While the COVID-19 pandemic continues across the world, incumbent’s seeking re-election during this unprecedented period are being re-elected at a staggering rate.

Recent elections held since the declaration of a Global Pandemic show that not only are incumbents are winning re-election, but in most cases, are expanding their existing vote shares.

With the potential for a federal election next year, and as we wait for the final presidential election results in the United States, Nexus provides our insight and analysis on the COVID Incumbency Effect:

OVERVIEW:

Even prior to the rise of COVID-19, there has always been a perceived ‘incumbency effect’, with incumbent leaders typically getting more airtime in the media as well as having tangible achievements they can sell to the electorate.

However, with COVID-19 requiring rapid and substantial government response both on health and broader issues, the incumbency effect for elections appears to have been further amplified. Opposition parties and candidates have seen increased difficulty to gain significant media traction in their respective jurisdictions prior to an election campaign.

This, in part, is due to the strong Government response required to deal with the economic and health fallout of the Pandemic, whereby in many cases, criticism of the Government by Opposition parties is poorly received by voters.

2020 ELECTION HISTORY

Since the World Health Organisation declared the COVID-19 outbreak a Pandemic on March 11th, 2020, 29 major national and regional elections have been held in Full & Flawed Democracies as characterised by the Economist Intelligence Unit. The following is an overview of their results and the swing towards the incumbent in their respective jurisdictions:

Country/Region Incumbent Party Re-Elected? Swing Towards Incumbent Date Held
South Korean Legislative Election YES +12.9% 15 April
Maryland 7th special election (USA) YES -3% 28 April
Wisconsin 7th special election (USA) YES -3% 12 May
California 25th special election (USA) NO -9.3% 12 May
New York 27th special election (USA) YES +2.7% 23 June
Icelandic Presidential Election YES +53% 27 June
Eden-Monaro By-Election (Australia) YES -0.46% 4 July
Basque Regional Election (Spain) YES +1.3% 12 July
Galician Regional Election (Spain) YES +0.4% 12 July
Trinidad and Tobago General Election YES -2.60% 10 August
Northern Territory General Election (Australia) YES -3.9% 22 August
New Brunswick Provincial Election (Canada) YES +7.45% 14 September
Apulian Regional Election (Italy) YES -0.3% 20 September
Campania Regional Election (Italy) YES +28.33% 20 September
Ligurian Regional Election (Italy) YES +21.7% 20 September
Marche Regional election (Italy) NO -3.78% 20 September
Tuscan Regional Election (Italy) YES +0.5% 20 September
Venetian Regional Election (Italy) YES +26.71% 20 September
Sabah State Election (Malaysia) NO         -6.36% 26 September
Lithuanian Parliamentary Election NO -5% 11 October
Viennese State Election (Austria) YES +2% 11 October
New Zealand General Election YES +12.25% 17 October
ACT General Election (Australia) YES -0.6% 17 October
British Columbia Provincial Election (Canada) YES +4.81% 24 October
Azorean Regional Election (Portugal) YES -7.3% 25 October
Saskatchewan Provincial Election (Canada) YES -0.6% 26 October
Toronto Centre By-Election (Canada) YES -15.39% 26 October
York Centre By-Election (Canada) YES -4.50% 26 October
Queensland State Election (Australia) YES +4.8% 31 October

 

As can be seen above, in the 29 major elections held since the Pandemic, 25 out of 29 (86%) have been retained by incumbents. Further to this, in the 25 elections where incumbents were re-elected, 56% of them received a swing towards them. There does not appear to be any correlation between the date’s elections have been held and Government’s chance of re-election since the Pandemic has been called. This would be difficult to establish considering the size of the COVID-19 outbreak, and the likelihood of re-election. When incumbents won elections above, the average swing towards them was approximately +5.5%.

IMPACT AND ANALYSIS

The COVID-19 Incumbency Effect could have a clear impact on upcoming elections, including in the close result United States and potentially Australia further down the track.

While many analysts believe it will now be difficult for Trump to catch Biden’s large lead, considering the unprecedented nature of 2020, Trump has benefited from the incumbency effect as outlined above.

However, a more conceivable impact the COVID-19 Incumbency Effect could have on the United States election is on whether Republicans or Democrats control the Senate.   The Republican have held the Senate and the Democrats maintained control of the House.  Again, incumbency potentially a major driver.

Another consideration of the COVID-19 incumbency effect is how long it will last. The length of time elections favour incumbents could be a major factor as to when Prime Minister Scott Morrison decides to call the next Federal Election.

While the Prime Minister has recently stated he wants to serve a full term, justifying his decision by saying “Elections are too hard to win”. However, he may find that an election in 2021, with the memory of the Coalition Government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic fresh in the minds of voters, an easier election than if he were to go to the polls at the end of his term in May 2022.

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