The COVID-19 pandemic has been the defining issue of the 2020 general election, and the major party candidates have sent markedly different signals regarding its severity, how the federal government should respond, and which behaviors individuals should and should not be engaging in while the virus continues to spread. As such, it is perhaps unsurprising that there is a small but significant amount of movement between candidates − on net, away from Donald Trump − associated with levels of concern regarding the pandemic and perceptions regarding the federal government’s response.
Of course, it is important to note that despite the patterns we observe here, the vast majority of voters’ behavior has remained stable over time, and not all of the changes we observe are attributable to the pandemic. However, these results do suggest that, when provided with a strong signal regarding significant material differences between the major party candidates on an extremely salient issue, some voters are willing to update their candidate preferences accordingly. With days remaining until election day, and with the number of COVID cases surging, there is likely little the president can do to change voters’ evaluations of his pandemic response.