Election Spotlight:

The emergence of the novel coronavirus disease known as COVID-19 in early 2020 has led to sweeping social and economic changes around the world as governments grapple with how to contain the pandemic. It also appears to have fundamentally transformed the 2020 presidential race. 

The broader repercussions for the United States are shaping up to be dire. Following similar measures in China and Europe, state and local officials have ordered hundreds of millions of Americans to stay home, closing businesses and nonessential services. The result has been a surge in layoffs, portending a deepening crisis that some experts believe could push the unemployment rate to 40 percent, higher than a peak of 25 percent during the Great Depression. Policymakers have responded with a $2 trillion stimulus bill that will give direct cash payments to most Americans and bail out major industries, while the Federal Reserve has joined central banks worldwide in pumping trillions of dollars into financial markets. And with the death toll rising, hospitals are struggling to deal with shortages of essentials such as ventilators, beds, and masks as global supply chains for those products—many of which are produced in China—have been disrupted.

The crisis, and the disjointed response from Washington, has sparked debate over the country’s pandemic preparedness. Critics allege that President Donald J. Trump has undermined systems put in place by his predecessor, President Barack Obama, while downplaying the severity of the outbreak for months. Other analysts say the crisis is revealing long-standing vulnerabilities in the U.S. reliance on foreign suppliers for critical materials, which could end up reshaping globalization as we know it. 

The Democratic contenders have released their own proposals for defeating the pandemic, containing its economic fallout, and reforming U.S. public health systems, arguing that current measures are falling far short of what is needed. Meanwhile, concerns about public gatherings upended the race even as former Vice President Joe Biden saw a surge in support. Many states have postponed primary voting, Democrats have canceled campaign events and postponed their nominating convention, and other shakeups to the process may yet unfold.


This project was made possible in part by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York.

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