Two views of an unpredictable 'pandemic presidential election' in 2020

Milwaukee election commission worker processes and sorts absentee ballots
A city of Milwaukee Election Commission worker processes and sorts absentee ballots for Wisconsin's primary election on April 8, 2020, in downtown Milwaukee.
Mark Hoffman | Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel via AP file

Former Minnesota Republican Rep. Vin Weber and Democratic polling expert and political scientist Anna Greenberg think the conditions in the country over the next six months are extremely unpredictable, as is the "enthusiasm factor" for President Trump or presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden.

Greenberg said there are very few “persuadable voters,” and the presidential election will all depend on turnout, which polls can’t predict.

Vin Weber
Former U.S. Rep. Vin Weber, R-Minn.
Curtis Gilbert | MPR News 2007

Weber said we don’t know what’s going to happen in the economy and people’s health in this pandemic, and Trump’s path to victory “was already narrow — and not getting any wider today.”

The question voters were asked to consider when previous presidents were seeking reelection was, “are you better off today than you were four years ago?” Weber said there’s now a new question: “Who do you think is better equipped to rebuild the economy and restore prosperity going forward?”

Weber pointed out that Trump has had a “remarkably stable approval rating” at about 45 percent. In November, “he has to get 3 or 4 percent of the voters to vote for him even though they don’t like him.”

The election, Weber added, will be a “referendum on the Democratic Party, more than a referendum on Joe Biden.”

What will the rest of the 2020 presidential campaign look like, during a pandemic? Most likely no rallies or hand-to-hand campaigning, but plenty of organizing, communicating, social media and advertising. Democrats have to worry about not sounding pessimistic, Weber believes, since Trump is so big on sounding optimistic. Republicans are “nervous, but not panicked.”

Greenberg and Weber discussed the controversy over mail-in voting, and whether there is any partisan benefit (or loss) to this system of voting. Both favor making a variety of voting options available. Greenberg said pre-paid postage is important for lower-income voters to be able to participate in the election. And, she added, younger voters hardly know what a postage stamp is.

Greenberg said she is concerned that Trump will not accept the results of the election if he loses, and his supporters may not either. She even worries about violence.

But Weber said: “I think whoever wins this election will become president of the United States, and the institutions of our country are going to prove to be stronger than the politics of the moment.”

The event was hosted by the University of Minnesota Humphrey School, using remote connections, and was moderated by professor Larry Jacobs on Tuesday.

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