Covid vs. the Economy: What Mattered to Voters
Health Care

Covid vs. the Economy: What Mattered to Voters

Dado Ruvic

It’s the pandemic, stupid.

That play on James Carville’s famous “It’s the economy, stupid” mantra from Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign was occasionally repeated in media coverage of the presidential election and may have been accepted as conventional wisdom among some political strategists — and not just Democratic ones.

The reality was far more complicated, if exit poll results are to be believed. Of course, given the big problems with this year’s polls and polling-based forecasts, you probably want to take those exit poll results with a spoonful of salt. Still, the data suggest that voters were deeply divided about what mattered most to them, and that Carville’s old mantra about the economy still held true for many, especially Trump supporters.

Early results from exit polls conducted by Edison Research for the National Election Pool show that just over a third of voters said the economy was the most important issue in determining their vote. Racial inequality was the top issue for 21% of those surveyed, while fewer than one in five voters said the Covid-19 pandemic mattered most to them. (By contrast, the Associated Press VoteCast, a survey of the electorate conducted over several days, found that 41% said that the coronavirus pandemic was the most important issue facing the country, while 28% cited the economy and jobs.) About 10% of voters said health care policy was their top issue, a sharp drop from recent election cycles.

In the exit poll, voters who backed Trump were more likely to cite the economy and crime and safety as top issues, while Biden backers were more likely to point to racial injustice and the pandemic. (Voters were also about three times as likely to say that the candidates’ position on the issues, rather than their “personal qualities,” mattered most to them.) Voters who pointed to the economy broke overwhelmingly (82%) for Trump, while those who cited the pandemic went overwhelmingly (also 82%) for Biden.

While 51% of voters in the exit poll said it was more important to contain the virus now, even if it hurts the economy, Republicans were far more likely to prioritize rebuilding the economy, even if it hinders efforts to combat the pandemic.

“In short, voters seemingly saw a dichotomy between the economy and the public health response to the virus, and where they stood on that divide fell along deeply partisan lines,” Vox’s Julia Belluz writes. “Republican voters overwhelmingly wanted the economy to restart — something Trump has long been advocating for — more than they wanted to see the virus controlled. They also viewed the economy as a key issue, more so than the pandemic, when deciding whom to support.”

Belluz notes that Trump won in states with the greatest density of new Covid-19 infections —Utah, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Indiana. Those are all solidly red states that were expected to vote for the president, but the ravages of the virus apparently did not do much to change voter preferences in those hard-hit states.

The bottom line: While public health experts and others, including Biden, have emphasized that controlling the virus is key to reopening the economy, Trump supporters embraced the president’s position that the virus is at least somewhat under control and his emphasis on revitalizing the economy despite rising Covid case counts.

Read more at The New York Times.