Has Trump Handled Coronavirus Poorly, and if so, Will It Hurt Him in the Election?

All data used in this post comes from worldometers.info/coronavirus

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A main talking point throughout 2020 is that Trump has completely mishandled the response to COVID-19 and that things would have been much better for America had Donald Trump not been our President. His incompetence has cost thousands of lives and this alone is reason enough to vote him out resoundingly on November 3.

Now, it should be noted that this is a talking point put forth almost entirely by people who hated Trump before the pandemic, and who were planning on voting against him in November regardless.

Most Trump supporters completely dismiss this as bad-faith partisan cynicism. Many Trump supporters (myself included) go further than that and say that the virus itself is more or less an election year hoax that is almost completely a product of media hysteria rather than the actual danger the virus poses to the average American.

But who’s actually correct? Just because Trump’s critics hate him doesn’t necessarily mean they’re wrong. And just because you support Trump and plan on voting for him in November no matter what does not automatically mean he’s handled the Coronavirus pandemic as well as he could’ve.

Here’s an example of a typical criticism of Trump:

Screen Shot 2020-08-06 at 9.49.57 PM

She brings up three points: national lockdown, mass testing and “contact tracing.”

Let’s go over those point-by-point:

National lockdown: more on this later, but Trump was ripped by his critics for not issuing a national “shelter-in-place” order. But there’s a reason for that, and he has defended himself by basically saying it’s up to the states. This is a quote from April 1:

“Trump said it would be difficult and uneven to arbitrarily call for all states to remain home for coming weeks. He used the example of states in the Midwest not being as widely affected by the coronavirus. It would be unfair, he said Wednesday, to edict all residents stay home in states that do not have “thousands” or “hundreds” of cases.

“States are different,” the president said. “I understand that Florida issued one today. That’s good. That’s great. There are some states that don’t have much of a problem. … You have to give a little bit of flexibility.”

I don’t understand how someone could have a problem with this. I just can’t wrap my head around it. If the virus is raging in New York, it might seem like a sensible move to issue a shelter-in-place order there. But that does not mean places where the virus is not raging–say, Wyoming, for example–need a shelter-in-place order as well.

It makes far more sense to ban all recreational interstate travel than it does to put Idaho under lockdown because the virus is raging in New York City. But heaven forbid we do  that. Better to just put the whole country under lockdown even if the epicenter is largely confined to a few large urban areas.

Come on. That’s just silly. Lockdown policies should be implemented on a state-to-state basis. County-to-county is even better.

Next point is “Mass testing”: This one is simple. We’ve done over 63 million tests, which is more than any other country in the world other than China, which claims it has done 90 million tests. Russia is the next closest to us at 29 million.

Now, in terms of tests per million people, we rank 18th in the world, but ahead of us are many tiny countries like Luxembourg (pop. 636k), Monaco (pop 39k), the Faeroe Islands (pop. 48k), and Gibraltar (pop. 33k). The only countries over 50m population that have done more testing per million than we have are the UK (257k per 1m) and Russia (203k per 1m).

But even testing per million isn’t a great measure given that it’s much easier for smaller countries to have a high tests per million number. The smaller the country, the fewer tests you have to manufacture to get a high tests per million number. America has produced more coronavirus tests than any other country but China. It’s more impressive that we’ve managed to manufacture over 63 million tests when nobody else has manufactured even 30 million thus far.

Let’s use Australia as an example: they have done about 181k tests per million, slightly behind America’s pace. But they only had to produce and administer 4.6 million tests compared to our 63 million tests.

So total tests do matter, and in that category we have done far better than anyone but China. And who knows if China’s data is accurate at all?

You can’t say America should be doing more tests when we’ve produced and administered more tests than any other country.

Third point is “Contact Tracing,” which is basically putting the whole country under a police-state. This is from an article published today in BBC about Britain’s second attempt to develop and release a contact tracing app. Tell me if this sounds like something that would appeal to you:

“A second attempt at a Covid-19 contact-tracing app for England will soon be tested by members of the public.

