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Article Article March 13th, 2020
Health • Infrastructure • Cities • Legitimacy

Government legitimacy key factor in coronavirus response: Roundup on presidential campaigns, legitimacy, and coronavirus

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Govt legitimacy is vital for #pandemicresponse. Check out presidential candidates #cova19 response! #2020elections

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According to experts in pandemic response, govt. legitimacy & trust in govt. are “essential” for timely hospitalization & curtailing #cova19

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A key ingredient to #cova19 response? Government legitimacy!

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(Last updated: 3/18/2020)

With the 2020 campaigns underway, Americans are hearing plans and commentary from both the sitting President and presidential candidates on the handling of COVID19. The degree to which the American public trusts the sitting President and/or candidates to effectively identify and address the issues that matter most impacts overall views of government legitimacy in the current and future Administration.


According to experts in pandemic response, views of government legitimacy and trust in government are “essential” for timely hospitalization of cases and ultimately, curtailing, epidemics.

Recent actions from the candidates:

Biden and Bernie focus on Coronavirus in audience-less debate: In an audience-less debate hosted by CNN and Univision, Coronavirus took center stage early with both candidates memorably bumping elbows as opposed to shaking hands. Both campaigns have staff working from home and have switched primarily to virtual campaigning.

Sanders focused on how the pandemic emphasized and exacerbated existing dysfunctionality in the U.S. healthcare system. Sanders drew attention to the discrepancy in spending vs preparation, noting that despite spending twice as much per capita on health care as any other nation, the U.S. was unprepared for the coronavirus. Sanders asked, “We're spending so much money and yet we are not even prepared for this pandemic. How come we don't have enough doctors? How come hospitals in rural areas are shutting down?”

Biden focused on his past experience dealing with Ebola under Barack Obama as uniquely qualifying him for this time of crisis. Biden outlined his coronavirus-specific healthcare and bailout plan.

In short, the debate was a microcosm of the two candidates' differing styles: Bernie focused on the structural and systematic inequality/dysfunction that coronavirus is illuminating and exacerbating, while Biden focused on past experience dealing with crises and his immediate, specific plans for dealing with the coronavirus and the related economic fallout

President Trump gives a series of speeches on coronavirus: Trump's Rose Garden briefing on Friday March 13th, began with a declaration of a national emergency. Trump then pivoted to focus on the private sector response to coronavirus, featuring the CEOs of several major American companies and announcing public-private partnerships for testing.

Trump later called for Americans to avoid groups of 10 or more and to refrain from eating in restaurants.

The Trump administration also responded to criticism by candidates, traditional media, and social media on a lack of transparency and consistency contributing to 'chaos and confusion.' Particularly harsh criticism was leveled at the Administration for mischaracterizing a Google site to help triage for covid-19 testing as "going to be very quickly done" and capable of "determin[ing] whether a test is warranted and to facilitate testing at a nearby convenient location." Google Communications responded with a statement clarifying that the tool is, in fact, "in the early stages of development" for the Bay Area only, "with the hope of expanding more broadly over time."


Candidate positions on coronavirus

Shared Bernie/Biden Positions:

Supporting health providers

  • Both Democratic candidates support increased funding for the CDC and the NIH.

Use of military/reserves

  • Both candidates called for the mobilization of the military/National Guard to help deal with the logistics of the Coronavirus response.

Mitigating economic fallout (previously economic strategies)

  • Both candidates promised major financial bailout packages, aimed particularly at workers rather than corporations. Sanders took this a step further, promising not to bail out the oil industry.

International cooperation

  • Both call for greater American coordination with the WHO.

Joe Biden:

Legitimacy, transparency, and unity

In conjunction with the roll out of his plan to combat coronavirus, Biden called for greater transparency and communication between leaders and the American public.

Test and treatment accessibility

  • In a major address on March 12th, Biden called for the “wide availability of free testing, the elimination of all cost barriers to preventive care and treatment for COVID-19.” On March 16th, during the Democratic Debate, Biden further commented that his plan will ensure that everyone “will not have to pay a dollar out-of-pocket for visits related to COVID-19 testing, treatment, preventative services, and any eventual vaccine.”

  • During the March 16th Democratic Debate, Biden stated that he would take advantage of the tests made available by the WHO to expand testing across America.

  • At the Debate, Biden committed to the development of at least 10 drive-through testing locations in every state.

  • At the Debate, Biden promised to make the eventual vaccine free and claimed that his plan ensured that everyone “will not have to pay a dollar out-of-pocket for visits related to COVID-19 testing, treatment, preventative services, and any eventual vaccine.”

Supporting health providers

  • On January 27th, Biden called for increased funding for the Public Health Emergency Fund and for Congress to grant him the power to use the Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act if he becomes President.

  • In a major address on March 12th, Biden called for “the full deployment and operation of necessary supplies, personnel, and facilities” and preparation “to stand up multi-hundred-bed temporary hospitals.”

Use of military/reserves

  • In a major address on March 12th, Biden spoke of activating the Medical Reserve Corps, and directing the DOD to prepare for the potential deployment of military resources.

  • During the March 16th Democratic Debate, Biden called for the mobilization of the military to support the logistics of the Coronavirus response, including the construction of “500 hospital beds and tents that are completely safe and secure.”

Mitigating economic fallout 

  • On March 12th, Biden advocated for “emergency paid leave to all those affected by the outbreak,” including “guaranteed emergency paid sick leave and care-giving leave.”

  • In his bailout package, Biden outlines mortgage and student loan relief, support for child care and remote learning, several different employment assistance funds for both salaried and hourly workers who will face loss of employment or reduced wages due to the outbreak, expanded food relief, interest-free loans for small businesses, and directly funding cash assistance where needed.

