Running Out of Time

One week out from the election, we’re seeing some similar trends— and key differences— from 2016.

Vice President Joe Biden is still leading based on national polling averages, putting him eight points ahead of the president. But he’s down two points compared to a week ago.  

While we saw similar trends in 2016 with Clinton’s lead narrowing to five points 15 days before the election, there are notable differences in 2020

  • Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had a net negative favorability rating at this stage in the election in 2016, while Biden is net positive. With 2016 a notable outlier, the candidate with the strongest net favorability rating in the late stages of an election year has won every race since 1980.
  • Third party votes cost Clinton key swing states in 2016, but there are no notable third party candidates in the 2020 race. Those who voted third party in 2016 are breaking for Biden over President Trump
  • There were roughly twice as many undecided voters at this stage in 2016, and most of those voters ended up casting their ballots for Trump. 

And as the country enters a third coronavirus wave, breaking records last week for the highest number of new coronavirus cases in a day, approval ratings for President Trump’s handling of the virus hit an all-time low

President Trump’s support from white women is down 15 points from 2016 exit polls, and recent polling shows women are behind the uptick in disapproval of Trump’s coronavirus response.  

Biden is projected to win the Electoral College if current state polling holds on Election Day, but several state races are close toss ups. A number of them–like Florida, North Carolina, and Ohio–recorded the highest number of new COVID-19 cases last week since the start of the pandemic.

Six Months In, The Pandemic Rages On

As the weather cools and socializing moves inside, the U.S. has set new records for coronavirus spread. In September, the U.S. averaged roughly 41,000 new cases per day. In October, that number has exploded to 58,000. Only three counties have reported zero COVID-19 cases.

In this third wave, case numbers and hospitalizations are climbing everywhere. Twenty states have more than 70 percent of their ICUs currently occupied. And 18 million people live in counties that have hospitals but no ICU.

The virus hit cities first – of the first 100,000 COVID-19 deaths, only about one-fifth occurred outside urban areas – but it has since spread to all corners of the United States. The “rural wave” of the pandemic has low-density states like Wyoming, Idaho, North Dakota and South Dakota reporting some of the nation’s highest per capita caseloads.

Rural populations are at a higher risk. They tend to be older and have morbidities that can serve as risk factors for severe cases of COVID-19. Rural hospitals are not equipped to handle the rising number of cases and many are overwhelmed by the number of patients hospitalized with severe cases of COVID-19.

Traditional Halloween activities could strain health systems further. Health officials have warned trick-or-treating, indoor parties, haunted houses and communal candy bowls have all been deemed high-risk activities for COVID-19 transmission. But the CDC has offered a list of safe alternatives for kids to celebrate the holiday, including pumpkin carving with family, putting up Halloween decorations at home and having a virtual Halloween costume contest.

How Brands Can Prepare for Election Crises: Part 3

With one week until Election Day, COVID in Context is helping companies prepare for the third potential challenge facing us this election season: Election Night chaos.

The millions of mail-in ballots that have already been cast means it is unlikely voters will know who won on Election Night, and polls show the majority of Americans understand that.

But the greatest potential for chaos could come if a candidate or a party prematurely declares victory and creates a public perception that counting votes after Election Night is an attempt to undermine the election.

The bipartisan National Task Force on Election Crises notes business leaders can help the public trust in election officials and the vote counting process by taking the following action:

  • Remind employees and customers that counting every vote is not a crisis – it’s our democracy working the way it’s supposed to. Our election results are never official until days or weeks after Election Day.
  • Explain in advance why early returns may not be predictive, using terms like “Election Week” or “election season.”
  • On Election Day, project calm and patience. Be prepared to push back against unsubstantiated claims of victory with clear, fact-based talking points: “Let’s listen to local election administrators and experts whose job it is to count ballots and verify results.” News organizations, decision desks and social media platforms have begun to share how they plan to report results and label false claims.

By explicitly trusting election officials to do their jobs, business leaders can help instill confidence in the public that the process is playing out exactly as it should. Next week on Election Day: uncertainty in the Electoral College.

The Balance of Power

As the country enters a third wave of the coronavirus pandemic, election forecasts are pointing to a potential blue wave in Congress on Election Day.

FiveThirtyEight’s analysis gives Democrats a 74% chance of taking back the Senate, with two red seats (Arizona and Colorado) and one blue seat (Alabama) predicted to flip. Maine, North Carolina, Montana, Iowa, both Senate seats in Georgia and South Carolina are all toss ups with current polling too close to call. Democrats just need to win two of the seven toss ups to take back control of the Senate.

Election forecasts give the Democrats an even greater chance of winning the House, with an estimated 96% chance of keeping control. 

If Democrats win control of both chambers, the party will be positioned to influence the next president’s legislative agenda, including how to move forward with stalled coronavirus relief.

A Bill on the Hill?