Officials hope to confirm the date for the limited roll-out within a few days. It could be as soon as next week.

The app will let people scan barcode-like QR codes to log venue visits, as well as implementing Apple and Google’s method of detecting other smartphones.

But efforts are still ongoing to deliver medical test results within the product.

Users will get alerts if others they have recently been close to declare that they have been diagnosed with the coronavirus.

The software will provide information about the prevalence of the disease in the local area to encourage people to be more cautious if levels rise.”

An app that tracks you 24/7 and tells the government your every move? No thanks.

Trump should be applauded for not subjecting Americans to this type of system. Ironically it’s the people who shriek that Trump is a FASCIST DICTATOR who are complaining that he isn’t being more of a Fascist Dictator.

Additionally, Britain is over five months into the COVID pandemic and they still haven’t rolled out their contact tracing app.

So those are the three main gripes with Trump’s coronavirus policy. In my view, none of the three are valid criticisms.

What Should Trump Have Done Differently?

The same people saying Trump dropped the ball are the same people that would have been screaming bloody murder had he taken actions that would have prevented the virus from affecting us, namely closing the border and shutting down international trade. This is why it’s patently ridiculous to say that we would have been better off with the Democrats–the party of open borders–in charge during COVID

But the real problem is in the assumption that Trump is the be-all, end-all on Coronavirus policy. It’s a totally false argument to pin everything on Trump when he’s not the one making the final call.

Is Trump Even In Control?

As we went over above, coronavirus policies vary significantly from state-to-state. South Dakota has different policies in place than New York State.

And that’s the way it should be: both states are very different in terms of population, population density, demographics, etc. There is no reason there should be a one-size-fits-all nationwide policy.

States are largely in charge of their own policies. All the federal government does is make recommendations, and states can choose to base their own policies off of that, but they do not have to by any means. Everyone knows this, too. They know it’s the governor in their state that sets the policies on masks, businesses opening/closing, permitted gathering sizes, etc.

Think about it: who has imposed more COVID rules on you, Trump or your state’s governor? Can you think of a single rule that Trump has imposed on you? No, that’s because the mask orders and everything else come from state and local government.

It’s not up to Trump to open schools in the fall. If it was, they’d all be opened. It’s up to the state governments and the individual school districts.

The media knows this too, yet blatantly contradicts itself in its “reporting”: it blames Republican Florida Governor Ron DeSantis for being too lax about COVID policy, but then it turns around and blames Trump for his handling of the virus. Which is it? Is Florida’s governor in charge of his state, or is Trump? If it’s DeSantis’ fault, then how can it be Trump’s fault? And vice versa.

The only constant is that the media is just trying to shift the blame away from Democratic Governors in the worst-hit places like New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Massachusetts. Republican governors like Ron DeSantis (FL) and Brian Kemp (GA) are held to wildly different standards than Democratic Governors like Cuomo and Phil Murphy (NJ).

Wide Variance Between States

Along those lines, virus data in America varies significantly from state-to-state. For instance, New Jersey has a death rate of 1,793 per 1 million residents, whereas Wyoming only has 47 deaths per 1 million residents. New Jersey’s death rate is 38x higher than Wyoming’s, and 3.6x higher than the national average of 491.

Now there are obvious reasons why New Jersey would have a higher death rate–population, population density, proximity to NYC–but the point is that the impact of the virus has varied greatly around the country. New York State and New Jersey represent over 30% of US COVID deaths, but only 12.6% of total US cases.

Furthermore, Florida (21.4m) and New York (19.4) have similar populations and similar COVID case totals (510k in FL, 448k in NY), but wildly different death rates: New York has a death rate of 1,687 per 1 million, while Florida has a death rate of 361 per 1 million. New York’s death rate is 4.7x higher than Florida’s.

