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Will Trump’s Diagnosis Change the Way Republicans Think About COVID-19?



For a while now, attitudes toward the COVID-19 pandemic have been growing increasingly partisan. Republicans, for instance, have been less likely to see COVID-19 as a threat and more resistant to taking public health precautions like reducing their movement and practicing social distancing measures.

That may change, though, as the country’s long-running battle with COVID-19 hit a new inflection point on Friday when news broke that President Trump had been infected. There’s still a lot we don’t know at this point, but polls in the wake of Trump’s diagnosis and hospitalization show signs of Republicans taking the virus a little more seriously and maybe even adjusting their own behavior in response.

But political scientists who have been following public opinion over the course of the pandemic cautioned us that a lot still depends on how long Trump remains ill, whether he continues to insist that he’s recovering quickly and, perhaps most importantly, whether the Trump team starts handling the virus differently — for example, by starting to wear masks.

“Attitudes and behaviors around COVID-19 have become really concrete at this point — it will take a lot to move them in a significant, lasting way,” said Shana Gadarian, a political science professor at Syracuse University who is part of a team that has repeatedly surveyed Americans about COVID-19 since March. One big question is whether Trump will change his own behavior as a result of his experience with the virus, which could have a significant impact on how Republicans respond.

Here’s a look at what we know so far:

Americans — including some Republicans — don’t think Trump took enough precautions

At this point, we only have five polls asking Americans what they think about the president’s diagnosis and how it has (or hasn’t) affected how they think about the coronavirus, but one thing that stands out is that most Americans, including some Republicans, don’t think Trump has taken the coronavirus seriously enough.

In a Reuters/Ipsos poll, for instance, they found that 67 percent of registered voters agreed that if Trump had taken the coronavirus more seriously, he probably wouldn’t have been infected, including about 9 in 10 Democrats and half of all Republicans. Meanwhile, a Yahoo News/YouGov poll found that 52 percent of registered voters didn’t trust Trump to give accurate info about his health and his COVID-19 treatment. And Politico/Morning Consult found that 56 percent of Americans did not trust Trump to give accurate updates on his health.

This lack of trust is largely in line with other surveys we saw prior to the president’s diagnosis, as Americans have long distrusted Trump to handle the coronavirus pandemic.

There’s some evidence that Republicans might take the coronavirus more seriously

Some polls point to a small but meaningful increase in how seriously the public perceives the threat of the coronavirus, especially among Republicans. In an ABC News/Ipsos survey conducted Oct. 2-3, 37 percent of Americans said they were very concerned that they or someone they knew would become infected, and 44 percent said they were somewhat concerned. This represented a 9-point uptick in concern from the same survey in mid-September, when 29 percent said they were very concerned and 43 percent somewhat concerned. Notably, this change was driven entirely by Republicans and independents, too: 70 percent of Republicans and 82 percent of independents were concerned, up from 52 percent and 69 percent, respectively. Conversely, concern among Democrats didn’t budge.

But not every survey found as large of an increase in concern. A Yahoo News/YouGov poll in early October found 22 percent of registered voters were very worried and 39 percent somewhat worried about personally contracting the virus, almost identical to what it found in late September. And the share of voters who said they were very worried about the coronavirus was essentially unchanged in Morning Consult’s polling.

Still, some Americans may be taking the coronavirus a bit more seriously after Trump’s diagnosis, at least when it comes to broader public health measures. For instance, Politico/Morning Consult found that the share of adults who said that face masks were very effective at preventing the spread of the coronavirus increased slightly, from 56 percent in late September to 59 percent. And what’s more, 52 percent of Republicans answered this way, which marked the first time the share of Republicans had topped 50 percent since the pollster started asking about the effectiveness of masks in early March. Politico/Morning Consult’s survey also found that a majority of Americans said the news about Trump made them more likely to wear a mask in public or practice social distancing.

The share of people who view the threat of the coronavirus as somehow overblown may also be down. Axios/SurveyMonkey found that, compared to numbers from back in March, more Americans believed that news reports about the seriousness of COVID-19 are generally correct and fewer say they’re generally exaggerated.

But public opinion on how Trump’s handled the pandemic may be pretty baked in

When it came to what Americans thought about Trump’s handling of the coronavirus, there was little or no change in public opinion. Among adults, Politico/Morning Consult found Trump’s approval rating at 36 percent, slightly down from 39 percent in late September. And Reuters/Ipsos found his approval among all Americans at 41 percent, not too different from the 43 percent who approved of his response in a poll conducted just before the news of his diagnosis. Lastly, Yahoo News/YouGov found little movement among registered voters compared to its late September survey (43 percent versus 41 percent).

As you can see in our tracker on coronavirus polling, these latest polls broadly match the same poor ratings Trump had before his diagnosis became public: On Oct. 1, about 40 percent approved of his handling of the coronavirus.

