Undecided Voters Weigh In on Trump’s Coronavirus Diagnosis
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because a pivotal election moment might not be so pivotal.
By Daniel Malloy
Michelle O’Neal voted for Donald Trump in 2016, though she remains unsure about this election. The 54-year-old longtime Republican, who lives just outside Washington, D.C., in McLean, Virginia, appreciates a lot of what Trump has accomplished — but his personality remains a sticking point when it comes to whether or not she will mark her ballot for him again.
So how did O’Neal react when Trump announced Friday that he had contracted COVID-19? “I wasn’t surprised at all, really,” she says. “I figured sooner or later, since he was being so nonchalant about it and didn’t care [he would get sick]. I think it’s karma in a way. I don’t want anyone to get really sick, but I want him to feel it a little. This is kind of bad for older people. Have a little compassion maybe. Find your compassion button, maybe if you have one somewhere deep in there.”
So does O’Neal think the virus will change the president? She responds with a laugh: “No, he’s not going to change like that. I honestly didn’t vote on his character. I like that he’s a fighter.”
OZY spoke to several undecided voters across the country in recent days, gauging how they’re making up their minds in the final weeks before the historic clash between former vice president Joe Biden and Trump. In an election already unspooling against the backdrop of a global pandemic, economic recession and partial recovery, racial justice reckoning, devastating wildfires and a political knife fight over the future of the U.S. Supreme Court, Trump’s diagnosis was the ultimate “what’s next, 2020?” moment. It inspired breathless commentary on how it will shake up the presidential campaign once again, with early voting already underway in many states. But for this small sample of undecideds, the diagnosis won’t factor into their decision-making.
“I’m not surprised, watching him with — what’s that word in football? Reckless indifference,” says Steve Friedewald, who lives in the Dallas area. A native of Australia who works in the energy and chemicals industry, the 54-year-old had a bout with COVID-19 himself over the summer, with mild symptoms that did not require hospitalization. He believes the administration “bungled” the COVID-19 response, but he’s more inclined to vote his wallet this year. In that sense, Friedewald is worried about increased taxes and regulation by a Biden administration — particularly in his industry.
What quantitative impact will Trump’s COVID diagnosis have? Pollsters yanked their surveys from the field in the immediate aftermath of the news. The event is likely to skew results, so public polling reflecting the diagnosis should start popping up closer to the middle of this week, says Scott Tranter, CEO of 0ptimus, a Washington-based data firm that created an exclusive election forecasting model with OZY.
To be sure, voters’ decision-making is more complex than simply saying: “Trump got the coronavirus, so I’m going to vote for the other guy now.” The diagnosis affects the campaign by physically taking Trump off the trail and makes the media narrative all about the virus rather than something — anything, really — the president would rather talk about. “The fact that future debates are in jeopardy are probably a bigger detriment to Trump’s campaign and fundraising apparatus than the news around COVID-19 as long as the symptoms stay manageable by his doctors,” Tranter says.
But it does set up the opportunity for a rebound.
Felix Millan, 64, a retired teacher in Oregon who didn’t vote in 2016 but supported Barack Obama previously, calls Trump’s diagnosis “poetic justice. That might sound a little cruel, but given his behavior, it’s his just rewards, But on the other hand, I think that it might work to his favor. I was initially thinking of the sympathy vote, and one of the owners of the home [where I live] said something to the effect of, ‘If he gets through it — which I’m sure he will — it will show the people he’s strong.’”
- Daniel Malloy, OZY AuthorContact Daniel Malloy