International cooperation

Bernie Sanders:

Legitimacy, transparency, and unity

  • In his March 12th speech, Bernie focused on the need for solidarity, flagging the idea that we should only fend for ourselves “a tragic and dangerous mistake.” In leading this charge, he called for the American people to come together and support our friends, family, and neighbors; Presidential leadership and a bipartisan response to support the most vulnerable and needy among us, including “those in nursing homes, and rehabilitation facilities, those confined in immigration detention centers, those who are currently incarcerated and in jails, and all people, regardless of their immigration status;” and public-private cooperation in facing the crisis.

  • Bernie closed his March 12th statements with an ask for folks to “listen to the scientists, the researchers, the medical folks…not to the politicians.”

  • On March 12th , Bernie also called for easy access to relevant and transparent information regarding symptoms, testing, and treatment

At the March 16th Democratic Debate, Bernie took aim at Donald Trump, attacking him for “blabbering with unfactual information, which is confusing the general public” and “undermining the doctors and the scientists who are trying to help the American people.”

Test and treatment accessibility

  • In a March 5th op-ed and a roundtable, Bernie called for a free coronavirus vaccine to be distributed to the public once it is available.

  • On March 5th, Bernie called for immediate free government health insurance to all presenting coronavirus symptoms.

  • On March 12th, Bernie flagged the danger that a massive un-and-under-insured population posed to the U.S. pandemic response; the need for Congress to ensure all Americans can access healthcare during the crisis, regardless of income; free vaccination when it becomes available; and at-cost sales of treatments and medicines related to coronavirus by pharmaceutical companies

Supporting health providers

  • In a March 5th op-ed and a roundtable, Bernie called for hospitals to increase their ICU capacity and to purchase an increased number of ventilators before the virus takes hold.

  • On March 12th, Bernie called for the expansion of community health centers in the country; the need for a massive increase in the distribution and accuracy of coronavirus tests; emergency action to acquire mass quantities of ventilators; mass mobilization of reserve medical personnel; and adequate supplies of personal protective gear for health workers.

  • On March 15th, Bernie repeated his call for immediate increases in Coronavirus test kits and processing speed, while aggressively building out our ICUs and obtaining additional ventilators.

Mitigating economic fallout 

  • On March 12th, Bernie called for emergency funding for paid family and medical leave;  financial assistance for the elderly, disabled, and homeless individuals; economic assistance for any individual in this country who loses their job through no fault of their own due to the outbreak; unemployment insurance for hourly workers, restaurant workers, gig workers, and domestic workers; expansion of Meals on Wheels, the school lunch program, and SNAP; an immediate moratorium on evictions, foreclosures, and utility shutoffs; the construction of emergency shelters for the homeless, domestic violence survivors, and stranded college students; and emergency lending to small- and medium-sized businesses, particularly those who provide masks and ventilators.

  • On March 15th, Bernie repeated the call for emergency funding for paid family and medical leave.

Long-term policy changes 

  • On March 15th, Sanders called it incomprehensible” that the U.S. is “dependent on China and other countries for masks, prescription drugs, surgical gloves, and medical equipment like ventilators,” and called for the enactment of “fair trade” policies that would bring vital industries back to the United States.

  • At the March 16th Democratic Debate, Sanders advocated for Medicare-for-all as a necessary step towards dealing with the current pandemic and preparing for the next one, claiming that the “thousands of private insurance plans” comprise a system that was not “prepared to provide healthcare to all people.”

Donald Trump: 

Test and treatment accessibility

  • During a Rose Garden speech on March 14th, Trump announced a public-private partnership on testing and the immediate opening of emergency operation centers across the U.S.

Supporting health providers

  • In a phone call with Governors on March 16th, Trump recommended these leaders work to secure additional medical equipment rather than waiting on the Federal Government  to provide supply.

Directives to mitigate the crisis 

  • In a major speech given from the Oval Office on March 11th, Trump proposed a 30-day travel ban from Europe. Acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf later clarified that the ban would only cover foreign nationals who had visited a country in the Schengen Area in the past 14 days, thus exempting those who had visited the UK. The ban would also not apply to American citizens, legal permanent residents, or “(generally) immediate family members of U.S. citizens."

  • On March 14th, the Trump administration expanded the travel ban to passengers from the U.K. and Ireland. The ban still does not apply to U.S. citizens or their family members.

  • On March 16th, the Trump administration released national guidelines aimed at controlling the Coronavirus through social distancing. Included in the recommendations were school closures, staying away from restaurants, bars, and food courts, and avoiding groups of more than 10 people.

Mitigating economic fallout 

  • On March 11th, Trump promised to take executive action to “provide more than $200 billion of additional liquidity to the economy,” mainly through deferments on tax payments and penalties to those affected by the virus. Additionally, Trump, called on Congress to boost funding for the Small Business Administration by $50 billion and to cut the payroll tax.

  • On March 13th, Trump waived interest payments on federal student loans; and the purchase of “large quantities” of oil for the U.S. strategic reserve.

  • On March 17th, the White House proposed an $850 billion stimulus package. While the details of the package are unclear, at least $50 billion would be directed towards the airline industry, and it will almost certainly include an as-yet-undetermined amount of direct cash assistance to a huge portion of the American populace. It is unclear if this package would be in addition to, or in replacement of, the $100 billion package passed by the House last week.


For the latest information on COVID19 response, please visit the CDC and your local government websites.

About CPI North America Roundups

CPI North America is providing you with a regular roundup of vital issues surrounding our three North America pillars of government: legitimacy, economic mobility, and city innovation. Visit our website for more roundups and our repository on coronavirus.

2020Elections | Legitimacy | North America | United States | Presidential | Roundup | Coronavirus | COVID19

Written by:

Elysa Neumann Director, Communications & Storytelling, North America
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