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Editorial: COVID-19 is high on Virginia voters’ minds — and for good reason
COVID-19

Editorial: COVID-19 is high on Virginia voters’ minds — and for good reason

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In any election year, polling helps identify voters’ candidate preferences and the issues that are driving their choices.

We’ve seen wedge issues — political or social concerns that divide segments of society — determine elections in the past. But the coronavirus is different. It is rewriting the core components of how we live today and how we want to live going forward.

COVID-19 is high on Virginia voters’ minds — and for good reason. A recent poll conducted by Hampton University and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that 62% of Virginians identified preventing the spread of the coronavirus as a top priority, even if the economy is hampered as a result. Another 35% cited loosening economic restrictions as the key issue, even if community spread of the virus continues.

“Virginia voters are not optimistic about either the local or national economy,” Kelly Harvey Viney, director of Hampton University’s Center for Public Policy, said in a release. “However, most of the registered voters surveyed continue to support the current economic restrictions to prevent furthering the spread of COVID-19.”

The poll was conducted from Oct. 6-12 and reached 887 registered voters in the commonwealth by telephone or online. No slice of Virginia’s nearly 6 million voters that small, or a perfectly worded question, adequately can capture what families individually are experiencing right now as they head to polls on Election Day — or as they already voted through new early in-person, mail, curbside and drop box options.

We pay great attention to the candidates’ rhetoric, but look at the findings on how the virus is affecting the economic bottom lines for Virginians. COVID-19 is permeating households in personalized ways that are deeper than a TV ad or a joust about records in office.

“Although two-thirds of registered voters say they are spending less since the coronavirus outbreak, 67% report not paying down debts any faster than usual, and 55% say they are not saving more money than usual.”

What’s the solution for Virginia households battling job losses, rising health care costs, surging internet bills or other unplanned expenses, with no end to the COVID-19 timeline in sight?

“In the wake of the pandemic, a large majority of registered voters say small businesses (74%) and individuals (70%) have not had enough financial help from the government.”

What’s the solution for people who waited six months for a $1,200 stimulus check or $10,000 for a business loan but their debt now is six times greater than March and their income still is lagging?

“As there continue to be upticks in coronavirus infections across the nation and in Virginia, the pandemic is having a significant impact on the public’s attitudes,” said Trevor Tompson, director of The AP-NORC Center. “There is still a great deal of hesitancy when it comes to getting a COVID-19 vaccine when one becomes available. Concerns about side effects and the vaccine development process are driving the skepticism.”

What’s the solution for a responsible vaccine timeline that promotes access and safety, and hopefully moves the commonwealth and nation closer to the way life was before the pandemic?

These are the kinds of questions elected officials at all levels are charged with answering — and acting on. Virginians will differ on who the right candidates are, or the policies that best move us forward.

But anyone on line Tuesday at a polling place will see masks, social distancing markers, hand sanitizer pumps and other symbols of a public health crisis that has defined the 2020 election. And nearly 3 million Virginians won’t see it at all, with their votes already cast and their recognition of this deadly new virus largely driving that historic decision.

Chris Gentilviso

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