The Sweep: Virology Edition

Campaign Quick Hits

For those who took up residence under a Wi-Fi-free rock over the weekend: The president tested positive for COVID-19 and was admitted to Walter Reed Hospital, where we are told by his doctors that he has steadily improved as of Sunday afternoon. 

How it may affect the election: It’s still too early to know how voters will react to the president’s diagnosis and treatment (in part because we don’t know how the president will react to his diagnosis and treatment), but my gut says it won’t change things and early indications are consistent with that as well. According to the latest Survey Monkey daily tracking poll, Joe Biden maintains his steady national lead over Trump, 52 percent to 44 percent, and Trump’s job approval remains “underwater but unchanged” at 44 percent. Further, ABC’s latest poll showed “approval for the president’s handling of the pandemic remained steady” at 35 percent. Further evidence that these numbers are unlikely to change is that the partisan divide remains steady across these polls, with nine in 10 Republicans, for example, believing the president will “be able to effectively handle his duties as president if there is a military or national security crisis.” 

My own personal focus group: I reached out to a half-dozen Trump voters this weekend from varying parts of the president’s base to see whether anything this week had or could change their votes. One had already voted early and didn’t regret her vote—just a reminder that the election is very much underway. But to a person, not one even considered changing their vote. So while you will see multiple polls showing large majorities who believe “if President Trump had taken coronavirus more seriously, he probably would not have been infected,” that doesn’t mean they are going to change their votes. The one undecided voter I spoke with said she still isn’t sure who she is going to vote for—she doesn’t like Trump’s personality but is concerned about how radical a Biden administration could end up being—but that the news from this weekend didn’t factor into her decision at this point.

Oh, right, there was a debate this week: It’s hard to remember back that far, but the first presidential debate happened less than a week ago. Tevi Troy sent me a fun historical fact: “There have been seven incumbents who have debated in the presidential debates since 1976.  Six of those incumbents lost either the first debate or the debates as a whole. Clinton lost no debates and won re-election. The three who lost but then righted the ship after a loss (Obama, Reagan and Bush 43) won re-election. The other three (Ford, Carter, and Bush 41) lost to the challenger.” This, of course, doesn’t mean that those debates changed any votes; it’s just as likely to me that people’s vote preferences colored who they believed won those debates. So while a majority of people across the polls believed Biden won the first debate, more than 90 percent who said “they’d already decided on Trump or Biden planned to stick with their choice.” In a related focus group, these voters indicated that “there’s almost nothing that could change their minds between now and November.” Here was a telling response: “Dartavia P. said she was ‘irritated that [President Trump] kept talking over everybody and that he wouldn’t answer the questions,’ but plans to vote to re-elect him.”

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