Guest post by Adrian Beaumont, who joins us from time to time to provide commentary on elections internationally. Adrian is an honorary associate at the University of Melbourne. His work on electoral matters for The Conversation can be found here, and his own website is here.
In the FiveThirtyEight poll aggregate, Donald Trump’s ratings with all polls are 43.4% approve, 52.6% disapprove (net -9.2%). With polls of registered or likely voters, Trump’s ratings are 43.8% approve, 52.5% disapprove (net -8.7%). Since my article three weeks ago, Trump has lost five points on net approval, returning his ratings to about their early March levels, before the coronavirus crisis began.
As the US coronavirus death toll increases to over 50,000, there has been far more criticism of Trump’s early response, and this appears to have punctured the “rally round the flag” effect.
Furthermore, there has been a massive economic impact from the virus and related shutdowns: in the last five weeks, over 26 million filed for unemployment benefits. In the latest week, over 4.4 million filed. While this is a slowdown, it is far ahead of the previous record of 695,000 weekly jobless claims. The April jobs report, to be released in early May, will be grim.
The RealClearPolitics average of national polls gives Biden a 5.9% lead over Trump, little changed from 6.1% three weeks ago. However, most of the polls in the average were taken in early April, when Trump’s ratings were better.
As we know from 2016, the US does not use the popular vote to elect presidents; instead, each state is allocated Electoral Votes (EVs). A state’s EVs are its House seats (population dependent) and senators (always two). There are 538 total EVs, so it takes 270 to win. With two minor exceptions, states award their EVs winner-takes-all.
In 2016, Trump won 306 EVs to Hillary Clinton’s 232, ignoring “faithless” electors, despite losing the popular vote by 2.1%. Trump won Florida, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan by 1.2% or less.
The three most recent Florida polls give Biden an average two-point lead. In Michigan, he has an eight-point lead in the only April poll. In Pennsylvania, Biden averages a seven-point lead in two April polls. In Arizona, which has trended Democratic at recent elections, Biden leads Trump by 9% in an April poll.
Despite noisy protests in Michigan and other states advocating an end to social distancing, polls show the vast majority of Americans want social distancing to continue. In an AP-NORC poll, just 12% thought distancing measures went too far, 26% said they didn’t go far enough and 61% said they are about right.
To have a realistic chance of winning the next election, Trump needs the US economy to be perceived as improving by November. While his base is loyal, lower-educated voters in general want a good economy, and Trump needs their support to offset losses among higher educated voters owing to his behaviour.
Despite the continued economic and coronavirus woe, the Dow Jones has rebounded from a low below 18,600 on March 23 to be currently above 23,500. Stock traders anticipate a V-shaped recovery, which would assist Trump. But since March 31, there have been 25,000 to 35,000 new US coronavirus cases every day. I am sceptical that the US can reduce the caseload to a point where economic activity can safely resume anytime soon.
Israel and South Korea election updates
In my previous article, I said that right-wing Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s bloc won 58 of the 120 Knesset seats at the March 2 election. Owing to coronavirus, Blue & White leader Benny Gantz would attempt to form a national unity government with Netanyahu. On April 20, the Netanyahu/Gantz agreement was sealed, with Netanyahu remaining PM for at least the next 18 months. After three elections within a year, this is a big win for Netanyahu, giving him his fifth successive term as PM.
Despite the coronavirus, parliamentary elections were held in South Korea on April 15, with precautions to stop the virus spreading. The left-wing Demcratic party of the incumbent president was rewarded for South Korea’s strong performance on coronavirus. They won 180 of the 300 seats (up 57 since 2016), to 103 for conservative parties (down 19). 253 seats were elected by first past the post, and 47 proportionally. The Democrats won the FPTP seats by 163 to 84 on vote shares of 49.9% to 41.5%.