Is Trump damaging his next election chances or is he enhancing them?

Sam Wood
Is President Trump using the pandemic to please his voting base?

In response to the announcement by President Trump that he would be halting funding to the World Health Organisation, Dr Rubrick Biegon, an American politics expert at Kent, said:

‘Donald Trump’s announcement that his administration would halt US funding to the World Health Organisation (WHO) represents one of his more dramatic interventions into the ongoing crisis associated with COVID-19. Unsurprisingly, the timing of the policy shift suggests the decision was taken with Trump’s own political interests in mind. This move allows Trump to maintain control of the news cycle while deflecting criticism of his administration’s handling of the crisis.

‘By scapegoating the WHO, Trump reactivates several key elements of his nationalist political agenda. In attacking an international institution and drawing criticism from world leaders, the controversy may play to his supporters’ sense that he is putting America First. By criticising the ostensible pro-China bent of the WHO, Trump connects his “anti-globalist” ideology to the Sinophobia that has become increasingly prominent in his rhetoric.

‘This combative posture may play well with Trump’s voter base, but it is unlikely to help his political standing overall. Since Trump referred to the virus as a hoax in an early-March campaign speech, Americans have expressed more concern with the public health and economic implications of the pandemic. Trump did enjoy an increase in his approval rating as the COVID-19 pandemic developed into a national issue. However, this bounce was more muted than that enjoyed by other world leaders and is already beginning to fade.

‘Opinion polls in recent weeks point to a clear partisan divide on Trump’s response to COVID-19. Democratic and Republican voters continue to interpret the outbreak in different ways. Tellingly, a majority of independent votes disapprove of Trump’s handling of the crisis.

‘It is too early to project how COVID-19 will impact the 2020 general election in November. However, it is unlikely that Trump’s response to the pandemic has put him on more certain footing with respect to his November voters.

‘At this point, it is clear the pandemic has reinforced the United States’ polarised politics. Although the duration and severity of the crisis may eventually overwhelm this polarisation, this is not guaranteed.’

Dr Rubrick Biegon is a Lecturer at the School of Politics and International Relations at the University of Kent, specialising in United States politics and relations to global politics and economies.