How COVID-19 will shape the 2020 election

May 8, 2020
By: Public Affairs, UC Berkeley
A panel of UC Berkeley experts discussed COVID-19 and the 2020 election during a Friday live video event. (UC Berkeley)

Will there be an election in November? Almost certainly, agreed a panel of UC Berkeley experts in politics, public policy, cybersecurity and law.

Can we predict anything else about how a bad economy, strident polarization and continuing coronavirus pandemic will shape the November election? No, not yet, the group said.

Examining an array of issues, from presidential approval ratings, the Constitution, election law, unemployment rates to the security of digital voting, the scholars concluded it was still too uncertain to draw any sweeping conclusions. Except that November 2020 will be an election without precedent.

“The Trump administration has decided to make an enormous policy and political bet, and the bet is that they can re-open the economy, and the economy will come back in time for the election, and that COVID-19 won’t re-erupt in a way that will either stifle those efforts or kill lots of people,” said Henry Brady, dean of the Goldman School of Public Policy when asked to sum up the next six months.

Others, like Bertrall Ross, a professor at Berkeley Law, wondered how the threat of contracting COVID-19 would affect voter turnout, especially among black and Latinx voters who are at higher risk of serious complications if they contract the virus.

Philip Stark, a professor of statistics and an expert in election security, wondered if there would be “convincing evidence that the reported winners actually won. Or, are we going to have to take it on faith?”

Sarah Anzia, a professor of politics and public policy, noted that there is some hope amid the uncertainty: An messy election could open the door for election law reform, including increased use of vote-by-mail ballots.

But on balance, the group said, there is still much to figure out.

“Will we be able to hold an election in November that will maximize the ability of people to vote consistent with public health?” asked Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of Berkeley Law. “I don’t think we know right now.”

Berkeley Conversations: COVID-19 is a live, online series featuring faculty experts from across the Berkeley campus who are sharing what they know, and what they are learning, about the pandemic. All conversations are recorded and available for viewing at any time on the Berkeley Conversations website.