President Donald Trump is fighting many battles -- on the domestic, foreign policy and perception fronts. And the most important battle of his political life will pick up the pace once he is done with the current challenges. November 2020 will decide if he will go down in history as a one-time president or beat heavy odds to deny his detractors, once again.
The election is wide open at this point, with the President having frittered away the natural advantage he had going into the last year of the 4-year term. Trump was on the backfoot after coronavirus became a contagion in the U.S., proving his early calculations wrong. But he moved swiftly to turn the fire on China and the WHO, and he has had more than moderate success in this gambit. Then came the economic pain. The economy is in a tailspin, and more than 40 million people have lost their jobs. If half of those people voted for Joe Biden, Trump would have no chance at all.
But it seems the economic calculus is also working out to Trump's advantage. According to the latest Reuters/Ipsos poll, Trump has an 8-point lead over Joe Biden among people who compared the two over their abilities to lead an economic recovery. The economy is down in the dumbs but 42 percent of those surveyed said Trump would steer the recovery better than Biden. The former Vice-President was supported by only 34 percent in this department.
Flip-Flop Could Backfire on Democrats
It seems what matters most for the voters is not the state of the economy as such but who will be better placed to build it back once the coronavirus pandemic is over. Trump has been consistent in his argument against too many restrictions that hamper economic activity. On the other hand, Biden and the Democrats are still unsure about how and how far the restrictions can be eased.
"It's not that we don't want to reopen the economy ... We don't know what it means to reopen the economy safely," Michigan Democrat and the chair of the Oakland County Democratic Party, Vaughn Derderian, told Reuters. Another Biden adviser summarised the policy predicament succinctly. "From an economic standpoint, the worst-case scenario would be opening up and having to shut down again," the adviser said.
For the Democrats and Biden, it is more like 'damned if you do, and damned if you don't. If the economy gathers steam and jobs numbers pick up ahead of the November election, they would be without a major political weapon against Trump. And if the economy is in tatters in November, that will not aid Biden either, as per the latest poll.
Will Everything Boil Down to Economy?
The November 2020 election has swung both ways since the start of the year for President Trump. Up until Super Tuesday, Trump's victory was seen as a foregone conclusion. But then came the unforeseen rise of Biden in the Democratic ranks and then, the coronavirus pandemic. With the pandemic spreading and deaths spiraling, Biden made significant strides in the race.
The Trump camp believes that if everything boils down to the state of the economy, he could have the last laugh. The supporters think his chances are stronger if he also manages to get the nation hooked on the battle with the Chinese up until the election day.
What do Other Polls Say?
However, the projections based on the Reuters/Ipsos poll stand in stark contrast to the predictions made by Oxford Economics earlier last week. As per this model, Trump would face a historic defeat, capturing only 35 percent of popular votes and losing by an electoral college margin of 328 to 210l.
"The economy would still be in a worse state than at the depth of the Great Depression," the Oxford Economics report says. It predicts that as many as seven key battleground states -- Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Missouri and North Carolina -- will swing to Biden. If this prediction turns true, Trump will face the ignominy of recording the worst performance by an incumbent in 100 years.