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Personal Covid-19 experiences determine how people will vote for president and brands

By Nicole Riesenberger | Research lead

October 29, 2020 | 7 min read

While most of the discussion around Covid-19 and the election has focused on the safety voting itself, public sentiment surrounding the pandemic may have even larger unanticipated impacts on the election and on brands, according to new research from Huge. Nicole Riesenberger explains more.


The nearly eight million Covid-19 cases in the US will likely influence more than the outcome of this year’s presidential election—it could also determine which brands come out ahead. In a recent study conducted by Huge, we found that Americans’ preferred candidate in the 2020 election could be determined equally by political ideology or party affiliation as by their personal experience with the health risks of Covid-19. What’s more, the sharp partisan divisions on public health and safety protocols that existed earlier in the outbreak have begun to blur as the virus has spread from blue to red states.

According to the research, 59% of Americans have either contracted Covid-19 themselves or personally know someone who has. Among this group of voters with a personal connection to the virus, 72% intend to vote for Joe Biden and 28% for president Trump. While support for Donald Trump was generally quite low in our study (only 30% said they are voting for Trump), support for the president was significantly higher among people who don’t know anyone with Covid-19 (36% of these voters support Trump).

These differences are even more pronounced when we look at people who plan to vote for Joe Biden: only 3% of Biden voters who don’t know anyone with Covid-19 identify as Republican, whereas 22% of Biden voters who do know someone with Covid-19 identify as Republican. In other words, Americans who personally know someone impacted by the health risks of the pandemic are significantly more likely to vote for Joe Biden, regardless of their party affiliation.

The big impact on battleground states

This may have a larger than anticipated impact on the election as the pandemic continues to ravage battleground states. Wisconsin, one of the three states that helped Donald Trump secure the 2016 election, is now reporting 4,205 new cases in a single day. Conservatives in these states who were once able to accept the president’s laid-back approach to the pandemic may be finding it harder to do so as the realities of the virus creep closer to home. As a result, those voters who originally only felt the economic pressures of quarantine and social distancing without fully appreciating the health risks that necessitated those closures may now be shifting their priorities from the economy to public health concerns.

For months, polling has shown that public support of mask mandates and stricter public safety measures has been growing, which is one reason people who have felt the health impacts of the virus are leaning more toward the presidential candidate who supports these policies. But policy decisions on Covid-19 are likely not the only factor influencing voters in this election. Battling this deadly virus or watching a loved one do so is a deeply emotional and personal experience. With more Americans experiencing this heartache every day, and as the president continues to dismiss the gravity of the pandemic even through his own recent Covid-19 diagnosis, our data indicates that many Americans plan to vote with their hearts in this election, rather than their party. With over 220,000 deaths and more than 50% of Americans having experienced the personal agony of a Covid-19 diagnosis in their own life, president Trump’s continued denial of the health risks of the virus may be his downfall.

The big impact on brands

The impacts of this phenomenon may extend far beyond the 2020 presidential election as we see the same values influencing how we vote at the ballot box, and with our dollars. As consumers increasingly turn to face the gravity of the health risks of Covid-19, brands with safety policies more closely aligned to CDC guidelines may begin to see an increase in traffic from consumers who don’t feel safe frequenting businesses with more relaxed safety policies.

In research conducted this spring, we found that consumers were deciding where to shop or dine based on which businesses had implemented increased safety measures or were offering paid sick leave to their employees. When studying consumer interactions in retail environments, we found that these new procedures made most customers feel significantly more comfortable, and even grateful, to brands that made an effort to keep them safe. One participant expressed this sentiment after a trip to Target, stating: “Upon entering Target there is a large sign that states EVERYONE must wear face masks. I find that really positive as they want to maintain a safe environment.”

Earlier this year, liberals were largely in favor of these extra safety measures while many conservatives fervently protested them. Although brands may have previously hedged their bets about how hard to lean into Covid-19 safety measures based on whether their business and customers skewed more to the right or left, our latest research and a recent Pew poll suggest that the tide has turned towards the guidance of health experts with an increasing number of voters across all political parties preferring Biden’s policies on the pandemic.

Whatever the outcome of the presidential election, there’s no doubt that the personal health impacts of Covid-19 are beginning to blur the clear partisan divide on the pandemic that once existed. Brands can’t simply assume that their conservative customers will care less about safety than liberals, and they instead need to understand the personal impacts of the virus on their individual customers and the communities they serve.

Nicole Riesenberger is research lead at Huge.

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