It’s hard to imagine at this point that there will be a meaningful shift in public opinion on how Trump has handled the virus. On the one hand, it is somewhat good news for Trump that there aren’t signs of public opinion plummeting. But at the same time, other political leaders’ approval ratings have not moved all that much after they became infected with COVID-19, so it’s unlikely Trump sees a boost. Although Trump’s overall approval rating has ticked up somewhat.

Some experts think it’s going to take a lot to shift public opinion

It’s been less than a week since the news of Trump’s diagnosis broke, and we’re still getting mixed signals about the actual state of Trump’s health from his doctors. So it’s possible what we’re seeing in the polls now could change. But Marc Hetherington, a political scientist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who has been studying public opinion around COVID-19 and the government response since the pandemic began, said that he isn’t holding his breath for a big shift in Republicans’ opinions. “It all depends on how he [Trump] handles this,” Hetherington said. “He could say, ‘Boy, I got that one wrong, we ought to be wearing masks and so forth, this is a really serious virus.’ But that’s very much not the message so far.”

Over the past few months, research by Hetherington, Gadarian and other political scientists has found that Republicans and Democrats have gotten further apart on pretty much everything having to do with COVID-19, from their personal concern that they might get sick to their support for government public health interventions like mask mandates. And as we wrote earlier this summer, Republicans have become less and less likely than Democrats to say they’re extremely concerned they will get COVID-19 and require hospitalization. Recent weekly surveys by the Democracy Fund’s Voter Study Group echo this finding, showing that Americans continue to be divided by party on whether it’s a good idea for states to close businesses and restrict travel in response to the pandemic.

Hetherington’s team is still in the process of publishing the third wave of their research, which was completed just before Trump’s diagnosis became public, but in an email Hetherington shared with us some preliminary findings, including that the share of Republicans who are somewhat or very concerned about COVID-19 fell from 63 percent in March to 48 percent in September. Meanwhile, Republican support for stay-at-home orders and business closures fell even more dramatically during that period.

It’s worth noting, though, that Hetherington’s team also found some startling gaps between what individuals said they were doing and their support for those government-enforced public health measures. By September, for instance, 85 percent of Republicans said they were wearing masks in public indoors “very often,” although only 71 percent supported government-imposed mask mandates (and support for stay-at-home orders and business closures was even lower).

It’s not impossible for these attitudes to reverse course, though. A study conducted in March found that the partisan divide on risk perception and health behavior did narrow after a number of conservative politicians announced they were self-quarantining after possible exposure to the virus and the White House released social distancing guidelines. And research by Hetherington suggests that Americans become more supportive of policies like mask mandates when they are more afraid that the virus could affect them personally — which could, in theory, happen as a result of Trump’s illness.

But Hetherington said he thinks it will take more than Trump becoming sick — or even being hospitalized — for us to see really big or lasting changes in Republicans’ attitudes. In part, that’s because he expected Republican views to shift over the summer, when COVID-19 cases began to spike in areas of the country where more Republicans live. That’s not what happened, though. In fact, according to his surveys, Republicans actually got less concerned about the threat of the virus during that period.

“If the attitude is [COVID-19] is just something we’ve got to tough out,’ will Trump getting the virus really change that?” Hetherington asked. More likely it will depend, he said, on just how long Trump remains hospitalized, and how his health fares over the next few weeks.


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States Changed Laws To Make It Easier To Vote In 2020. It’s Resulted In Hundreds Of Lawsuits.



In this episode of the FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast, the crew discusses how voting laws and procedures have changed ahead of the 2020 election and how they’re being litigated right now.


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Liverpool’s win over Ajax steadied Klopp’s side after a rocky week



It wasn’t pretty, but Liverpool will care not one bit. Their 1-0 win at Ajax Amsterdam can be marked down as job done for Jurgen Klopp’s side as they navigated a tricky opening Champions League tie and took a firm step forward in a season where they will be forever reminded of the players they have injured.

Stream LIVE games and replays on ESPN+ (U.S. only)

Klopp has grown increasingly exasperated this week at the narrative around Virgil van Dijk‘s potentially season-ending injury. He was tetchy in the pre-match news conference when asked about the sheer magnitude of Van Dijk’s absence; Liverpool have been, understandably, aggrieved at the manner in which it happened, but Klopp emphasised the need to focus on solutions rather than excuses.

And as the rain poured down in Amsterdam, Klopp’s Liverpool rode their luck at times and needed some heroic last-gasp defending from Fabinho but ground out a 1-0 win over Ajax that was as much about concentration and character as it was a tactical victory.

“It was not the most easy on the eye performance — both teams can play much better football,” Klopp said after the match. “We were pretty dominant. Ajax is usually a brilliant football team, but it was tricky tonight.”

With Van Dijk and Joel Matip absent — and an eyebrow raised at suggestions they should’ve or need to strengthen at the back — Klopp partnered Joe Gomez with midfielder-cum-centre back Fabinho in the middle of their defence.