The American public could get some clarity in the next 24 hours about whether they’ll see another large stimulus package ahead of the election. Absent a deal between Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the administration in the next day or so, Congress could leave town for the election without providing additional relief for millions of Americans.

Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin have characterized recent conversations as productive and fruitful. But critical differences remain, the time for consideration in the Senate is short and Senate Republicans could still ultimately scuttle any agreement. 

Pelosi has indicated negotiators need to finalize a topline budgetary number for the package by today, and Senate and House appropriation staff have begun to draft certain spending portions of the deal. But lacking consensus around a topline budget figure, not much progress has been made. Publicly, the president says he wants a big deal – as much as the $2.2 trillion Pelosi is seeking and perhaps more – but Secretary Mnuchin’s actions behind closed doors beg to differ. And to this point in the proceedings, Pelosi has not appeared to be willing to take steps to narrow their differences, either.  

In the meantime, several Senate Republicans have publicly expressed concerns about another large budget-busting COVID bill. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will have the Senate vote on a smaller, targeted $500 billion package providing additional funding for the Paycheck Protection Program, liability protections and additional economic impact payments to some individuals. But Senate Democrats are expected to oppose the package because it includes liability protection and shortchanges many of their top priorities.

The last congressional action on this matter was in April. The next opportunity would be in December.

Specter of Election Violence Looms

As early voting begins and November 3 approaches, concerns about militia groups have been rising. Militia groups have caused tension (and violence) at racial justice protests and they say they plan to intimidate voters at the polls. The thwarted attempt by a paramilitary group to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D-MI) and overthrow the government has stoked even more fear about these groups. 

These groups often claim authority from the Second Amendment’s reference to a “well-regulated militia,” but in fact, they have no constitutional authority to exist. Voters of color are particularly worried militias are among the dangers that could await them at the polls, according to a new survey for Axios. 

  • All 50 states prohibit private, unauthorized militias and military units from engaging in activities reserved for the state militia, including law enforcement activities, as exemplified in this catalog of laws for each of the 50 states by Georgetown Law’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection (ICAP).
  • Voter intimidation is also illegal in all 50 states. This fact sheet from ICAP outlines voter intimidation laws, what conduct constitutes voter intimidation, and what to do if you experience voter intimidation.

So what should you do if  you see or experience voter intimidation?

  • If you fear imminent violence, call 9-1-1.
  • Notify your local election official at your polling place.
  • Document what you saw or experienced: what happened, where, and when, and whether any voters were deterred from voting.
  • Call Election Protection at 866-OUR-VOTE (866-687-8683).

How Brands Can Prepare for Election Crises: Part 2

Falsehoods about mail-in voting. Distortions about where to vote and when polls are open. Allegations of ballot dumping. 

This week, COVID in Context is looking at how brands can respond to misinformation, the second challenge facing us this election.

Misinformation is not a new concern this year, but it’s a more challenging one. Many voting rules have changed due to the pandemic (prompting hundreds of voting-related lawsuits), foreign governments have become more skilled at infiltrating and spreading disinformation within the country, and social media platforms have lagged in developing policies to prevent misinformation from being shared.

The best counter: accurate, vetted information. The bipartisan National Task Force on Election Crises recommends two ways brands can help promote legitimate sources of election information: 

  • Provide employees with verified information directly from local officials.
  • Amplify trusted voices through company communications and social media

For election information from state and local officials, visit Trusted Info 2020 by the National Association of Secretaries of States – a central hub of information and resources from the people running our elections.

Next week: how early returns could create Election Night chaos.

The Future of U.S. Education

Tomorrow, the House Education & Labor Committee is planning to introduce a massive $261 billion 10-year spending package to protect education jobs. Though the bill is not expected to move this year, it lays down a marker for a big recovery package next year. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a severe state budget crisis in the United States. The pandemic has disrupted our education system, forcing at least 124,000 K-12 schools to close in the spring and affecting more than 55 million students. Despite the increased costs school districts face to meet safety protocols and address learning loss, they are now facing severe cuts to education funding, which will likely continue well into the future. An estimated 462,000 public K-12 employees across the country lost their jobs between February and August.

The Save Teachers’ Jobs Act of 2020 would establish an Education Jobs Fund to provide federal aid to stabilize the education workforce and stimulate the economic recovery for the long-term.  Specifically, the bill is expected to:

  • Provide up to $261 billion to states and school districts over 10 years, saving up to 3.9 million education jobs, including 2.6 million teacher jobs as well as jobs of school leaders, paraprofessionals, social workers, school psychologists, nurses, bus drivers, maintenance workers, and more.
  • Allow state educational agencies to reserve up to five percent of funding to retain or create positions in early childhood, K-12, and higher education, and to ensure that low-income students and students of color are not taught at disproportionate rates by ineffective, out-of-field, or inexperienced teachers.
  • Require school districts to use at least 90 percent of funding to pay the salaries and benefits of teachers, school leaders, and other school personnel. 
  • Protect K-12 education funding and high-poverty schools with strong maintenance of equity requirements.