But make no mistake: Unless something changes dramatically, whichever candidate is trusted more to handle the virus will win the election.
Trump likely wants to switch topics because he realizes how poorly he is currently polling on the issue.
In poll after poll, voters say former Vice President Joe Biden is better equipped to handle the issue than Trump. A Pew Research Center poll released last week found that 52% of voters were confident that Biden could deal with coronavirus. Only 41% said the same about Trump.
You’ll notice each of those percentages lined up nearly perfectly with the share of voters who would vote for each candidate. Biden earned 54% in the horse race to Trump’s 44%. The pattern of vote choice being tied to feelings about the virus has been consistent for months.
Indeed, our last CNN/SSRS poll showed just how correlated coronavirus is to feelings about the election right now. Among the voters who said Biden would be better at handling the pandemic, 96% said they’d vote for Biden. Trump took a mere 2% of those voters.
Biden gets all the voters he needs and more to beat Trump simply from the portion of the electorate that prefers him to Trump on coronavirus.
To give you an idea of how strong this relationship is, it’s actually more predictive of voting for Biden than disapproval of Trump’s job performance. Biden won 92% of those who disapprove of Trump’s overall job performance. Trump won 3% of those voters.
Coronavirus has managed to top at least 20% for the nation’s most important problem in the last three Gallup polls (April, May and late May to early June). It’s very rare for a non-economic problem to reach 20% in one month, let alone three consecutive months.
Now, there was a drop in the percentage who said coronavirus was the most important problem from May to early June.
However, the percentage who are worried about the virus has ticked up in recent weeks. The percentage who said they were at least moderately worried about the availability of hospital supplies, services and treatment jumped 10 points in Gallup’s last poll. A record high 65% said they thought the coronavirus situation in the country was getting worse.
Indeed, that’s the key facet of the pandemic: It doesn’t seem like it’s going away. Cases are surging. Experts believe a vaccine will arrive, but not before year’s end at least. The chance that the virus is not at least near the top of the voters’ minds come November seems small at this time.
What we’re seeing in the polling now is exactly what we’d expect given history. I previously noted that we’ve had a number of elections where there was a non-economic issue at or near the top of voters’ minds at the time of the election.
All of them had a consistent message: An incumbent who wins on the top non-economic issue is reelected. An incumbent who is not trusted on the issue either loses or drops out of the race.
For Trump, the data is clear. Either he has to convince voters he’s the man they want over Biden to handle coronavirus, or he’ll likely be defeated no matter how much he tries to shift the country’s attention.