2020 election?


By Matt Miller

Fairly or not, executive officeholders — governors and President Trump — will be held to account for the impacts of COVID-19. That might be bad news for them now, but the election isn’t until November. Incumbents could receive a boost if the pandemic subsides and the economy regains energy. Of course, a much-feared “second wave” of the virus or a languishing economy could spark an anti-leadership backlash.


The coronavirus has also wreaked havoc with traditional voter demographics, slamming two groups harder than others: people living in densely packed cities and older Americans. It might seem that the two cohorts would balance each other out, as city dwellers tend to vote Democratic while those over 65 lean Republican. But current polls show Vice President Joe Biden leading among older voters, at least nationally. If that holds, it could scramble long-standing assumptions about voter behavior.


Similarly, in-person voting might be affected. COVID-19 prompted the postponement or cancellation of several primaries. A second wave of the virus this fall could have an unpredictable effect on voter turnout in November. Beyond the already considerable upheaval, the two parties could lodge accusations of voter suppression or vote-by-mail fraud. That could significantly exacerbate tensions.


In some ways, the situation could mirror the post-election chaos of Bush versus Gore in 2000, except with allegations of voting irregularities taking the place of hanging chads. While all elections are partisan affairs, I worry that extreme polarization combined with a very close race could produce conflict on Election Day and that legal challenges in battleground states could leave the result undetermined for weeks or longer.


Finally, it’s impossible to overlook the racial injustice protests that have swept the country. At first blush, they would seem to damage Trump’s re-election prospects. Critics have said his swaggering, combative stance is proof that he’s not up to the moment or capable of crisis management. The demonstrations could also galvanize voters who are not enthused with Biden.


But while the protests represent an overdue impulse for reform, a backlash is possible if voters interpret police-free zones or the tearing down of some statues as excessive. Voters who like Trump’s policies but not his behavior tend to think even less of the chaos they perceive in the protests. These voters worry that those forces would run uncontrolled under a Biden presidency. As a result, they could hold their noses and vote for Trump and the order they feel he represents.


You can also see economist Jared Franz’s opinions and insights on entrepreneurshipeconomist Darrell Spence’s take on the labor market and economist Talha Khan’s ideas about international interconnectedness.



Matt Miller is a political economist and corporate affairs advisor at Capital Group where his duties include analyzing U.S. policy trends that affect investment decisions, and supporting Capital’s communication and engagement efforts with a wide range of external audiences. He also hosts the firm’s new podcast, “Capital Ideas,” which features a blend of long-term investment insights from Capital’s team, and conversations with top authors and thinkers relevant to global finance. He has 34 years of industry experience and has been with Capital Group for five years. Prior to joining Capital, Matt was a senior advisor at McKinsey & Company. Before that, he served as a senior advisor in the White House Office of Management and Budget and was a White House Fellow serving as a special assistant to the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. He was also a columnist for The Washington Post; the host of public radio’s “Left, Right & Center” program; and a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. He has authored two books on public policy — The Two-Percent Solution: Fixing America’s Problems in Ways Liberals and Conservatives Can Love and The Tyranny of Dead Ideas — and has contributed to Fortune, Time, The New Republic and various other national publications. He holds a law degree from Columbia Law School, where he was a James Kent scholar, and a bachelor’s degree in economics from Brown University, graduating magna cum laude. Matt is based in Los Angeles.


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