Areas That Had More COVID Were Likelier to Shift to Trump
In the 10% of hardest-hit counties Trump gained 3 points relative to 2016
Though vote tallies in the closely contested presidential race show few paths for President Donald Trump to beat Democratic challenger Joe Biden, the latest results suggest the Covid-19 pandemic may not have dented Trump’s support as much as expected—he actually improved his margins from four years ago in some of the counties hardest hit by the coronavirus.
Voters in areas that had the highest Covid-19 deaths per capita were more likely to shift toward Trump—compared to his margins in the 2016 election—than counties with lower death rates, according to a Bloomberg News analysis of available election results. The analysis looked at nearly 2,700 counties that had surpassed 90% of their estimated turnout as of 5:15 p.m. Wednesday, using a voter turnout model developed for Bloomberg.
In those counties that ranked among the top 10% for Covid-19 deaths per person, Trump’s margin of victory improved an average of 2.8 percentage points, increasing from 23.6 points in 2016 to 26.4 points this year. Overall, Trump’s average vote margin only grew 0.2 points to 35.1 points from four years ago.
These seemingly large margins stem from an average that includes many rural, low-population counties that Trump won easily. Nationally, Trump trails Biden by 2.4 points, and that number is expected to increase as votes continue to be counted in heavily Democratic states like California and New York. States Trump won in 2016—including Arizona, Michigan and Wisconsin—have been called by the Associated Press for Biden.
The pattern of hard-hit areas moving toward Trump was particularly significant in the swathe of states from Florida to North Carolina, as well as Texas, each of which were considered competitive in the final weeks of the campaign, even with record numbers of hospitalizations in October.
Texas—a state the Cook Political Report had rated as a “toss up”—went solidly for Trump, with the president winning more than 52% of the reported vote, even as cases grew 32% in the 14-day period before the election.
But Trump has downplayed the significance of the pandemic since it began in February, when he told reporters the number of cases would be close to zero within days. And he largely dismissed media coverage of Covid-19 at campaign rallies in October, even as infections grew to nearly 100,000 new cases a day and Trump himself contracted the virus.
While countries with comparably high per-capita Covid-19 rates, such as France, Russia and Spain, have enacted national facemask mandates, Trump opposed a national mandate, telling Fox News’ Chris Wallace he wanted people to “have a certain freedom” during a July interview.
Trump’s approach has been in stark contrast to Biden, who has said he’d push for a national mask mandate if elected, a plan supported by prominent public health experts including Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, and Scott Gottlieb, Trump’s former Food and Drug Administration commissioner.