President Biden campaigned on his promise to “shut down the virus,” but as he completes his first year in office, swing voters we interviewed on January 11th are ready for a new strategy—one that recognizes the virus is here to stay.
Earlier this month, six medical experts who advised the Biden transition team before the president took office, wrote three articles for the Journal of the American Medical Association. In these pieces, they called for the administration to adopt an entirely new domestic pandemic strategy, geared to the “new normal” of living with the virus indefinitely, not wiping it out. All 13 of our Trump-to-Biden swing voters think this would be an appropriate shift in America’s strategy.
“That’s what the science says. Even 90% vaccination wouldn’t stop new variants, and vaccination doesn’t stop infections. It stops severe cases and hospitalization and death, so the shift to the endemic is really the only option. It’s just how you do that and make sure that’s done in an effective and safe way,” remarked Nicholas, 23, from Chapel Hill, NC.
“I look at the history,” explained Jerry, 53, from Green Bay, WI. “Polio – almost everybody got vaccinated, and they were able to wipe that out. Nowadays, that’s not realistic. There’s too much divide…I don’t think it’s realistic to think that we’re going to get any kind of herd immunity, so learning to live with it makes more sense than trying to force everybody to get vaccinated.”
The Biden administration’s handling of COVID generated an animated conversation in the latest installment of our Swing Voter Project.
Only five respondents would say President Biden is doing a good or excellent job dealing with the pandemic, noting his message to the public to wear a mask, get vaccinated, and get boosted. The other eight rated his performance on this issue as fair or poor.
David, 40, from Philadelphia, PA, is dissatisfied with our country’s pandemic direction, remarked, “I don’t think it’s handled properly. The way the COVID numbers are going up, I don’t think that’s going to stop….Businesses are shutting down. We’re losing a lot of money. The economy is trapped…I feel like [Biden is doing] a poor job. I don’t know what can be done to correct it, but that’s my feeling.”
Angela, 32, from Brookhaven, GA, echoed these sentiments: “With the Omicron variant in Georgia, testing sites are two hours-plus long. We knew this was coming, and now [President Biden] is promising that he’s going to have test kits available. And it’s, to me, a little too late. The preparation was not there. I’m being forced back into the classroom on a day-to-day basis, not knowing if the person beside me is [COVID] positive or not, and we’re forced to go to work whether we know that or not. I just think it’s been terribly run.”
A key source of frustration is their belief the Biden administration is not doing an effective job of balancing health interests and economic interests, an idea with which 10 of 13 agree.
“I think they extended the unemployment way too long, which negatively impacted businesses not being able to keep employees,” explained Michael, 40, from Commerce Township, MI. “A lot of restaurants and shops, specifically where I am, had to close down just because they didn’t have the staff. People were finding ways to extend unemployment and then ultimately, ended up subsidizing their unemployment with gig jobs like Grubhub, DoorDash, Uber. It’s depleted our workforce.”
“Look at the numbers. COVID is going up. The economy is tanking. Whatever they’re doing clearly isn’t working,” complained Carlos, 33, from Miami, FL.
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. Matt Steffee is vice president of research services at Engagious.