Still Not Important Enough? COVID-19 Policy Views and Vote Choice

Still Not Important Enough? COVID-19 Policy Views and Vote Choice

By Eric Guntermann and Gabriel Lenz, University of California, Berkeley

Scholars have long been skeptical of citizens’ ability to vote on the basis of their policy views. Voters lack incentives to pay attention to politics and so are often unaware of the policy stances adopted by presidential candidates and parties. However, some scholars have suggested that voter attention may increase when policy issues become important to them, such as when a crisis disrupts their lives. The coronavirus pandemic provides an opportunity to test this proposition. It is one of the most severe crises the United States has faced. It has disrupted almost everyone’s lives, and many people know someone who has tested positive or died from the virus. It is thus salient and important to many—if not most—voters. Despite this context, we find that many voters remain unaware of the 2020 US Presidential candidates’ stances on coronavirus policies. Their levels of knowledge are about typical for other policies, which is middling. In the absence of knowledge, voters cannot connect their policy views on the virus with their presidential voting decisions.