TargetSmart Insights - COVID-19 and Elections Wave 2 -- Findings from the TargetSmart + Dynata National Voter Insights Study

Though concern about the coronavirus seems to both be abating slightly and becoming more polarized by partisanship in recent weeks, American voters are souring on President Trump’s handling of the crisis and coalescing around the idea that we will not be getting back to normal life any time soon. At the same time, despite Trump’s attempts to inject partisanship into the discussion about expanded mail-in voting and to stoke fears of voter fraud, Americans continue to overwhelmingly support safe alternatives to in-person Election Day voting like vote-by-mail and early voting. Toplines, crosstabs, and a full statement on the poll’s methodology can be found by visiting insights.targetsmart.com.

Trump receives negative approval ratings on coronavirus response, voters believe Obama and Bush would have done a better job.

President Trump’s job approval rating on handling the response to the coronavirus have fallen by 7-points on net since our early April poll, to 44% approve against 53% disapprove. Notably, while vast majorities of voters still approve of the job their local officials (75% percent approve) and governors (65% approve) are doing in handling the response to the outbreak, approval ratings for these leaders have also softened in this time. Even so, Trump compares poorly to his most recent predecessors, as majorities believe both Barack Obama and George W. Bush would be doing a better job than Trump in handling the response (see figure 1)

54% believe that Barack Obama would be doing a better job than Donald Trump in handling the response to the coronavirus outbreak. 29% believe Barack Obama would be doing a worse job than Donald Trump in handling the response to the coronavirus outbreak.
50% believe George W. Bush would be doing a better job than Donald Trump in handling the response to the coronavirus outbreak. 19% believe George W. Bush would be doing a worse job than Donald Trump in handling the response to the coronavirus outbreak.
Figure 1

Coronavirus-related anxiety remains strong, though it has eased slightly and become more polarized by party.

Most Americans continue to worry about contracting the coronavirus and its effect on the economy. Two-thirds (64 percent) are very or somewhat worried that they or someone in their family may contract the virus. Three-quarters say the outbreak is a large economic problem in their local community. And while majorities continue to express overall concern about the coronavirus, the trends compared to previous poll shows that voters are somewhat less concerned than they were in early April:

  • Concern about contracting the virus is down from 74% in April to 64% today
  • 54% view the outbreak as a large public health problem in their local community, down from 61% in April
  • Over half (54%) are concerned that they or a member of their family will lose work or income due to the outbreak, down from 61% in April
  • Voters are also less concerned that the outbreak will prevent citizens from registering to vote (50% down from 57%), or that the coronavirus will prevent citizens from voting in this year’s elections (56% down from 63%)
  • However, far more American voters think we're in this for the long haul than did in April as the number of voters who believe it will take more than six months for things to get back to normal has doubled from 25% in April to 50% today.

Notably, 1-in-3 voters remain very concerned that the coronavirus will prevent Americans from voting and we’ve seen less movement when it comes to the number of American voters who are worried that they or someone in their immediate family might catch the coronavirus while voting in-person (43% very or somewhat worried, down from 46%). In all of these cases, we measure a prevalent partisan trend in which self-identified Republican voters are far less likely than Democrats or political independents to express concern about anything related to the coronavirus.

Safe voting is NOT seen as a partisan issue and remains a high priority.

Though the President has attempted to politicize the notion of safe voting, most American voters agree with the characterization of alternatives to in-person Election Day voting as non-partisan reforms meant to help Americans vote safely in the 2020 elections (68% agree, 22% disagree). What’s more, we see evidence for a broad consensus on the importance of expanded voting options:

  • 83% agree (11% disagree) that we should not allow the outbreak to prevent eligible citizens from voting safely in 2020
  • 77% agree (19% disagree) that it is important to give registered voters the option to vote-by-mail so that they can choose to avoid potential exposure to the coronavirus
  • 71% agree (25% disagree) that the risk of exposure to coronavirus is a valid excuse for voting absentee.

It follows that while we measure more polarized trends than we did on these questions a month ago, broad majorities continue to support expanded access to vote-by-mail (65% support to 27% oppose), expanded access to early voting (77% support to 16% oppose), and including pre-paid postage for anyone who votes by mail (70% support to 23% oppose). And, though overall concern about the virus’s impact on public health and the economy has ebbed a bit since April, we have seen virtually no movement away from the strong opinions that state and local government should provide alternatives to in-person voting (77% very or somewhat important, compared to 78% in April) and that the federal government should provide additional funding to states and counties to cover the increased costs of conducting elections during the pandemic (75% very or somewhat important, compared to 77% in April).

Trump’s false claims about fraud have an audience, but counter-arguments prove very effective.

While voters are more likely than not to reject an overtly partisan cue from Trump that characterizes early voting and vote-by-mail as a Democratic power grab (39% agree to 52% disagree), a slim majority agree with the idea that expanded access to vote-by-mail would lead to higher levels of voter fraud (52% agree to 41% disagree). Notably, though Republican partisans are most likely to anchor into this idea (73% agree), we find it has substantial reach with Democrats (34% agree) and independents (50% agree) as well.

The poll attempted to measure potential ways Democrats could push back against President Trump’s claims. Using a split sample design, all poll respondents first heard (or for online respondents read) a message from Trump claiming vote-by-mail leads to massive amounts of voter fraud, and then were randomly assigned to hear one of two responses from Congressional Democrats. One response formulation pointed to the five states that currently conduct secure, fraud-free elections entirely by mail, and another formulation highlighted Trump’s hypocrisy in voting by mail himself in the recent Florida primary election. As shown below (in figure 2), American voters broadly take the side of Congressional Democrats in this debate, particularly when the hypocrisy framing is used to push back against Trump’s claims of fraud.

52% take the Democrats side against Trump's voter fraud messaging when presented with 'Democrats in Congress say that the experience of the five states that conduct their elections entirely by mail shows that vote-by-mail can be conducted safely, securely, and without any added risk of fraud or interference.' Compared to 32% who take Trump's side. In comparison 55% take the Democrats side when presented with the message 'Democrats in Congress say that not only is there no evidence that vote-by-mail results in fraud, President Trump himself voted by mail in the Florida Republican primary election earlier this year.' compared to 29% taking Trump's side.
Figure 2

As Democrats in Congress continue to use the next round of COVID-19 relief to ensure safe elections are funded across the country, they should know that public opinion remains on their side, but Trump’s misinformation about voter fraud needs to be called out by all citizens who care about safe and free elections in 2020.