COVID-19 is hurting Republicans’ 2020 hopes

New York voters say that the pandemic is their top issue heading into the voting booth.
New York voters say that the pandemic is their top issue heading into the voting booth.
Joe Tabacca/Shutterstock
New York voters say that the pandemic is their top issue heading into the voting booth.

COVID-19 is hurting Republicans’ 2020 hopes

Voters overwhelmingly said the pandemic was their top issue days before the election.
October 27, 2020

There are a few ways to illustrate how COVID-19 is affecting New York months after the first wave of the pandemic, now that the state appears to be on the cusp of a second wave. Hospital beds are filling up. Businesses are still keeping employees at home. The stock market is slumping with just a week to go before the election. No wonder New Yorkers rate the pandemic as their top issue by far, according to a new poll by Spectrum News and Ipsos.

Voters’ focus on the coronavirus could mean the difference in competitive legislative and congressional races across the state.

About a quarter of New Yorkers say crime, unemployment and taxes were each major problems in the state – respondents could select up to three choices – just a few percentage points ahead of issues like affordable housing, racial injustice, health care. It hardly helps the GOP that voters are still giving Gov. Andrew Cuomo high marks for his handling of the pandemic, while giving President Donald Trump poor marks.

The president has railed against social distancing, wearing masks and public health restrictions that he says hurts the economy, but New Yorkers say the state has not gotten tough enough against pandemic scofflaws. Three out of four New Yorkers say state lawmakers should pass a law requiring mask-wearing in public. A 60% majority disagree with the idea that “COVID-19 lockdowns in my community have been too restrictive.”

This is just one poll, but its findings are consistent with past polling at the state and national levels that highlight voters’ fixation on the pandemic, especially compared to the “law and order” politics that the GOP has leaned on in recent months. Republicans can take some comfort in the fact that the new poll shows narrow majorities say bail reforms passed by state Democrats last year have “increased crime” and should be “fully repealed.” Yet, even larger majorities say they support the Black Lives Matter movement.

If elections are a referendum on the party in power, then the latest poll is just one more sign that Democrats are in a good position to win big at the state level, no matter what happens with the presidential election. This is remarkable considering the rocky road to economic recovery that New York City and the state face in the coming years.

Half of New Yorkers say they have either been infected with the coronavirus or know someone close to them who has been infected, according to the poll. While COVID-19 cases are on the rise statewide, they are still a long way from reaching the levels seen in the spring. That could change if COVID-19 cases begin to surge at an accelerated rate in the months to come. A sharp rise in cases could force New York to reimpose public health restrictions, and New Yorkers have a dim view of when life will get back to normal, with 40% saying it will take at least another year. It’s clear that the coronavirus will not only have an outsized impact on this year’s election, but it could play a factor in the many New York City races in 2021.

Zach Williams
is senior state politics reporter at City & State.