23 states each have fewer than 1,000 total COVID deaths, while the top six states in terms of COVID deaths have more combined deaths than the other 44 states combined.

The point is, because there is such a wide variance in how individual states have been affected by the virus, the idea that it all goes back to Trump is a double-edged sword: if he’s to blame for the terrible numbers in the Northeast, then shouldn’t he get credit for the low death rates in other parts of the country?

It just doesn’t make sense to pin it all on Trump, good or bad.

Comparing America and Europe

Have we actually been hit harder than everywhere else? And if so, is it Trump’s fault?

The only half-decent country-to-country comparison we can make is with Brazil. It’s about the same size as America geographically, however Brazil only has about 2/3 of the population as America (212m vs. our 330m).

In terms of cases, Brazil has 2.9 million compared to our 5 million. They have 98k deaths compared to our 162k deaths.

  • Cases per million:
    • USA: 15,193
    • Brazil: 13,716
  • Deaths per million:
    • USA: 491
    • Brazil: 464
  • Total tests:
    • USA: 63.1 million
    • Brazil: 13.2 million
  • Tests per million:
    • USA: 190k
    • Brazil: 62k

Our cases and deaths look very similar to Brazil’s. The only difference is we’ve done way more testing than they have. So their cases and deaths are probably under-counted.

An even better comparison than Brazil would be Europe–not each country individually, but the figures of its five biggest countries put together: UK, Spain, France, Italy and Germany. Combined, those five countries have a population of 324 million people, which is right around the US’s total population of 330 million. Add in the fact that America and Europe have similar levels of technology, medicine and living standards, and this is about as close to an apples-to-apples comparison as we’re going to get in the world.

Now, in terms of total cases, the US dwarfs the European Big Five: they have a combined 1,322,711 cases, while the US has 5,031,732 cases, which is more than 3.8x as much.

You might say that’s a product of us doing more tests, and while we have done millions more tests than those five countries combined, it’s not 3.8x as many tests. They’ve done a combined 44 million tests, we’ve done 63 million.

But here’s the thing: in terms of overall deaths, we are are only barely ahead of them:

  • Total US COVID deaths as of 8/6/20: 162,780
  • Total Europe Big Five COVID deaths: 149,664

So despite having 3.8x as many COVID cases, we only have about 13,000 more deaths than the European Big Five.

But, remember, we have about 7 million more people than their combined population.

In terms of deaths per million, it gets even closer: the European Big Five, when you take the average of their deaths-per-million, is 490 per million.

In the US, it’s 491 per million.

It’s pretty remarkable that it’s that close.

In terms of deaths as a percentage of the total population:

  • USA: 0.00049%
  • Europe Big Five: 0.00046%

Our deaths as a percentage of total cases are way lower:

  • USA: 3.23%
  • E5: 11.3%

However, I don’t know how much stock to put into this figure given that our death rates are so remarkably similar. If anything, I think this major disparity shows the US has had a lot of false positives. If we have 3.8x the number of documented cases but right around the same number of deaths, either it means America is significantly better at curing people when they get COVID. It could simply mean we have falsely diagnosed a lot of people who didn’t actually have it. Or it could mean we’ve over-tested and are counting asymptomatic cases in the same category as symptomatic cases.

A rundown of the numbers broken down by country. . .

  • Deaths as a percentage of total cases:
    • France: 15.5%
    • UK: 15%
    • Italy: 14%
    • Spain: 8%
    • Germany: 4.2%
    • USA: 3.23%
  • Deaths as a percentage of the total population:
    • UK: 0.00068%
    • Spain: 0.00060%
    • Italy: 0.00058%
    • USA: 0.00049%
    • France: 0.00046%
    • Germany: 0.00011%
  • Deaths per million:
    • UK: 683
    • Spain: 610
    • Italy: 582
    • USA: 491
    • France: 464
    • Germany: 110

One thing that sticks out is Germany’s dramatically lower death rate. Why is this? My first guess would be that they count their deaths more accurately than everyone else. In America, we count deaths with COVID in the same category as deaths of COVID, and everyone knows those are two very different things.

