Special Report: An unprecedented election year


FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — In a time when presidential hopefuls typically take center stage, instead, it’s the coronavirus pandemic and civil unrest.

It’s an election season both University of Arkansas Political Analyst Hoyt Purvis and John Brown University Political Science Professor Dr. Daniel Bennett call unprecedented.

“We really haven’t experienced anything like this in our history. Maybe you can make an argument going back to the Spanish flu pandemic, an election during World War II perhaps,” said Dr. Bennett.

It’s a time of uncertainty as our nation looks to either reelect Republican President Donald Trump or elect a new president. Among the challengers, presumptive Democratic nominee and Former Vice President Joe Biden.

“We really don’t know how to gauge what the impact is going to be on turnout particularly with the virus and that adds an entirely new dimension, something we haven’t encountered before,” Purvis said.

Supporter turnout will be vital, according to Purvis. He referenced the 2016 general election when Democratic nominee and former First Lady Hillary Clinton ran against now President Trump.

“When Hillary Clinton ran against Trump last time, you could see that in many cases, people didn’t vote and non-voting is another way of voting,” Purvis said.

It’s these non-voters and swing voters who Purvis said will be a determining factor in this, and really any election.

The question is though, how do you win these voters, when you can’t get in front of them?

“There is a danger that campaigning could seem callous at this time,” Dr. Bennett continued, “you don’t want to be seen campaigning on something where people are dying. It’s like campaigning in a sense almost on 9/11. In 2004 John Kerry didn’t campaign on 9/11.”

As Dr. Bennett explained, Biden has got in front of voters by doing backyard and basement briefings, while President Trump has addressed the nation several times since the health crisis began.

“Joe Biden’s been issuing I think daily video messages but its been fairly tame in terms of attacking the President or attacking government in some capacity. President Trump has tried to keep focus on you know, the government’s response to the virus,” Dr. Bennett said.

Whether you agree with the Trump administration’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, many are focused on the economy, which was the President’s bread and butter.

“Unemployment was historically low. People are willing to give the President a pass on other things if their 401k’s are doing well if their retirement accounts were looking solid,” Dr. Bennett said.

“We’re currently in a recession.”

Mervin Jebaraj

University of Arkansas Economist Mervin Jebaraj said first-quarter numbers indicated the U.S economy declined by about 5%.

“So that was an estimate that if the entire year if 2020 looked like the first three months of 2020 then the year’s economy would have declined by 5%,” Jebaraj said.

Jebaraj said second-quarter projections are even worse.

“It’s unlikely we’ll be out of a recession before the end of the year,” Jebaraj said.

It’s an election year that will go down in history in more ways than one.

“We haven’t had a president lose reelection since 1992 with George HW Bush and Bill Clinton winning that election,” Dr. Bennett said.

According to Dr. Benett, we’ll either break the streak of president’s getting reelected if Biden becomes our next president, or we’ll break the streak of presidents doing poorly in a recession if Trump wins.

With the 2020 general election not until Tuesday, November 3, time is still on the side of both candidates.

“What’ll be interesting to see as the summer turns into fall, that’s when we should start to see a more traditional election season and what that’ll look like in the midst of a pandemic is very much up for debate,” said Dr. Bennett.

Purvis said, “much will happen I suspect in the next 6 months that we couldn’t even imagine right now.”

As we countdown the months days until election day, the uncertainty looms over if the traditional conventions will be held or if in person campaigning will be socially acceptable if we continue to be encouraged to social distance.

There are a lot of unanswered questions in such an unprecedented time.

“On the one hand, it’s such a sad time in our history and on the other hand, I think people increasingly are going to say we want to get this over one way or another,” said Purvis.

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