Don’t Forgive COVID-19

Yuri Zhigalkin on obituaries and politics.

Two and a half months before the presidential election in the United States, even obituaries have become a campaigning tool. “In lieu of flowers, think of Mrs. Thomas while casting your vote to remove President Trump from office,” says the obituary of 82-year-old Sandra Thomas, published in a local North Carolina newspaper. “Family members believe David’s death was needless … They blame his death and the deaths of all other innocent people on Trump, (Texas Gov. Greg) Abbott and all of the other politicians who did not take this pandemic seriously and were more concerned with their popularity and votes than lives,” writes the widow of 79-year-old David Nagy. These obituaries suddenly reached a much larger audience after they were quoted in The Washington Post, and in a comment by influential journalist Juan Williams. Based on obituaries and opinion polls, Williams concludes that older voters, as he writes, “will not forgive Trump for COVID.”

The use of obituaries to illustrate voter attitudes and arguments in the political struggle is proof of pre-election fears and anxieties, which are not kept secret by supporters of either Donald Trump or Joe Biden. On paper, that is, in the interpretation of sociologists, Biden has maintained a lead over Trump since last fall. Now, he is ahead of Trump in the national polls by an average of 7%. In several key states, where the outcome of the election will be decided, his margin is just over 4%. But the problem is that no one can say how credible the foundation of Biden’s leadership is, and whether or not it will withstand the first real tests of the election struggle. Figures cited by sociologists provide little faith, given the fiasco of trying to predict the results of the 2016 presidential election.

Trump supporters choose from a set of data that they like, and, for example, point out that at this point in the campaign four years ago, the gap between Trump and Hillary Clinton was almost 8%. They dig deeper and remember that eight years ago, the average level of support for Barack Obama, according to Rasmussen Reports (which, by the way, almost exactly predicted the outcome of the 2016 election) was exactly the same for Donald Trump as it is currently — about 50%.

Biden has not yet passed the test, that is, meeting with voters, holding election rallies, remote or face-to-face debates with Trump. Practically all political events have been cancelled because of COVID-19, and the presidential candidate, as critics ironically say, is locked in his basement. But, as it turns out, even his rare encounters with the press, conducted online, present a danger for Biden, who is prone to saying things that require further clarification.

For example, during a recent interview with a Spanish-speaking journalist, Biden contrasted Latinos with their (in his opinion) diversity of views with the unanimity of African Americans. The remark immediately elicited sarcastic comments from Trump; then Biden explained exactly what he meant, and what he didn’t mean. African Americans are the backbone of Biden’s electorate. Without their overwhelming support, he will not win the election.

Sensing his weak spot, Trump and his supporters relentlessly draw attention to Joe Biden’s age and mental abilities. At 77, Biden may become the oldest president in U.S. history. According to one of the latest polls, this tactic works: 59% of respondents believe that if he wins, Biden will not be able to complete a four-year term, but this does not bring Trump his desired result. Most respondents say that the identity of his opponent is not important, and they will either vote for or against Trump.

Trump, apparently, considers the devastation caused by the pandemic to be the biggest obstacle to a second term. The White House regularly publishes data indicating a resurgence of activity in at least some sectors of the economy, which has been hit hard by the pandemic. The president’s executive order provides benefits for Americans who have lost their jobs, because members of Congress cannot agree on it. The Trump administration is ordering hundreds of millions of doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, which has not yet been approved, from several manufacturers, convincing the American people that the virus will soon be eradicated.

Trump’s opponents are convinced, and convince voters, that the main problem is the president himself and his personality. The president is blamed for the death of Americans because of his inability and unwillingness to respond to the pandemic in a timely and effective manner. He is ascribed with authoritarian attitudes, racist feelings and the intention to undermine the democratic system. He is criticized for his plan to bring troops in to restore order on the streets of Washington during recent protests. Trump insists that he guarantees the right to safety for law-abiding citizens.

Whose arguments will prevail remains a mystery. Supporters and opponents of Trump have long been divided into their own corners. Their opinions, apparently, do not change. The outcome of the election will be determined by a small group of swing voters, most likely in three to four key states. This is the same group whom sociologists either did not notice four years ago, or could not figure out the feelings of. Today, this group may be less inclined to vote for Trump, as undecided voters are younger, with more women and ethnic minorities well-represented.

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