Managing Director & Senior Partner
Related Expertise: Marketing and Sales, Consumer Products Industry , International Business
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.
The presidential campaigns have continued against the backdrop of an increasing number of new COVID-19 cases per day in recent weeks. The numbers remain lower than they were at their peak in July but have resurged somewhat since their most recent low point in late August. (See Exhibit 2.)
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.)
Although fear of the virus itself appears to be relatively consistent across age groups for Republicans, it increases with age for both Independents and Democrats (See Exhibit 6.)
Despite recent increases in the daily new case count, consumers’ concerns about catching the virus as a result of engaging in particular activities continue to decline gradually. As of mid-October, the prevalence of worry had dropped to levels not seen since May. (See Exhibit 7.)
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.
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.
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