The Trump and Biden covid scorecards, another look

Last week, I wrote a post called “Biden’s covid scorecard is worse than Trump’s.” I caveated it by saying that presidents should not be judged based, without more, on how many Americans die during a pandemic. However, I also noted that Joe Biden based much of his case for the presidency on precisely this criterion.

Employing it, I found that the U.S. has lost ground to the four major European nations it makes most sense to compare our coronavirus deaths with — the UK, Italy, Spain, and France. During the presidential debates, Biden slammed Trump by claiming that Europe had done much better in limiting covid deaths than the U.S. However, at that time and for months thereafter, the number of deaths per capita in the U.S. from the virus was at about the midpoint of those in these four nations. Now, we have the most per capita deaths of any of the four.

When I wrote that post, the Wall Street Journal had also compared the scorecards of Trump and Biden, albeit relying on different data, and found that Biden comes off worse. Apparently others — House Minority Leader McCarthy, Breitbart, and Tucker Carlson — have sounded the same note.

Aaron Blake of the Washington Post sets out to counter it with this analysis. It begins by acknowledging the unfairness of numerically-based attacks, including those by Joe Biden, on Donald Trump’s covid performance. Blake notes that Trump’s critics failed to use per capita data in their analysis and suggests, in any case, that presidents aren’t necessarily responsible for the number of covid deaths.

That’s probably as much fairness as we’ll ever get from the Washington Post on the subject, and it comes, I believe, only because Biden’s scorecard is under fire.

Eventually, Blake gets around to the task at hand — trying to beat back the argument that Trump’s scorecard is better than Biden’s. Tellingly, though, Blake stops short of claiming that Biden’s is better than Trump’s. He concludes his article this way:

[T]he straight Biden-vs.-Trump death comparison isn’t as friendly to Trump’s administration as these oversimplified talking points [by the Wall Street Journal and others] suggest. Biden hasn’t been able to get the virus as under control as he promised, but almost nobody has. And to say he “has done no better than Donald Trump in defeating covid” based upon the 2021-to-2020 comparison is to vastly oversimplify things.

In 2020, did Blake write an article excusing Trump’s covid performance because no one has been able to get the virus under control? If so, I missed it. Did he accuse Biden of using “oversimplified talking points” in his numbers-based attacks on Trump’s performance? If so, I missed it.

In any case, Blake himself resorts to a weak comparison in attempting to defend Biden’s scorecard. He writes:

Since Biden took over, the world as a whole has seen more deaths in his 10 months (3.07 million) than the preceding 10 months (2.14 million), but the United States has seen fewer. In Biden’s 10-plus months, the United States has accounted for less than 12 percent of worldwide deaths, which is down from 19.9 percent under Trump. That’s a decline of more than 40 percent in our proportion of the worldwide death rate.

This comparison is misleading for several reasons. First, worldwide data probably isn’t reliable. Who trusts China, Russia, and Iran to give accurate numbers? Not me. Who believes that underdeveloped nations are capable of providing sound data? Not me.

Second, the virus arrived in different parts of the world at different times. Compared to much of the world, the Wuhan coronavirus arrived in the U.S. early. If, as seems likely, deaths in much of the rest of the world were low when the death count in the U.S. first shot up, this would tilt Blake’s comparison in favor of Biden.

Third, much of the world has been slower than the U.S. to get its population inoculated with reasonably effective vaccines. That’s not because of Biden — European nations have done as well or better than the U.S. in this regard. It’s because much of the rest of the world is poor and underdeveloped.

Although Trump deserves a fair amount of credit for the development of reasonably effective vaccines, the vaccines weren’t approved for use here until the dying embers of his administration. Thus, nearly all the vaccinating occurred after Trump left office. Given this fact, all other things being equal, one would expect fewer U.S. deaths in relation to the rest of the world from January 21, 2021 forward than during the period before that date.

Realizing, perhaps, the speciousness of his analysis, Blake adds Europe to mix. He compares how Europe and the U.S. have fared compared to the rest of the world under Trump and under Biden, claiming that the U.S. has fared somewhat better under this test in relation to Europe since Biden took office.

Focusing in particular on the UK and Germany, he states:

The United Kingdom, with its very high vaccination rates, has gone from 4.4 percent of worldwide deaths pre-Jan. 20 to 1.7 percent afterward — a bigger relative drop than the United States. Germany has gone from 2.3 percent to 1.7 percent, a smaller drop than the United States.

I don’t know what data Blake is relying on. As noted above, my analysis — a straightforward comparison of per capita deaths from the virus in the U.S., the UK, Italy, Spain, and France — showed that the U.S. has lost ground compared to these four countries since Biden took office.

That analysis was based on numbers from Worldometer. I couldn’t find per capita numbers as of January 21, 2021, but did find some from less than a month earlier, and used them. The quick, back-of-the-envelope calculations I did today, based on data from the same source to account for what happened at the very end of December and the first three weeks of January, did not change my conclusion that we have lost ground to the four European nations since January 21.

My main takeaway from Blake’s article is that the Post has been forced by events to play defense when it comes to Biden’s covid scorecard, and that it’s playing defense with little success.

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