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Inside Sources: Public perceptions and presidential predictions

President Donald Trump listens during a briefing about the coronavirus at the White House, Thursday, April 16, 2020. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

SALT LAKE CITY — Politicians and their consultants would like all of us to believe that they control elections by the mechanics, such as fundraising, rhetoric and visiting the right states on the campaign trail. But the reality is, the event of the day controls elections and politicians, making it difficult to provide accurate presidential predictions. 

Boyd Matheson is joined on Inside Sources by Scott Rasmussen, political analyst, author and regular contributor to Deseret News, to discuss the reality that politicians are controlled by events and how the global COVID-19 pandemic has shifted how Americans feel about their politicians. 

Lessons on presidential predictions for 2020

“In Election 2020, it’s not going to be about what happened in the past 3 1/2 years,” Rasmussen said. “It’s a toss-up election right now. As we sit and look at the polls, it could go either way.”

Rasmussen said the election is going to be decided by the key issue of the day: how successfully U.S. society reopens in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • In 2004, President George W. Bush campaigned for reelection on the same issue he had been dealing with during his first term: the War on Terror.
  • In 2012, President Barack Obama campaigned for reelection on the same issue he had been dealing with during his first term: the Great Recession and its fallout.

“President Trump is seeking reelection with a defining issue none of us could have imagined on January 1st of this year,” said Rasmussen. “If we had predicted . . . lockdowns and 30 or 40 million people being thrown out of work, we would have been laughed out of the room.”

In the fall, if Americans are feeling better about the economy reopening, President Trump will probably be reelected, Rasmussen predicted, especially if Democratic leaders are looking like they are resisting the reopening.

On the other hand, if the reopening unleashes a vicious second wave of the pandemic, then President Trump will not be reelected, Rasmussen predicted.

If President Trump is seen as recklessly pushing to reopen while voters are retreating to lockdown mode, he could face a defeat comparable to Herbert Hoover’s loss in 1932 during the Great Depression, Rasmussen wrote in a piece for the Deseret News.

Boyd added current polls show most Americans are more interested in news updates on the pandemic than the latest political news.

“Knowing that in most election cycles we reelect 90 to 94 percent of incumbents, what does that mean for we the people rolling into the fall of 2020?” Boyd asked.

“It is the events in the world that people are responding to that determine the fate of the elections,” Rasmussen said. “It’s really important to focus on the fact that it is the event that controls the politician, not the other way around.”


Inside Sources with Boyd Matheson can be heard weekdays from 11:00 a.m to 12:00 p.m. on KSL NewsRadio. Users can find the show on the KSL NewsRadio website and app.