FEATURE19 January 2021

Voting in Covid-19: The 2020 US election

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Features Impact North America

The 2020 US presidential election took place against the backdrop of a global pandemic. Chris Jackson shares some of the polling challenges.

US election 2020

During the best of times, election polling is fundamentally challenging. The act of asking people who they may support relies on them predicting their future behaviour, something research indicates people are notoriously bad at doing. Even for the quickest, highest-quality poll, time moves, circumstances change, and support for candidates can shift. So, pollsters poll a lot to try to capture this movement throughout an election cycle.

In the US, presidential elections are increasingly decided by a few thousand votes as the public has become locked into their party of choice. Low turnout or variations in how ballots get counted can be the difference between winning and losing. The 2020 election amplified these issues.

A life-altering, deadly global health crisis during a highly contentious presidential election magnified the known challenges of electoral polling, while pandemic-specific problems threw us more curveballs. Not only did we have to consider the usual questions, such as who is going to vote – as we do every election cycle ...