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7 Ways COVID-19 Has Changed US Politics

Vote-by-mail ballots are shown in sorting trays, Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020, at the King County Elections headquarters in Renton, Wash., south of Seattle. Washington state has offered voting by mail since 2011. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Vote-by-mail ballots are shown in sorting trays, Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020, at the King County Elections headquarters in Renton, Wash., south of Seattle. Washington state has offered voting by mail since 2011. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
7 Ways COVID-19 Has Changed US Politics
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The coronavirus has affected a lot of things, including the presidential nomination process in the United States.

The two leading parties know that they must restructure traditional nominating events because of safety concerns during the pandemic.

This week Democratic Party delegates will officially choose former Vice President Joe Biden as their candidate for president. Yet Biden will never appear in the same room as the delegates.

The Republican Party plans to nominate U.S. President Donald Trump as its candidate the following week. Republican officials say Trump may make his acceptance speech not at a traditional convention, but from the White House.

Both parties have decided that holding large, indoor gatherings with thousands of delegates during the pandemic would not be a good idea. So, all the speeches and other activities are being done online.

The conventions as grand events "may be a thing of the past," says Karlyn Bowman. She is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, DC.

Here are seven ways COVID-19 -- the disease caused by the coronavirus -- has changed the U.S. elections this year.

How Coronavirus Has Changed US Politics
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1. The top issue

For many voters, COVID-19 is the big issue of 2020. Trump's reelection campaign began the year with a strong economy and low unemployment rates.

"He could point to positive economic numbers and peace," said Kyle Kondik of the University of Virginia Center for Politics.

Yet unemployment has risen to Great Depression levels, and the economy has gotten much smaller since March. The United States has over 5.2 million coronavirus cases and 170,000 deaths from COVID-19. Many voters disapprove of the way Trump and his administration have reacted to the pandemic. Without a strong economy, critics have said the president has struggled to present an argument for reelection.

2. Shrunken conventions

The usual theatrics of the party conventions will be much smaller this year, but experts say it may not make much of a difference.

The conventions usually help each presidential candidate in opinion surveys of likely voters, but the rise is most often temporary, Bowman said.

"I don't think it has much of an impact on the final outcome," she added.

That is also because many voters have already decided on a candidate, Kondik said.

3. Canceled campaigning

Big, in-person campaign events with the candidates may increase enthusiasm among party loyalists, rather than undecided voters.

"Campaigns are going to need to figure out some other means of generating that enthusiasm," said John Hudak, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

Losing in-person campaign events may hurt Trump more than Biden, he added. Trump enjoys and seems to get energy from them.

Not having such events, “I think, not only hurts his ability to generate enthusiasm within his base," Hudak said, "I think it actually affects him personally."

The Biden campaign may suffer less from canceled campaign events with thousands of supporters, but more from the loss of meeting individual voters face-to-face.

"He's known as being kind of a warm person and someone who gets close to people, and he just can't do that,” Kondik said.

4. Virtual fundraising

Because political campaigns need a lot of money, the parties have moved to raising donations online. Until recently, donors spent a lot of money on pricey dinners with a chance to get close to the presidential candidate. Now, donors must settle for online chats with the candidate instead.

This does not seem to have slowed fundraising, however.

"I see very little impact whatsoever on fundraising," Bowman said.

Neither the Democrats nor the Republicans are hurting financially. National Public Radio reports that the candidates and their supporters have already raised more than $1.6 billion.

5. Get-out-the-vote drives

Normally, large numbers of campaign workers go from one house to another to meet people and ask them to vote for their candidate. These activities have been cut back.

Talking to individual voters has a small, but important effect on the number of people who go out to vote. Such one-on-one contacts can sometimes decide presidential elections, Kondik said.

6. Voter registration

Campaigns to register more people to vote have largely ended. One study showed that U.S. voter registrations dropped a lot in March and April. The study noted that many people register to vote at their local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), and the pandemic has closed many DMV offices.

7. Vote by mail

Many state officials think mail-in ballots are a safer way to vote than in-person voting during the pandemic. President Trump has often claimed, without evidence, that it will lead to widespread cheating. As a result, Republican voters are much less supportive of mail-in voting.

Mail-in voting could cause confusion on Election Day.

If a lot of Republicans mark ballots at voting centers and those votes are counted first, “it may look like Donald Trump is leading in the state,” when in fact, he might lose the state, said Kondik.

Counting all the votes could take days or weeks, during which time, Kondik worries, that many people could come to believe fraud was involved.

I’m Susan Shand.

VOA’s Steve Baragona reported this story. Susan Shand adapted it for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.


Words in This Story

fellow - n. a prestigious appointment at a university or research facility

positive - adj. the good side

impact - n. the effects of something on all things

enthusiasm - n. to desire to do something with good spirit

generate - v. to make or to create

chat - v. to talk to another person about small, pleasant topics

fundraise - v. to hold parties etc to get people to donate money to political campaigns

confusion - n. uncertainty