Given how much of a nightmare 2020 has been — from the coronavirus pandemic to a brutal recession to civil unrest in a long list of U.S. cities — many pundits, both liberals and Never Trump conservatives, predicted that President Donald Trump would suffer a landslide loss in the 2020 presidential election and that Democrats would recapture the U.S. Senate. But that blue tsunami didn't pan out, and the nail-biter of a presidential election turned out to be quite close — with votes still being counted in Pennsylvania, Georgia and other battleground states on Friday morning, November 6 and CNN reporting that former Vice President Joe Biden appeared to be headed for a narrow victory. Journalist Annie Lowrey analyzes the election results in an article published in The Atlantic that morning, offering some reasons why she believes the presidential election has been such a nail-biter despite the horrors of COVID-19 and the economic misery the pandemic has inflicted on so many Americans.
Lowrey writes, "Why didn't the pandemic recession precipitate a landslide for Joe Biden? That is a central mystery stemming from what, at the moment, looks like a narrow, if decisive, loss for President Donald Trump. Even though the unemployment rate is more than double what it was a year ago, even though 1 million Americans a week are applying for jobless aid — even though Congress has failed for six months to pass desperately needed additional stimulus, even though Trump has the worst job-creation record of any president going back to World War II — voters gave the incumbent decent marks on the economy up to Election Day, and he expanded his 2016 vote count by at least 5.7 million."
As of Friday morning, November 6, there was no doubt that Biden won the popular vote — possibly, by as much as 4 million when all is said and done. But in the Electoral College, Trump won Florida, Ohio, Iowa and other battleground states. Biden had at least 253 electoral college votes (or 264, according to the Associated Press and Fox News) compared to 214 for Trump. And Lowrey offers five reasons why "what should have been a gale-force headwind against Trump" turned out to be "little more than a breeze…. allowing the president to continue running on the strength of an economy that the coronavirus destroyed."
Reason #1, according to Lowrey: "The general election occurred when the economy was bouncing back, not when it was falling apart." And Reason #2, Lowrey says, is that "household finances have held up better than economic headlines would suggest."
Lowrey's third reason is that "the people most hurt by Trump's horrific mismanagement of the federal public-health response and the ensuing economic fallout were more likely to be Democrats who were not voting for Trump in the first place." And the journalist goes on to say, "More broadly, as a fourth factor, Americans seem not to blame Trump for the wreckage caused by the coronavirus or the ensuing recession, treating it more like an act of God than a product of policy choices."
Lowrey's fifth and final reason has to do with "how voters perceive the economy."
"Throughout Trump's tenure, Democrats never wavered in their disdain for him and his economic management," Lowrey explains. "Republicans never wavered in their support. His approval and disapproval ratings were freakishly steady. Even a colossal recession and a pandemic could not change that. Democrats see the world through blue-colored glasses, and Republicans see through red-colored ones — and that means real-life economic conditions might have less of an effect on elections than they did in the past."
One of the most accurate clichés about how Americans perceive the economy is that when your neighbor is unemployed, it's a recession — and when you're unemployed, it's a depression. Feminists have often said that the personal is the political, and the personal is also economic. In other words, someone who is really feeling an economic downturn is more likely to worry about it than someone who isn't. The 2020 COVID-19 recession pummeled many Americans, while others — as Lowrey notes — were unscathed.