How has COVID-19 Changed the Election Landscape?
By Blake Fox
As of mid-May, much attention had already been drawn to the impact of COVID-19. More than 22 million people had become unemployed or registered for unemployment, non-essential businesses were forced to close, and more than 90,000 people had died in the U.S. At the same time, the 2020 Election cycle, which was just heating up, completely changed in just a matter of days. States were forced to postpone their primary elections, and the two major party candidates remaining were forced to change their strategic plans to win the White House.
Former Vice President Joe Biden spoke on the night of March 17th following his three convincing campaign wins in Florida, Illinois, and Arizona. However, his speech was not given in front of thousands of people, but rather from his home in Wilmington, Delaware. The speech was quite somber as he spoke about the threat of COVID-19. Since the outbreak, Biden's campaign strategy was transformed. Biden's opportunities to interact with voters became limited, and he was forced to resort to live streaming speeches from his home's basement. To try to gain supporters, Biden's campaign introduced a podcast and virtual happy hours. Those inside Biden's campaign have expressed concerns about Biden's ability to receive attention and coverage without being on the campaign trail.
Similarly, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders,who has since suspended his campaign, was also forced to adjust his campaign because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Prior to the pandemic, Sanders had a tech savvy campaign highlighted by Twitch streams, Discord servers, and online town halls. However, the pandemic forced Sanders to make adjustments; he was unable to host live rallies and was forced to host virtual rallies, which often featured high-profile guests such as Congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar. Sanders’ campaign also encouraged voters to organize text-banking campaigns and TikTok accounts to promote their efforts.
President Donald Trump has been forced to change his campaign strategy as well. Trump, who is known for his massive, energetic rallies that fill up basketball stadiums, has been forced to switch his campaign to a digital strategy. For example, the campaign recently live-streamed an event called "Women for Trump" and held Zoom calls to train volunteers for Trump's campaign. On average, Trump's daily updates on COVID-19 received viewership larger than ESPN’s Monday Night Football, and he has seen a slight peak in his approval rating. A recent poll by ABC News found that 48% of Americans approve of the President while 46% disapprove of the President's job performance.
In total, more than 15 states postponed the dates of their Primaries, including Georgia, Pennsylvania, and New York. Other states such as Hawaii, Wyoming, and Alaska made voting entirely by mail. During the Spanish Flu of 1918, midterm elections were held, but voter turnout fell by 10%. We'll see if that precedent stands once the elections are finally held.