“I don’t think they’ve [Gomez and Fabinho] played before together [at the back]. It was good, but even [Fabinho] can play better. They need to get used to each other — get used to the verbal demands of that position. It was a good performance, but there’s a lot to improve, that’s good! How high or low the last line in the moment — it was absolutely good,” added Klopp.

With Alisson also recovering from injury, Adrian deputised in goal and the trio stood resolute to Ajax’s trickery and attempts to pull them out of position, or exploit any space from Liverpool’s high press.

Liverpool actually sat deeper than we’re used to seeing, and Ajax’s lack of width, or use of overlapping fullbacks, meant they could largely cope with the elusive Dusan Tadic and the pace of David Neres and Quincy Promes. But fortune smiled on them. Adrian saved well from a close-range Promes effort — standing tall to block from five metres out — while Tadic managed to breach the high-press and lobbed a stranded Adrian only to see Fabinho acrobatically clear off the line.

“He’s a top player, so top players can adapt,” was James Milner‘s post-match assessment of Fabinho’s clearance.

Davy Klassen hit the inside of the post and had another effort well saved, while Ryan Gravenberch put a half-chance wide, but the clean sheet will come as a welcome fillip after Liverpool’s turbulent week. Liverpool were still publicly aggrieved at the rough justice they perceived to be subject to against Everton last Saturday whenwhen they arrived in Amsterdam. But privately you can picture Klopp ensuring his side were focused on what they could control, and not the absent personnel with six first-teamers unable to face Ajax (Alisson, Van Dijk, Matip, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Thiago Alcantara and Naby Keita).

“We are not dumb enough to think we did not need a bit of luck for the clean sheet. We could’ve done better. We don’t hang the clean sheet too high as there were two situations [Klassan’s attempt and Fabinho’s late clearance] where we were far from perfect,” Klopp said.

Klopp gave a Champions League debut to Curtis Jones in Liverpool’s midfield, as he started alongside Milner and Georgino Wijnaldum. But the ball was largely played over or around them, rather than through them. They looked dangerous on the counter attack and Mohamed Salah had an effort well blocked by Noussair Mazraoui, while Roberto Firmino again went without a goal as he looks to get off the mark this season.

But after a weekend where Liverpool went without any good fortune, they will have gladly accepted the gift offered to them for what proved to be their winning goal. Sadio Mane neatly cut inside Perr Schuurs and then hit turf-before-ball as he scuffed his shot into Nicolas Tagliafico, who failed to shift his position and diverted the ball past his goalkeeper Andre Onana.

It was a scrappy, ugly goal but Liverpool will take that gift. And in a week where Liverpool’s depth was questioned, Klopp’s trio of substitutions on the hour mark as he took off their high profile attacking line up of Salah, Firmino and Mane — who had his leg iced after coming off — was further proof of the trust the manager has in the options at his disposal.

Liverpool will face sterner tasks this season, and will need to play better against more adventurous opposition. Ajax were disappointing. Even after a summer where they their talent pool further plundered with Donny van de Beek, Sergino Dest and Hakim Ziyech all moving on, they lined up in an uncustomary 4-4-2 formation, rather than their usual 4-3-3. It’s in Ajax’s DNA they never fear the opposition, nor adjust for them.

Perhaps Erik Ten Heg took note of how Leeds United had managed to get under Liverpool’s skin earlier in the season with a similar outlook, but they looked like a side still familiarising themselves with their new signings and going through the post-transfer window evolutionary period.

“We did a fantastic job against a very good team. The plan and implementation were excellent, only the goal was missing,” Ten Heg said after the match. “We created opportunities, but we have to pull the trigger.”

The last time Ajax played Liverpool in Amsterdam was back in 1966. Ajax won 5-1 that evening in a game that signalled the European awakening to Total Football. It was played out in thick mist; reports state that those at the wrong end of the stadium missed most of the second half. But on Wednesday night, Liverpool got some clarity, the skies lightened a little and they got an indication of what life looks like without their star centre back.

Liverpool weren’t at their best, but they ground this out. Klopp will be delighted as they got off to the solid start after a rocky week.


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Politics Podcast: How Voting Is Going So Far In 2020



Voting laws and procedures around the country have changed to accommodate mail voting and safe in-person voting during the coronavirus pandemic. As a result, Americans are voting early and by mail more than ever before. The changes have also been accompanied by hundreds of lawsuits on both the state and federal level. In this installment of the FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast, Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux and Nathaniel Rakich break down how the rules have changed, how it’s affecting Americans ability to vote and what kinds of arguments are still being hashed out in court.

You can listen to the episode by clicking the “play” button in the audio player above or by downloading it in iTunes, the ESPN App or your favorite podcast platform. If you are new to podcasts, learn how to listen.

The FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast is recorded Mondays and Thursdays. Help new listeners discover the show by leaving us a rating and review on iTunes. Have a comment, question or suggestion for “good polling vs. bad polling”? Get in touch by email, on Twitter or in the comments.


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