CLEVELAND — The coronavirus pandemic across the United States is not only changing how voters cast their ballot but also potentially who they vote for.
“I wear a mask, I don’t go out any more than I have to,” said Margorie Kapell. “My husband and I have not been to a restaurant in probably a year.”
“I never thought you’d have to put into your wardrobe a mask that would save your life,” said Denise Cseh.
Both Kapell and Cseh are taking the virus seriously, vowing to follow the guidelines put out by medical experts to limit interaction with other people and wear a mask when in public.
“[COVID is] something that you can actually die from,” said Cseh. “It’s nothing to play with.”
And yet, both women are casting their ballots for President Donald Trump despite his repeated attempts to downplay the seriousness of the virus and efficacy of wearing masks.
"I don't wear masks like [former Vice President Joe Biden.] Every time you see him, he's got a mask. He could be speaking 200 feet away from it, and he shows up with the biggest mask I've seen," Trump said during the first Presidential Debate.
Kapell and Cseh’s discomfort with the president’s large rallies leading up to Election Day won’t cost him their votes.
“They talk about all these rallies,” said Kapell. “If [attendees] don’t want to wear a mask they they get [COVID], it’s their problem. It’s not the president’s [problem].”
“Playing [the coronavirus risk] down just really didn’t sit well with me,” said Chris Colbert.
He said that each election, he’s open to voting for either party. In 2020, he’s known 10 people who got COVID, turning his vote blue.
“For sure, I’m going to vote Democrat this year,” said Colbert.
The most recent polling puts President Trump on defense, which makes sense to Case Western Reserve University Political Science Associate Professor Justin Buchler.
“There is some evidence that incumbents will be held responsible for natural events,” said Buchler.
He said incumbents like President Trump are often judged on their reaction to events beyond their control.
A Reuters poll taken “after Trump’s COVID-19 infection and weekend hospitalization, found 37% of American adults approved of the president’s handling of the pandemic and 59% disapproved."
The biggest question heading into Election Day is "How much will that gap matter?"
Buchler said American elections tend to follow a fairly simple formula.
“You sort of get two terms for each party, moderated by the state of the economy,” said Buchler.
But even the economy has been unpredictable through the virus. At first, it tanked, only to largely recover with small dips as cases in the United States surged making it harder to predict how voters might react.
“When that downturn is the result of a pandemic, it may turn out to be different,” said Buchler. “We don’t know.”
Political polarization has also played a role.
“The difference between a Biden presidency and a Trump presidency is about as big as any other contest we’ve seen in modern history,” said Buchler.
That means supporters for each major political party are more likely to be finding a way to firmly support their party regardless of evidence that might otherwise sway their vote.
After all, Cash and Kapell both said they were taking COVID-19 seriously and were voting for President Trump because of how he’s handled the crisis. When asked about how critics say he should do more to stop the spread of the virus through consistent messaging and wearing a mask in public, they both said they trust individual Americans to make the right decision anyway.
“Everybody says that [President Trump] lies,” said Kapell. “I think they interpret what he says differently. He has a sense of humor that a lot of people don’t have now-a-days.”
For all those reasons, Buchler said it’s hard to tell before Election Day the lasting impact the 2020 Election and coronavirus might have on the American electoral process because it’s hard to know how different the results this year might be compared to other elections through history.
Through a presidency that has already busted countless norms, Buchler said on Election Night and the days after he’s watching to see what happens if President Trump loses and refuses to concede the election.
“We could see a Biden win, and Trump might refuse to concede and we don’t know how that turns out,” said Buchler. “If that’s the deviation we observe then asking how long it takes to return to normal becomes a very different question.”
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