How Coronavirus Pandemic May Influence 2020 Elections
KPBS Midday Edition Segments / March 30, 2020
UC San Diego political science professor and San Diego Union-Tribune columnist discuss how the pandemic could reshape the 2020 elections.
Speaker 1: 00:00 In a regular election cycle this time of year we would see the final presidential primaries and the November contest is taking shape, but Corona virus has ensured that this is not a regular election cycle. In fact, it's easy to forget there's a big election coming up. The remaining democratic presidential candidates are using social media and remote conferencing to keep up their campaigns. President Trump is appearing at his Corona virus updates instead of his campaign rallies. Meanwhile, in San Diego it appears the race for mayor will be more competitive than previously thought. Joining me are Thad Couser, chair of the department of political science at UC San Diego said, welcome to the program.
Speaker 2: 00:41 Hi Marina. Hope you're well.
Speaker 1: 00:43 Thank you. I am and I hope you are as well. Michael Smolin is also joins us. He's a columnist with the San Diego union Tribune and welcome Michael.
Speaker 3: 00:52 Thanks Maria. Nice to be here.
Speaker 1: 00:53 Michael. It was just a couple of weeks ago that San Diego County voters went to the polls and now here we are in the middle of a pandemic. What does this mean for politics?
Speaker 3: 01:03 Well, it does seem like a lifetime ago. It doesn't, not very long. It changes so much. Uh, perhaps even everything. Um, you know, we're talking about the mayor's race and think about the things that the mayoral candidates were talking about. Housing, construction, short term vacation, rentals, scooters, those may surface eventually. But right now I think it's going to be sort of crisis management and who can what candidate, you know, what voters believe the best candidate is to manage through this crisis. And I think you're going to see a lot of, uh, you know, discussion about leadership and backgrounds. So that's really changed. So those things all came into play, but they almost were secondary really to them. The issues I've mentioned, issues of change.
Speaker 1: 01:48 Now let me move to the presidential primary for a moment. Thad, is the democratic presidential primary still happening?
Speaker 2: 01:56 Well, it's on pause right now. 15 States have delayed their presidential primaries. Uh, we saw most dramatically, Ohio where the governor did this the day of our, sorry, the night before the primary and in States are looking around to make more use of a voting by mail. So, even though we had a huge amount of momentum for, for Joe Biden who looked like he was about to put an end to the primary right analysis, breathes life into Bernie Sanders campaign, the transition from in-person to social media may play into his hands. So it [inaudible] throws in some ways in doubt the uh, the, the final outcome. But mostly importantly, it delays the chance for Joe Biden to, to pivot towards the general election to begin his general election to run that campaign and killed all the momentum that he generated starting on super Tuesday.
Speaker 1: 02:48 Well, we've seen primaries postponed, could the November presidential election be postponed that [inaudible]
Speaker 2: 02:54 I think that's exceedingly unlikely to happen because, uh, in just about every in which that would happen, it would lead to, uh, potentially this Congress deciding who the next president would be. And on January 20th, so, uh, in 2021 which is, which is obviously not something that president Trump would like to happen. So that seems exceedingly unlikely, but this election will change in both how candidates campaign and also how people cast a ballot. We're going to see much more use of voting by mail. We can see some potential potentially there. There could be federal legislation to require States to allow voters to opt into voting by mail. There's already been $400 million set to the States for federal government is big, which is probably just a downpayment on what it would cost to run an election in, in a very new way. And importantly, the election results, the more people shift to voting by males, they become less wanting to vote in person. That means it will take longer and longer to get a final tally of the vote. So to extend the time, it won't be November 4th, when we know the outcome of this election, it'll be
Speaker 3: 03:59 more like Thanksgiving.
Speaker 1: 04:00 Wow. Locally, Michael, it's been, it's been shocking to see that Corona virus has had several political figures in San Diego. Do you think that's made the risk of this disease more real to people?
Speaker 3: 04:13 Well, I think all the personal stories, you know, we're inundated by numbers and daily updates, which are frightening in and of themselves. But a yes, the more prominent people, uh, you know, frankly, nothing probably hit home more than than, uh, when Tom Hanks announced that he, uh, he had caught the Corona virus. Uh, you know, he's one of the more beloved celebrities and yes, a celebrity, but that starts bringing it home, uh, along with these individual stories of people. But certainly the local political figures, uh, is a very real thing because a, we're more familiar with them and even if we don't know them, they're right here in our town.
Speaker 1: 04:51 Now, Michael, in terms of the San Diego mayor's race, before the outbreak of Scott Sherman was, seemed to be headed for the runoff. Now more votes had been counted. We've learned that it will be a runoff between two Democrats, Barbara, Brie and Todd. Gloria, how does that change the dynamic of the race?
Speaker 3: 05:07 Well, it certainly gives Todd Gloria a much more difficult race. Uh, you know, they were rooting and I don't think they were hiding this notion of, of for Scott Sherman because just under almost every scenario, he, he would not be deemed a any kind of favorite or a winner in November. Uh, Barbara, Bree obviously has waged a good campaign, uh, and did sort of come from behind in the light vote count. So it's a whole new ballgame. Uh, I think by and large, the conventional wisdom is Todd. Gloria still has the upper hand and perhaps a very strong one. And you'll look at the coalition he's had from unions to the chamber of commerce and everybody in between. Uh, that doesn't mean that that Barbara Brie won't, um, won't pick up strength. Uh, the big question of course is where do Scott Sherman's voters go? And arguments can be made, uh, for both candidates to varying degrees
Speaker 1: 05:58 that, how do you think the outbreak will shape this race, this race, the San Diego mayor's race?
