The Political Damage of Trump’s COVID-19 Diagnosis

Oct 8, 2020
2:10 PM
Originally published at Latino Decisions

President Donald Trump waves from the Blue Room Balcony upon returning to the White House Monday, October 5, 2020, in Washington, after leaving Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, in Bethesda, Md. Trump announced he tested positive for COVID-19 on October 2. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

By Adrian Pantoja

On September 8, 2020 Latino Decisions and the National Association of Latino Elected Officials Education Fund launched the 2020 nine-week tracking poll of the Latino electorate. Every week leading up to the presidential election we will survey 400 registered Latinos, gaining crucial insight on the nation’s largest group of non-white eligible voters.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, President Trump has continuously contradicted health experts and downplayed the severity of the threat to the American people. After being treated for COVID-19 and released from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center his first tweet echoed his failure to take coronavirus seriously: “Feeling really good! Don’t be afraid of Covid. Don’t let it dominate your life. We have developed, under the Trump Administration, some really great drugs & knowledge. I feel better than I did 20 years ago!” Despite his denial, the facts are that over 200,000 Americans have lost their lives due to coronavirus and the U.S. leads the world in coronavirus cases and deaths.

Prior to being stricken by the virus, a significant number of Trump’s supporters followed the president’s lead by refusing to wear masks or take other precautions. According to an NBC tracking poll, 86 percent of Democrats say they wear masks “all the time” when leaving the house, while 48 percent of Republicans say they do the same. Other surveys similarly find significant gaps between Democrats and Republicans on attitudes toward the coronavirus. In the first presidential debate on September 29, Trump downplayed the risks of the coronavirus and argued that the decision to shut down public spaces was driven by Democrats seeking to undermine his presidency, “He [Biden] wants to shut down the country… now we found that elderly people with heart problems and diabetes and different problems are very very vulnerable…. one of the reasons they [Democrats] shut down is that they want to keep it shut down until after the election.” Three days later, Trump drops a bombshell by announcing that he tested positive for the coronavirus.

Has President Trump’s political standing been impacted by his diagnosis of coronavirus and the cryptic information being disseminated about his health? Trump’s announcement on October 2, came in the middle of our weekly tracking poll of Latino voters. Hence, we are in a unique* position to compare Latino evaluations of the President pre and post-COVID announcement.

Throughout the tracking poll we have asked respondents to evaluate each candidate on a favorability scale. This week, we see a shift in Latino evaluations between respondents surveyed prior to the October 2 announcement and those surveyed afterward. President Trump’s favorability drops eight points while Biden’s increases by seven points.

When it comes to Latino vote choice, we see that the intention to vote for Trump drops five points, while the intention to vote for Biden increases by six points. Clearly, news of Trump’s illness is significantly impacting his standing among Latino voters. However, the Republican Party as a whole is taking a huge hit as well. From the table below, it is evident that support for the Republican Party has sunk lower among Latinos. This finding is troubling as many political offices hang in the balance on Election Day. In essence, Trump has become a political liability to the Republican Party.

Trump’s state of denial of the threat of coronavirus is socially, morally and politically consequential. For the past five weeks, Latino voters have consistently ranked coronavirus as the most serious issue facing them today. In this election, their vote choice will be shaped by who they believe is most competent in addressing this issue. The fact that Trump was stricken by the coronavirus in the midst of our tracking poll provided us with a unique opportunity to gauge how this announcement shifted their political evaluations.

The results show a dramatic decline in Latino support for Trump and the Republican Party.

In an op-ed piece published in late January 2020, Joe Biden warned that Trump would be unfit to meet the COVID-19 crisis. He wrote, “Trump’s demonstrated failures of judgement and his repeated rejection of science make him the worst possible person to lead our country through a global health challenge.” The outcome was predictable; coronavirus cases and causalities have mounted under President Trump’s watch. Trump, Melania and his inner circle are the latest casualties of his carelessness. Scientists are finding that COVID-19 does irreparable damage to the body. Time will tell whether coronavirus does irreparable damage to Trump and the Republican party.


*Pre-COVID19 data was collected between 9/30–10/1 with N=302, and Post-COVID19 data was collected from 10/2–10/4 with N=198. 

Adrian D. Pantoja is associate dean of faculty and professor of politics at Pitzer College, and Senior Analyst with Latino Decisions.

Editor’s Note: Mattt Barreto is a co-founder of Latino Decisions and was hired by the Biden campaign “to direct polling and focus group research for Latino voters,” as noted by his website. He has gone on record with Latino Rebels to say that he is not working on or involved with any other Latino Decisions work during his time with the Biden campaign.