2020 has warped our perception of time.
We’ve already experienced a pandemic, a stock market crash, economic shutdown, and potentially, a new bull market. It’s possible that things get even crazier with the upcoming election.
Currently, former Vice-President Biden has a commanding lead in the polls. According to the RealClear Politics average of polls, Biden is ahead by 7.6 points.
Biden has a similar lead in many key swing states like Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. This year, there’s less undecided voters. And, historically undecided voters tend to break for the challenger which also favors Biden.
This is leading to increasing confidence that Biden is going to glide to a victory. Yet, it’s natural to be skeptical about this consensus given what happened in 2016. At this point in the race, Hillary Clinton was leading 47% to 41.3%. Trump shocked the world and eked out a slim victory by carrying swing states.
Additionally, there’s still plenty of time before the election. Trump could make a comeback or Biden’s lead could turn into a landslide. Here are six potential wildcards that could change the election dynamic:
Economic Recovery Continues
In hindsight, it’s clear that the stock market bottomed in late-March, and the economy seems to have bottomed in mid-April. Economic data continues to show a recovery from low levels, in the most affected areas. It’s quite clear from high-frequency data in multiple areas like online job postings, TSA travel data, and credit-card spending.
The housing market is also very strong. This leads to more economic confidence, stronger household balance sheets, and is positive for blue-collar workers. Additionally, forward-looking indicators like the stock market and commodity prices have also recovered and are above their pre-coronavirus levels.
In recent weeks, the polls have tightened on the margins, and it could be due to the improving economy and surging stock market. If these trends continue, it could lead to Trump’s support increasing.
A Vaccine Becomes Available
If a safe vaccine became available, it could be a gamechanger and lead to life quickly returning to normal. It would reinvigorate areas of the economy like airlines, hotels, restaurants, and nightlife that are running on fumes.
Trump’s biggest liability is his handling of the coronavirus. However, a vaccine would change the narrative, accelerate the recovery, lead to another leg higher for the stock market, and improve Trump’s odds of winning.
Biden Stumbles on Stage
Another potential surprise could be at the debates. Trump’s campaign has made an issue out of Biden’s age and have attacked his stamina and mental capacity.
At the debates, Trump will surely go on the offensive, especially if he is down in the polls. A Biden miscue would make these attacks more credible and create doubts in voters’ minds about his ability to lead the nation.
It’s also possible that Trump is setting a trap for himself by creating low expectations for Biden. During the Democratic Primaries, Biden held up fine during long debates and sparred with multiple candidates.
In certain cities in the US, there have been days and weeks of protesting that has gotten violent at times with clashes between protestors and police. The situation is fluid, but it traditionally benefits the law-and-order candidate. If these protests get more violent or spread to other cities, it could benefit Trump.
One example of this effect can be seen in Minnesota which saw some of the most intense protests and rioting, and the Minneapolis City Council voted to defund police. It’s led to polls tightening in Minnesota.
Coronavirus Case Counts Start Increasing
The coronavirus has been a part of our lives for more than six months. One lesson is that it seems to never totally go away. If there’s an increase in case counts due to schools reopening, a change in weather, or the virus mutating, it could lead to another period of economic activity being depressed. This would lead to a falling stock market and job losses which would dent Trump’s chances of making a comeback.
It would also highlight Trump’s failures in initially combating the virus such as never completely locking down in the first place or instituting a test-and-trace program to prevent future outbreaks. It would also lead to contrasts with other countries which have handled the virus much more effectively.
Already, President Trump has started to dispute the authenticity of the vote count. He’s already said the election will be “rigged” and mail-in voting is fraudulent. Given Trump’s attacks and defunding of the US Postal Service to obstruct mail-in ballots, there is already skepticism and suspicion on the Democratic side as well that their votes won’t be fairly counted.
One of the foundational aspects of a democracy is the peaceful transfer of power. There would certainly be economic and political ramifications if this core pillar is shaken in the event that Trump loses and refuses to hand over power. Or, Trump could win and a large part of the country would think he won due to voter suppression.
Another possible wildcard is if there’s a resurgence in coronavirus case counts which prevents people from voting, It’s unclear how it would affect the election, since older people are more susceptible, and they tend to vote Republican, but Democrats tend to take the coronavirus more seriously.