As the coronavirus pandemic is distressing the United States, and the 2020 election is less than one hundred days away, the race for presidency is more complicated than ever. Pfizer has promised to produce 100 million vaccines by the end of 2020, but until this tentative date, the virus will continue to affect all aspects of American life, including elections in the fall. These circumstances pose the question: How will COVID-19 affect campaigning for office?
Starting with local elections, COVID-19 has a weighty effect on how candidates campaign and how citizens vote. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises voters to social distance and avoid crowded polling stations. Because of these guidelines, many voters will opt to vote using mail-in ballots. These ballots are filled out weeks before election day; unfortunately, news that may influence elections can be released after early voters have cast their votes. Public health guidelines also play a role in how candidates will choose to campaign.
Campaigning and speaking is essential to elections. Now, without the ability to congregate in large groups, candidates are unable to reach out to their communities. For those with access to the internet, virtual debates and online events are useful to form an opinion about a candidate, but people in underserved communities can make ‘blind’ votes. With minimal access to the internet, underprivileged households are not presented with the tools that more affluent communities use to become familiar with a candidate.
State elections will be affected by similar issues, but early voting will also exacerbate these problems. States such as Maine, Michigan, and Wyoming are able to vote forty-five days prior to election day. Some states close early voting as late as November 2. Because of the virus, early voting is earlier than ever. With early voting beginning more than a month before the election, the one month window when voters change their opinions will become negligible. Since many voters make their decisions before this time, the weeks leading up to election day will not be as critical as this time during previous elections.
Disregarding the physical limitations of the virus, the impact of the pandemic will be a determining factor for incumbents running for reelection. The polls of current governors and congresspeople are likely to be influenced by their handling of the virus. If voters believe the incumbent is at fault for poorly handling the pandemic, the incumbent will likely lose many supporters. Governor Chris Sununu of New Hampshire, however, has an eighty percent approval rating for his response to the virus. Since his positive response to the virus, he has risen in the polls. The virus can disadvantage incumbents for responding to the virus too late, or it can bolster an incumbent’s campaign.
On the national scale, early voting will play a role in the integrity of this election. Many important swing states are promoting early voting, which starts in mid-September. Late September and October were turning points in the 2016 election. In this election, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was leading by half a point in September. By October, Clinton was leading by seven points, and she led by three points in the coming days of the election. In mid-October, a group of women came out accusing President Trump of sexual misconduct. This press release accounted for Clinton’s boost in the polls. The 2016 polls were greatly influenced by news released in October; early voters will not have the same opportunities to support a different candidate if similar stories are released during this time.
Coming elections—whether they are local elections, state elections, or the national presidential election—will be greatly influenced by the COVID-19 pandemic. This virus has imposed physical limitations that will make the 2020 election cycle unique from others. Virtual events make campaigning difficult, and mail-in ballots will make these elections more volatile to compulsive voters. Incumbents will be primarily evaluated on their abilities to thwart the pandemic. While this is important in evaluating candidates, there are other essential qualities to consider in an election. Important states that may determine the 2020 election are opening up to early voting, allowing citizens to finalize their opinions before any game-changing news is released.
The 2020 elections will reveal the dominating factors that affect polls. Unfortunately, it is difficult to return to a standard voting procedure, but voting in 2020 is essential to the future of the United States.