Managing Director & Senior Partner
It’s a US presidential campaign season like no other. The nominating conventions for both parties were held virtually. Photos of crowded political rallies, donors shaking hands, and candidates intimately mingling with voters in everyday settings have been, for the most part, noticeably absent. Nevertheless, Americans have had no shortage of headlines to peruse in the run-up to election day, from the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the announcement of her potential replacement on the US Supreme Court to President Trump’s contracting COVID-19, the cancellation of his planned second debate with former Vice President Biden, and a protracted impasse over funding the coronavirus stimulus package.
A COVID Campaign
COVID-19 has become a focus of both candidates’ campaigns. Coronavirus-related messages figure prominently in their advertisements and at their events, likely because a significant—and increasing—percentage of Americans say it will influence their presidential vote. (See Exhibit 1.) Assessed by party affiliation, larger percentages of Democrats (50%) and Independents (43%) than Republicans (23%) state that the COVID-19 outbreak will influence their vote.
More than seven months after the pandemic was declared a national emergency, however, Americans seem to have accepted that the current level of threat may represent a new normal, as consumer sentiment is no longer moving in tandem with daily new case counts. Instead, concerns about COVID-19 have continued to level off. (See Exhibit 3.)
Worry and Frustration
That said, consumers acknowledge that they are worried and frustrated—but the primary cause of these emotions differs by political party. (See Exhibit 4.) Republicans tend to attribute their worry and frustration to the news and media, whereas Democrats and Independents are more inclined to assign responsibility for these feelings to the government. The third-most-common emotion cited by Republicans and Independents is sadness; but for Republicans the most frequently identified cause of this emotion is “people in [their] country,” whereas for Independents the primary cause is “humanity.” Democrats, in contrast, cite fear as their third-most-common emotion—and again say that its primary source is the government.
That fear may reflect significant differences in consumer sentiment between Democrats and Republicans. For example, more Democrats (72%) than Republicans (36%) believe that the worst impacts of the coronavirus still lie ahead, and more than twice as many Democrats as Republicans think there won’t be a vaccine within the next six months. (See Exhibit 5.)
Both Democrats and Republicans say they are continuing to modify their behavior in response to COVID-19—participating in fewer out-of-home activities and more at-home activities. (See Exhibit 8.) That said, more Republicans than Democrats are returning to out-of-home activities, perhaps due to their lower levels of fear over the coronavirus and their greater confidence that its worst impacts are behind us.
With most Americans staying at home more of the time, overall spending has declined, and a significant amount of in-store spending has shifted online. (See Exhibit 9.) Predictably, given that Democrats say they are more inclined to stay at home, we see a greater shift from in-store to online spending with Democrats than with Republicans and Independents.
The common factors that influence brand choice—such as price, convenience/location, and selection— remain, despite the shift toward spending online. (See Exhibit 10.) However, we also see new COVID-19-related factors impacting brand choice. For instance, safety has become an important factor, with Democrats prioritizing safety in brand choice more often than Republicans. When selecting brands, some Americans are also looking at how businesses supported coronavirus relief efforts for essential workers and employees during the outbreak.
As election day draws ever closer, COVID-19 is likely to remain a focus for both candidates—and a significant part of every American’s daily life in the weeks ahead.
Look for our next Snapshot at the turn of the year, when we take a look back at 2020.
Our Snapshot series began in March and includes 12 core weekly articles, 2 special feature articles, as well as key charts delivered on a monthly basis starting in June. The series tracks sentiment and spending changes due to COVID-19.
BCG’s COVID-19 Consumer Sentiment Snapshot series is based on data drawn from an online survey of consumers that has been conducted regularly since early March 2020 across multiple countries worldwide. Each Snapshot highlights a selection of insights from a comprehensive ongoing study that BCG provides to clients. The survey is produced by the authors, who are members of BCG’s Center for Customer Insight (CCI), in partnership with coding and sampling provider Dynata, the world’s largest first-party data and insights platform. The goal of the research is to provide our clients and businesses around the world with periodic barometer readings of COVID-19-related consumer sentiment and actual and anticipated consumer behavior and spending to inform critical crisis triage activities, as well as rebound planning and decision making. A team composed of BCG consultants and experts from CCI completes the survey analytics.
The situation surrounding COVID-19 is dynamic and rapidly evolving, on a daily basis. This COVID-19 research is not intended to: (i) constitute medical or safety advice, nor be a substitute for the same; nor (ii) be seen as a formal endorsement or recommendation of a particular response. As such you are advised to make your own assessment as to the appropriate course of action to take.
We would like to thank Ariel Hudes for her significant contributions in this special article feature, as well as practice area leaders Rohan Sajdeh and Jean-Manuel Izaret for their overall support with this Snapshot series.
Boston Consulting Group’s Center for Customer Insight (CCI) applies a unique, integrated approach that combines quantitative and qualitative consumer research with a deep understanding of business strategy and competitive dynamics. The center works closely with BCG’s various practices to translate its insights into actionable strategies that lead to tangible economic impact for our clients. In the course of its work, the center has amassed a rich set of proprietary data on consumers from around the world, in both emerging and developed markets. The CCI is sponsored by BCG’s Marketing, Sales & Pricing practice and Global Advantage practices. For more information, please visit Center for Customer Insight.
Dynata is the world’s largest first-party data and insights platform. With a reach that encompasses 62 million consumers and business professionals globally, and an extensive library of individual profile attributes collected through surveys, Dynata is the cornerstone for precise, trustworthy quality data. The company has built innovative data services and solutions around its robust first-party data offering to bring the voice of the customer to the entire marketing continuum—from strategy, innovation, and branding to advertising, measurement, and optimization. Dynata serves nearly 6,000 market research, media and advertising agencies, publishers, consulting and investment firms and corporate customers in North America, South America, Europe, and Asia-Pacific. Learn more at www.dynata.com.