by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
For those outside the Washington, D.C., Beltway and not consumed with political news, it’s easy to forget that there’s a presidential election this year. While society-changing, earth-shattering events such as the coronavirus pandemic, mass unemployment, and violent protests have taken center stage, the 2020 election itself is a bit of a snooze.
President Trump and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden certainly respond to the catastrophic events as they try to sustain their campaigns. But the election itself is not driving the news, a dramatic change from previous years.
An April Pew Research Center survey found that 52% of people in the United States were paying close or fairly close attention to news about presidential candidates, significantly down from the same point in the 2016 cycle when 69% said they were paying close or very close attention to the presidential candidates. Meanwhile, 87% in the April survey said that they are paying close or very close attention to the coronavirus pandemic.
A former D.C. political digital operative now based on the Pacific Northwest put it bluntly: “Truly, who can really be thinking about the election when the pandemic is happening and it feels like society is ripping apart at the seams?”
To some political observers, dynamics in the election are downright dull compared to the rest of current events.
Shutdowns starting in March prevent the candidates from having organic, headline-grabbing interactions with voters, and events for gaffe-prone Biden are particularly staged and sanitized. Biden, who has spent most of the coronavirus pandemic at his home in Wilmington, Delaware, has a hefty 8.6% lead over Trump in the RealClearPolitics average of national polls.
Unlike the 2016 election cycle, there are no leaks or internal emails to drive attention back to the campaigns themselves.