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Ipsos pollster Darrell Bricker made a smart point on Twitter, Tuesday night. Political polling, he said, was a waste of time and money right now, because “partisanship has been suspended as voters get behind government COVID recovery plans they hope will work.”

This won’t last, he added. We “will return to politics at some point.” So when politics does return, what will it look like? History suggests things will not look good for conservatives.

Trauma benefits incumbents. It doesn’t matter whether you’re NDP (John Horgan in British Columbia), Liberal (Justin Trudeau, federally) or Conservative (Doug Ford in Ontario), governments are popular and oppositions parties ignored.

This is hardly surprising. Frightened voters are counting on their political leaders to protect them from a serious threat. Canada’s death rate is lower than that of the United States and most, although not all, of the larger countries in Europe. All governing parties at the provincial and federal level are likely to be rewarded.

But as the first tentative efforts to loosen restrictions get under way, political questions are bound to arise. How great an increase in deaths is tolerable in order to get people back to work? How far should taxpayers be asked to go to protect failing businesses? Should there be any limit to the debt governments take on?

It isn’t hard to imagine conservative and progressive parties putting forward very different answers to those questions. So which side are most voters more likely to support?

In past traumas, external threats have pushed voters toward conservative leaders, who tend to respond aggressively. The oil shock and Iranian hostage crisis in 1979-80 defeated Democratic president Jimmy Carter and elected Republican challenger Ronald Reagan. The Falklands War in 1982 probably saved British prime minister Margaret Thatcher from defeat after one term. The attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, helped re-elect Republican president George W. Bush in 2004.

But internal threats favour progressives, who respond with heavy spending and social reforms. The Great Depression made Franklin Roosevelt a great president. The massive economic interventions to fight the Great Recession of 2008-2009 helped Barack Obama win a second term four years later.

To the extent COVID-19 is viewed as an internal threat, the $250-billion and counting the Liberals have spent to fight it should help Mr. Trudeau prevail over whoever the Conservatives choose as the next leader.

In the United States, where a presidential election is less than six months away, Republican President Donald Trump is defying the maxim of voters rallying around the leader. His initial underplaying of the crisis and his impatience to reopen the economy at whatever cost in lives has helped place Democratic challenger Joe Biden – 77 years old and sitting in his basement – ahead in the polls.

In Britain, Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson was initially reluctant to impose physical distancing or even to discourage people shaking hands. Thanks to that approach, Mr. Johnson was hospitalized with the disease and Britain now has the second-highest number of deaths in the world, after the United States.

“How on earth did it come to this?” Labour’s quite effective new leader, Keir Starmer, asked Wednesday. It’s a good thing for the Tories that the next British election is four years off.

The notion that external threats help conservatives and internal threats help progressives may also explain the latest round of China-bashing by those on the right.

This is not to say China shouldn’t be bashed. Incompetence and secretiveness in Beijing may have turned a containable outbreak into a global pandemic. But China is also a convenient whipping-country for American Republicans, who are trying to deflect attention from their own poor judgment. In Canada, outgoing Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has had harsh words, and the Johnson government let it be known that it was “furious” with Beijing.

But the blame-China game is unlikely to work. COVID-19 is an intensely domestic affair, as every locked-down household can attest. The political season, when it returns, will favour Liberals in Canada at the national level, Democrats in the United States and Labour in Great Britain.

That season may be short, as debt and jobless numbers climb, businesses collapse and voters start valuing economic competence over social compassion.

But while the season lasts – probably for a year or so – the progressives will own the field.

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