Speaker 2: 06:04 Well, I agree with Michael's analysis, uh, that it breeds new life into this race. Although the question remains, where will Barbara B get the institutional support and the fundraising to get her message out and get and expand beyond the base that she's already captured? But I think most importantly, it changes what this race is going to be about, right? As, as we've heard with, uh, with the, with the devastation in San Diego's economy, this is going to lead to move us immediately from an era of surplus to an era of scarcity. And so instead of talking about building new large programs and taking on big policy challenges, the question becomes where do these candidates see themselves see the cells as, as cutting the city spending in order to manage what will likely be a, uh, a deficit for, for one or more years. That's going to be the pressing question to this campaign.
Speaker 1: 06:54 And Michael, how do you see Brie and Gloria differentiating themselves on how they would respond to this kind of a budget crisis?
Speaker 3: 07:03 Well, we'll have to say that the mayor will be submitting a budget, I think in a couple of weeks and it's going to be a pretty tough one. As we know, Laurie had mentioned some of the drop in a and hotel tax revenue. There's also going to be a substantial drop in in sales tax and I think together those two lots of revenue makeup about a third, a third of the city's revenue. Um, so exactly what once the budget comes up, I'm sure they will be weighing in on it, but I think you're going to see a lot of attention as I suggested earlier, as to who would have the best skillset to to navigate the city through what's going to be a difficult time. Sure. The mayor and the current council are going to make cuts, but a sad mentioned, it's a, it's going to be going on for probably years.
Speaker 3: 07:46 I mean the last five year plan for the city projected deficits, relatively small ones and shrinking deficits over the next few years. I think they're going to get a lot larger and maybe more years to come. So I'm sure we'll hear a lot more about Barbara Breeza business background. As we know. She was a successful entrepreneur before she was elected to the council. She's become very wealthy through her business acumen. And, uh, and Todd, Gloria, you know, he was the interim mayor after a different kind of crisis, uh, the Bob Filner sexual harassment scandal. So you're going to be seeing a lot of, a lot of [inaudible] campaigning, however they do it and perhaps remotely, uh, on those issues and qualities.
Speaker 1: 08:27 Yeah. Then in, in times of crisis, what would you say are, are the kinds of qualities voters look for in a leader?
Speaker 2: 08:35 I think voters are likely to turn to a steady hand and someone they can trust. And as, as Michael says, corporate character becomes a more important and I think voters aren't as likely to take risks. So I think that that in some ways contributed to [inaudible] Joe by doing so well in the primaries that were held on the Eve of adjust and as the Corona crisis, uh, developed. And I think it's also an explanation of why voters, surprisingly across California, uh, rejected a statewide school bond and many local school bonds and the voters weren't willing to make the same kind of investments. And so that could open the door for a candidate who can petition themselves as the fiscal, the relative fiscal conservative in this battle between two Democrats.
Speaker 1: 09:19 Let me ask you both this question and I'll start with you. Thad, as if social distancing and the stay at home orders extend into the summer as this goes on as some as we've been told it, it may. How do you envision the political campaign evolving to the ultimate voting in November?
Speaker 2: 09:41 I think candidates are going to have to innovate and those innovations are just not going to be as successful as as campaigning was in the future. So even though we've seen [inaudible] all across the country, candidates doing virtual cocktail hours, doing new kinds of fundraisers, they're raising less money and, and you're seeing voters just not connect with candidates when they don't have rallies to see them out when they don't have parades to cheer them on that. And so I think that makes it harder for underdogs like Barbara Murray in this race and it will be a major adaptation for every candidate politician in American league.
Speaker 1: 10:18 Michael the same question to you and D, do you see a, a convention for either party in this summer?
Speaker 3: 10:26 Boy, that's a, that's a really good question. Especially under the scenario you mentioned. I mean, if we're going into this social distancing into the summer, I just don't know how they can do that. Then the question is, okay, can you really do that convention, a virtual convention like that? As that said, everybody's going to have to get creative and you know, we know that social media has become a huge factor in politics. Uh, I think you'll see the candidates, mayor all and otherwise, the ones who are, are more adept and have the consultants that are more adept on social media campaigning, perhaps having a bit of an edge, but, uh, it's a whole new world. Uh, it's a people business. Conventions are people, you know, they gather and they, they buttonhole each other and make deals. They do that on even city council diocese. So people are really going to have to learn how to do things differently for the foreseeable future. And I think the longterm question is when we get through this and people's fears have subsided somewhat, will there still be this lingering fallout from that that will change how we do business in politics in life.
Speaker 1: 11:36 I know a lot of people are speculating about that right now. And one of the longterm effects, Michael, you anticipate is the fact that we might feel the budget impact of this longer than we feel the illness impact of this. Is that right?
Speaker 3: 11:49 I, you know, it's very hard to say, uh, you know, no expert and I've been keeping up as much as I can. You know, they talk about a second wave in, in the fall in terms of the outbreak. It does subside, but I think certainly the, uh, the impact on the budget will be lasting longer than they thought. Um, you know, who, who knows if things start to back, the market really picks up. Yeah, things will be better. But it's going to take a good while to dig out of this both economically and um, and health.
Speaker 1: 12:20 And right now the most important thing is to stay well and wash our hands. So we shall do that. I've been speaking with that Couser. He's chair of the department of political science at UC San Diego, and Michael Smolan is columnist at the San Diego union Tribune. Gentlemen, thank you both very much.
Speaker 3: 12:36 Thank you. Thank you.