Yahoo Finance’s Alexis Christoforous and Brian Sozzi speak with Beacon Policy Advisors Senior Research Analyst Ben Koltun about the political and economic fallout that is sweeping the U.S.
ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: These protests already have a profound political impact with politicians across the spectrum denouncing President Trump for last night's move to clear protesters near the White House so that he could stage a photo op in front of a damaged historic church. And it comes at a time when eight states and Washington, DC, are voting in primaries.
Let's talk about this now with Ben Koltun. He is Senior Research Analyst at Beacon Policy Advisors. Ben, it's good to see you again.
Look, I want to talk to you about what the president did yesterday. He's painting himself as, quote, "the law-and-order president." He had that photo op in front of that historic church, got a lot of backlash for it. Do you think this actually hurts his chances of getting re-elected?
BEN KOLTUN: Thanks, Alexis, for having me on. I don't think it makes a difference right now one way or the other. I think when you're looking at the polling today, Trump, his approval rating is at 43%. On January 1, it was at 43%. And between that time there was the third Senate trial-- impeachment trial in American history. There was the gravest health pandemic in over a hundred years, and there was also the greatest economic contraction and unemployment spike since the Great Depression. And now we have these most serious public riots in decades.
And so, one way or the other, Trump is trying to kind of ameliorate his base, seem like he is the law-and-order president. And so it will play well with them, but that's not kind of the group that he needs to focus on. He needs to focus on kind of the undecided voters, which are younger, minorities, and more independent voters. And it's unlikely that this new law-and-order focus will make much of a difference.
ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: How is-- is Biden gaining any traction with those-- with those critical voters, those younger voters, also suburban women? And it looks as though this time around Trump may actually lose the older vote, something that he had in 2016.
BEN KOLTUN: Yeah, so Biden, for all the criticisms on Twitter, is he's in one of the strongest positions for a challenger in modern polling history. He continues to lead Trump by six points nationally, which is the same that he did at the beginning of the year. And so he's always had a popularity among older voters, which he's leading among Trump.
Now, he does have some problems with younger voters and among nonwhite voters as compared to Hillary Clinton four years ago, but it's tough to see that these voters, when push comes to shove, will end up voting for Trump. And he's done-- Biden has done a much better job consolidating the anti-Trump vote compared to Clinton four years ago.
BRIAN SOZZI: Ben, the rising civil unrest that we are seeing in the country right now, does that change the long-term prospects for the stock market?
BEN KOLTUN: I'd say the market right now is an amoral entity and respects the plight of the racial and socioeconomic injustices. There are a lot of comparisons to the riots and protest from 1968 coming from kind of the Vietnam War, the Martin Luther King assassination, and the declining distrust in government. And yet in 1968, the economy grew at nearly 5%. Unemployment rate was below 4%, and the S&P 500 gained 8% for the year. So I don't think the market today sees the protests as an economic issue, more of a moral and political event.
Now, granted, compared to 1968, we are dealing with kind of a health pandemic and an economic recession. And as a-- as the economy tries to reopen in cities like Washington, DC, continuing protests beyond one week could certainly damper the reopening process and put kind of pressure for increased unemployment. And so those are things to look for in the coming weeks ahead.
ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: All right, so their longevity is what you're saying could actually turn these protests and riots possibly into an economic event.
But I want to talk about these primaries that we have going on today. One of them could be the end of a career for nine-term Iowa GOP congressman Steven King. I'm wondering which races do you find to be pivotal today? Which ones are you really watching, Ben?
BEN KOLTUN: Yeah, certainly there are some races where the national GOP does not want to see kind of their kind of brethren continue, especially Steve King.
I guess the one race that I'm focusing on is the primaries in Pennsylvania. We know Pennsylvania will be a battleground state in November, but COVID-19 has kind of changed the operations of the elections, particularly with mail-in ballots.
In Pennsylvania, we saw an 18-fold increase in the number of requested mail ballots from four years ago. And, you know, poor execution and uncounted ballots could be an alarm bell for November when there will be undoubtedly an increase in the surge in absentee ballots and the potential reemergence of coronavirus in the fall.
ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: And we know that mail-in ballots has been a bone of contention for our president as well. Ben Koltun, senior research analyst at Beacon Policy Advisors, thanks for being with us.
BEN KOLTUN: Thank you for having me.