NEWS20 October 2020

US election: Covid-19 defines voters’ views

Covid-19 News North America US Election

US – With two weeks until the presidential election, Covid-19 is the key issue, both for American voters and the election process.

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On Tuesday 3rd November, the United States goes to the ballots, with incumbent Donald Trump running against Democratic candidate Joe Biden.

In the midst of the ongoing pandemic, the key context of this presidential election is Covid-19 – both in terms of concerns from voters and in terms of its impact on the voting process itself.

Speaking at a virtual event held by Ipsos yesterday ( 19th October), Clifford Young, president of Ipsos public affairs, said: “We can’t get around it – this election is about coronavirus first and foremost. It is what’s defining voters’ view of the world.”

Having a ‘robust plan’ for Covid-19 is the biggest issue for American voters, at 29%, overtaking the economy, according to Young. Biden currently leads on this issue, both nationally and in swing states, while Trump is in a more difficult position with the virus but leads on the issues of law and order and the economy. Trump has attempted to play down the impact of the virus, even after becoming infected.

At a national level, polls have favoured Biden, but the overall picture is more uncertain, said Young. “There are mixed signals. The distribution of possible outcomes ranges from a ‘Biden blowout’ to a slight Trump victory. It’s a very difficult election to call – this is not an election about persuading people, this is about getting the base out [to vote].”

Trump’s approval rate is at 42% and this has stayed stable. “This is a sign of highly partisan times – you’re either with him or against him and that doesn’t change much even in the pandemic.”

Biden is showing a lead at a national level in Ipsos’ horse-race poll but Young added: “It’s not about the popular vote – it’s about 50 state elections.”

Biden is also currently leading in key swing states, on average. Young added: “Key states remain battlegrounds, however Biden is improving in battleground states. However, Clinton was in the same place in the same swing states with the same margin in 2016 – this should give us pause.”

He concluded: “A poll is not a forecast – a poll is a snapshot in time.”

Yasmeen Serhan, staff writer at the The Atlantic, speaking at the Ipsos event, discussed the potential delay in establishing the election result. “We are accustomed to having a sense of who has won the election by the end of the night or early hours of the morning, but I would caution against that expectation this time around.”

Serhan added: “If it’s a close or contested result, this election could pose a challenge for the future of American democracy.”

Speaking at an Esomar event on 12th October, Jean-Marc Léger, founding president of Leger, pointed to increased level of interest in this year’s campaign.

“88% of the population have some kind of enthusiasm in this election. That level of enthusiasm is really high,” Léger said.

Polling from Leger also found that 94% of US voters said their choice is final, and that Covid-19 has overtaken the economy in the minds of voters. “Usually an election starts with reason and ends with emotion – this time it is the opposite, because of Covid-19,” said Léger.  

The pandemic is also having an impact on the way in which votes are cast. Joe Lenski from Edison Research, which is conducting in-person exit polling, in-person early voter interviews and telephone interviews with postal voters, said at the Esomar event: “There has been an ongoing trend of by-mail voting, but this has increased due to Covid-19.”

Research from Pew indicates that Biden has a lead among people voting by mail, while Trump has more of an advantage among those planning to vote in person.

The large increase in postal voting could result in delays in votes being received and counted. There are also variations from state to state, as each state varies in terms of their ballot processing laws and reporting procedures, explained Lenski.