Probably the biggest factor in Germany’s significantly lower death rate is that they aren’t labeling COVID deaths willy-nilly.

An article from late March noted the wide disparity in COVID deaths between Italy and Germany as a product of the way each country defines a COVID death:

“The latest figures from the Robert Koch Institute show that Germany has a  (CFR) of 0.3 percent, while the World Health Organisation (WHO) figures from Italy seem to show a CFR of nine percent. The case fatality rate from coronavirus in Germany records the underlying health conditions as the cause of death, instead of reporting the death as the result of the pathogen. Doctor John Lee, a recently retired professor of pathology and a former NHS consultant pathologist, said: “The data on COVID-19 differs wildly from country to country.

“Italy has 69,176 recorded cases and 6,820 deaths, a rate of 9.9 percent. Germany has 32,986 cases and 157 deaths, a rate of 0.5 percent. We ought to suspect a systematic error, that the COVID-19 data we are seeing from different countries is not directly comparable.”

The former pathologist argues the death rate is not being calculated uniformly across the world, he said: “Recording cases where there was a positive test for the virus is a very different thing to recording the virus as the main cause of death.”

BBC Broadcaster Andrew Neil has tweeted in support of Doctor John Lee’s data methodology theory. He tweeted: “Germany, I’m told, records as cause of death any underlying condition, if there is one, even if they had coronavirus. We record it as coronavirus death if they had the virus regardless of underlying conditions.”

That’s why Germany’s death count remains far lower than its neighboring countries. They’re just stingier on what they label as a COVID death.

If we counted our deaths the same way as Germany, I’m sure our total deaths would be way lower than the current number. And, if Germany counted their deaths the same way we and most other countries do, then Europe’s death total would probably be higher than our’s.

The point is, there’s little discernible difference in how America has been affected by the virus compared to how Europe has been affected by it. Our numbers are right in the same ballpark as their’s–and Brazil’s as well. So if Trump has failed, then both Europe and Brazil have failed as well.

Or maybe the reality is that global pandemics happen from time to time, and when they happen a lot of people will get sick, and a lot of those people will die. The closeness of the numbers in America, Europe and Brazil indicate that our policy responses are most (but not completely) futile, and that the best course of action is to just let it run its course.

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All this is to say that contrary to the media narrative, Trump’s perceived response to the coronavirus is unlikely to matter much in the election. The people who already hated him and were already planning on voting against him are, unsurprisingly, the biggest critics of his coronavirus response. And the people who supported him before COVID hit are not abandoning him over his response to the virus.

I seriously doubt Trump’s response to the Coronavirus will cause a significant number of voters–pro- or anti-Trump–to rethink their vote. People are, for the most part, already locked-in. This, more than anything, is why I don’t trust the polls. I just find it extremely hard to believe a candidate can gain or lose 5% support over the course of a few weeks. I don’t think the candidates’ support levels fluctuate that much throughout the course of the campaign. Most voters are not persuadable anyway, and the ones that are have a good idea of whether they’re going to flip parties well before election day.

What’s more, the small number of voters that are still up for grabs this year and are basing their vote on how well they perceive Trump’s coronavirus response, are probably not very bright individuals. This is a virus that has killed, at most, 0.00049% of the U.S. population over a span of five months. The only way you’re highly concerned about the virus is if you’re in the high-risk category (diabetic, overweight, old, preexisting conditions) or if you pay way too much attention to the Fake News Media.

I wouldn’t worry too much about Trump losing support over his supposedly poor handling of the virus. There’s little evidence that he’s handled it poorly, and even though there are lots of people out there who think he’s handling it horribly were never going to vote for him in the first place.

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