No one is the same as they were 20 months ago, and everyone agrees that the global pandemic is to blame. But that might be where the universal agreement ends.
In our latest Swing Voter Project focus groups, conducted on November 9 with 10 voters from key swing states, we asked each of the respondents how the pandemic has changed them. They were split right down the middle: five shared positive changes, five negative.
The negatives were fairly unsurprising: “It’s definitely made me a little more irritable,” said Alexandra, 23, from Scranton, PA.
Kate, 42, from Yardley, PA, added that “being stuck in the house with my kids…. [has made me] more crazy.”
Shelley, 61, from Marietta, GA, was “frustrated [that] it’s become political. The vaccination – should you? should you not? – it’s frustrating that people are making it that way.”
Some of our respondents, however, had adopted an even bleaker outlook on humanity.
“I don’t trust people much anymore. They just don’t have common sense or [are] willing to work together for a common solution. Very selfish,” said Mark, 52, from Bayfield, WI.
Laurel, 36, from Dunedin, FL, took it a step further: “It just gave me kind of a bad outlook on the human race. I just feel like people are innately bad.”
But the other half of our respondents conveyed a sense of restored hope, finding upsides in a difficult last 20 months.
The pandemic made John, 34, from Kaukauna, WI, “more flexible;” Ben, 32, from Michiana, MI, “more comfortable with being uncomfortable;” and Brenda, 51, from Eden Prairie, MN, “more grateful.”
Jay, 41, from Scottsdale, AZ, thanked the pandemic for making him “more present in my day-to-day life. [T]omorrow is not given, it’s not necessarily there, so I’ve re-established a lot of things, relationships, friendships… I’m grateful for it, to be honest.”
And Joshua, 40, from Mesquite, TX, credited the pandemic for making him “less career-oriented,” he said. “I’ll say no to job opportunities or work opportunities because that’s not as important as health and family and life.”
Joshua’s change in career motivation seems to be growing more common. While there are millions of available jobs, many workers are refraining from returning to the workforce. The “Great Resignation,” as it has been dubbed, is in full swing. Eight of our ten respondents were familiar with the term, and four knew at least one person who had left their job voluntarily in the past six months.
The reasons for doing so were varied.
The vaccine drove many away: “I had four people that reported to me that left because the new administration and such is demanding that there has to be a vaccination and people are refusing to do it, so they’re willing to give up their jobs and their careers over it,” said Mark in Wisconsin.
Jay in Scottsdale reported a similar experience: “A friend of mine quit corporate America because they were underneath the vaccine mandate, and they had to get the vaccine, didn’t want to get the vaccine, so they decided to take the moral stand of ‘my body, my choice’ and resigned.”
Others chose to capitalize on the opportunity for self-improvement presented by the pandemic.
Ben in Michigan reported: “[People in the service industry are] sick of how people are treated, how management treats their employees, and we have plenty of options now…. Now you can go anywhere and find a job, at least in that industry. Or if you want to try to pivot and get out of the service industry and do something from home, COVID has also allowed tons of work from home positions.”
“A lot of people took the time and extra money they got from stimulus and went and got educated or trained, so they’re more qualified for positions than they used to be,” observed Laurel in Florida.
Jay agreed: “I have a buddy who… was a bartender, bar shut down here, he went and studied for his real estate license and he’s now a realtor.”
Clearly, the pandemic will have some lasting effects on our swing voters’ lives – both professional and personal. But is the pandemic reaching its end?
Four respondents think so.
“It’s not on the news as much, it’s not a topic of conversation that my friends and family have between ourselves, it’s slowly waning. The virus is going to be around forever…everyone knows that, but that term pandemic, I think that that’s being lessened,” said Jay.
Shelley in Georgia agreed: “I think that people have grown to accept it. It’s always going to be there, like the flu is going to be there. I think we’ve capped out at the deaths, and I see the numbers go down, international travel is now back up. There are so many signs that people are just going to be more accepting.”
The other six swing voters were considerably less optimistic.
Mark said, “We can’t get the final 25-to-30% of people to go and get the vaccinations, so the hospitals are filled right up…. Two weeks ago, I had to go to the emergency room. I sat there for five hours waiting to get into a room because there’s no room available because the place is filled up, and there’s nowhere else to go, because every hospital is filled…because people won’t vaccinate.”
“In my community, seeing how many people are still infected and are still getting it [is proof that the pandemic isn’t over]. I don’t think it’s going away. I just think we’ve been adaptive to it, and we’re moving on to adopt it as a new reality, how to cope with it,” said Joshua.
The inescapable fact is that the pandemic remains inescapable.
Rich Thau is the president of the research firm Engagious, which specializes in message testing and message refinement for trade associations and advocacy groups. He is also the moderator of the Swing Voter Project, conducted in partnership with Schlesinger Group.
Susie Pieper is a student at Haverford College and an intern at Engagious.