As Americans cast their final votes today, congressional Republicans and President Donald Trump face an uphill battle in places where the numbers of COVID-19–related deaths are high, according to a new UCLA-led study.

The research, published Oct. 30 in the journal Science Advances, found that people in states with the highest rates of COVID-19 deaths were about 3% less likely to support Trump’s reelection in June than they were in January and February, before the pandemic began to take hold in the U.S. And in the states hardest hit by COVID-19, voters were nearly 13% less likely to support Republican Senate candidates than they were earlier in the year, and about 5% less likely to support Republican House candidates.

The study also found that voters in states with more COVID-19 fatalities were 6% less likely to approve of Trump’s performance in office than those who live in states with the lowest number of deaths.

The research team was made up of Lynn Vavreck, UCLA’s Marvin Hoffenberg Professor of American Politics and Public Policy; Ryan Baxter King, a UCLA doctoral student in political science; and Christopher Warshaw, a professor of political science professor at George Washington University.

They drew upon data from the Democracy Fund + UCLA Nationscape survey, results from voter surveys from June 2019 through July 2020 and data on COVID-19 deaths reported in the New York Times on May 31. The Nationscape survey, operated by the Democracy Fund and UCLA, interviews 6,500 Americans each week about a variety of policies and candidate attributes. To date, the project has interviewed more than 300,000 Americans.  

Science Advances
Approval of President Trump’s job performance and likelihood to vote for Republican presidential and congressional candidates all declined in states hit hardest by COVID-19.

In areas where the number of COVID-19 cases had doubled in the 30 days prior to survey responses, voters expressed lower levels of support for Trump and for candidates running for the House and Senate. “The effect of fatalities is a drain on Republican vote share,” the authors wrote.

Vavreck said the trend continued even after June, when the data was collected.

“In Wisconsin right now, for example, deaths have increased about six times since mid-September,” she said. “Our estimates indicate this could be shaving about 1.5 to 2 points off of Trump’s margin there.

According to New York Times data, North Dakota, Montana, South Dakota, Arkansas, Wisconsin and Indiana (in that order) have had the highest growth in newly reported deaths over the past two weeks.

As of Nov. 2, the states with the highest number of COVID-19 deaths per 100,000 people are New Jersey (184), New York (172), Massachusetts (145), Connecticut (129) and Louisiana (127).