COVID-19 Meets the 2020 Election

An inside look at the political side effects of a worsening pandemic.

As confirmed cases of COVID-19 remain elevated across the country, most Americans are growing increasingly concerned about the impact of the pandemic on the 2020 presidential election. And with November just a few months away, both presidential candidates have been feeling the heat of this unprecedented time.

Voters have been closely monitoring COVID-19 developments from a public health and economic perspective. The general consensus is that improvements on either front between now and November could foster support for President Trump, whereas a worsening crisis could lead voters to seek a change in administration by supporting Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee.

In an effort to improve their chances of victory and accelerate vaccine availability, the Trump administration is pursuing an emergency use authorization (EUA) from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). But while the administration is likely hoping the EUA is in place by October, there’s no guarantee that will be the case.

The race for the White House

Aside from triggering widespread distress, COVID-19 is also affecting the presidential candidates’ ability to hold in-person campaign events. Most recently, the Republican National Convention was forced to cancel its Jacksonville, Florida, component amid the state’s surging COVID-19 cases.

Since the onset of the pandemic, polls have appeared to favor Biden – particularly as case numbers have risen and public scrutiny increased over the Trump administration’s handling of the outbreak. It’s important to note, however, that polling data can be misleading, especially when it’s unclear how the pandemic will affect final voter turnout. Additionally, candidates do not need to secure the popular vote to win the election, as seen in 2016.

An evolving voting process

Just as the coronavirus outbreak has upended normal life throughout the country, all signs indicate it will also deeply influence the election voting process.

In late April 2020 – right as the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the U.S. surpassed 1 million (a figure that’s now climbed to about 5 million) – a national survey by Pew Research Center showed that 67% of Americans expected the pandemic to disrupt people’s ability to vote in the presidential election. The same poll showed 70% of Americans were in favor of allowing registered voters to vote by mail if they preferred doing so.

While it’s unclear how voting protocols will evolve this year, Washington Policy Analyst Ed Mills and Healthcare Policy Analyst Chris Meekins expect changes in both mail-in and in-person voting to accommodate current circumstances. In-person voting will most likely include strict sanitation and social distancing guidelines, and perhaps even temperature checks. Mail-in voting will largely depend on individual state laws.

All states currently allow a portion of their voting population to vote by mail – and all six swing states widely allow their residents to opt for mail-in voting. But some, such as New York and Delaware, require an excuse or reason. To learn about your state’s policy, visit ncsl.org.

Despite recent controversy, mail-in voting has its benefits, such as potentially increased voter turnout. It’s also the safest voting option during a pandemic. In addition, NPR reports that while mail-in voting fraud is slightly more common than with in-person voting, it is too rare to be statistically significant. The process does have drawbacks, however, including higher administrative costs and longer counting periods, which could delay the election results, as well as increased litigation and challenges to the election outcome.

Although we’ve yet to see what voting will look like in November, online voter registration services, such as Vote.org and Rock the Vote, have experienced a recent surge of website visits. This is particularly important considering that the pandemic forced many places that double as voter registration offices to close, potentially blunting the wave of new voters that typically sign up in the final months before a major election.

Predicting a pending outcome

As for November 2020, it’s too soon to say how COVID-19 will impact election results – although we can be certain it will. More likely than not, the outcome will depend on the general state of the economy and public health in the fall.

Sources: usatoday.com; cbsnews.com; cdc.gov; pewresearch.org; abcnews.go.com; npr.org

Video recorded on August 7, 2020.

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All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of Raymond James & Associates, Inc., and are subject to change. There is no assurance any of the trends mentioned will continue or that any of the forecasts mentioned will occur. Economic and market conditions are subject to change.

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