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By Dr. Clifford Young, President, Ipsos Public Affairs and Sarah Saxton, Senior Vice President, Ipsos Public Affairs

As our colleagues around the proverbial Beltway have observed during this unprecedented year, COVID-19 has shifted the allocation of Federal dollars to the tune of $13.2 billion and climbing. To date, Federal spending during the pandemic has been largely focused on biomedical research and medical supplies, with some major Federal contracts being put on hold, some even indefinitely. Come November 3rd, how is this allocation likely to shift again? Below we break down what the polls are suggesting in these final days before we cast our votes and how we can proactively prepare our pipelines in the contrasting scenarios of a Republican versus Democrat victory.

What our Polls are Saying:

With less than 30 days until the election, coronavirus is the single most influential factor in many Americans’ voting decisions. When asked what candidate traits would be the most important factor in deciding which candidate to vote for, a plurality of Americans say they are looking for someone with “a robust plan to help the nation recover from the impact of coronavirus/COVID-19,” according to Reuters/Ipsos polling. Additional research consistently confirms this essential finding – the election is poised to be a referendum on how citizens feel the president has handled the pandemic in America.

However, partisanship plays a significant role in how highly Americans rank addressing the Coronavirus as a factor in deciding their presidential pick. Democrats are more likely to look for a candidate who they think can most successfully contain the virus, while Republicans are looking for one who is strong on the economy and job creation. The recent news that President Trump tested positive for the virus has not fundamentally altered the horse race polls, even though concern about the virus has increased significantly among Republicans – to the tune of 18 points in one poll which is significant.

What can we do with this information given that 2016 taught all of us that election results can be unpredictable? The next best strategy for managing the risk of the unknown is to explore pipeline scenario planning based on what we do know about each candidate.

Based on this year’s Congressional Budget requests (that have not passed through the House during Trump’s first 3 years in office but reflect spending priorities nonetheless), we can assume the following Congressional Budget implications in the event of a Republican-party victory:

  • Budget Reductions for:
    • State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development
    • Department of Education: Reduction
    • Environmental Protection Agency
    • Department of Energy
    • Health and Human Services
    • Department of Housing and Urban Development
  • Budgetary Increases for:
    • Department of Defense
    • Homeland Security
    • National Aeronautics and Space Administration
    • Veterans Affairs

In contrast, implications of a Democratic-party victory (based on their proposed budget) would be as follows and reflect an overall increase in the federal budget to almost a quarter of all US economic activity:

  • Budget Increases for:
    • Department of Education
    • Infrastructure and Research and Development
      • Water
      • High-speed rail and municipal transit
      • Clean energy
      • Artificial Intelligence
    • Department of Housing and Urban Development
    • Health and Human Services ($352 billion for Medicare and the Affordable Care Act)

Regardless of the outcome this election season, the Coronavirus has had an influence on how Americans see the institutions tasked with addressing the crisis. Over the course of the pandemic, Americans have shown less assurance in core public institutions – namely, the Federal Government and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). A clear decline in trust overall in the Federal Government is evident, as is softening trust in the CDC. Further, just over half of Americans said in August that they believe the Federal Government is hindering the nation’s recovery from the pandemic.

The Axios-Ipsos Coronavirus Index tracks changing trust among Americans in the Federal Government and Federal organizations. These results are shown below:

When asked whther Americans felt the Federal Government is making the country’s recovery from the pandemic better or worse:

When asked how much trust they had in the Federal Government to look out for their and their family’s best interests:

When asked how much trust they had in the CDC to look out for their and their family’s best interests:

While trust in either the Government or the CDC may not be the determinant of Federal funding, it can be a contributing factor in an Administration’s choices when allocating Federal dollars.

An independent Ipsos poll conducted after both party conventions  found that more Americans believe that Biden is in touch with the issues that matter to them and see him as more trustworthy than Trump.

Why does this matter?  Because Federal funding and associated contract opportunities can shift based on the Administration’s consideration of public opinion. In fact, a Newsy/Ipsos poll found that the pandemic has increased public support for funding allocated to public health initiatives. Specifically, Americans say they are more likely to support Federal funding increases for the following:

  • Vaccine development/testing (55%)
  • Disease prevention measures such as testing and contact tracing (55%)
  • Public health organizations (51%)
  • Medicare for All (48%)
  • Tax increase to directly fund public health organizations (35%)

With the results of the election to be determined and the end of the pandemic nowhere in sight, Federal spending will continue to dramatically evolve with public opinion and the Administration in the White House continuing to shape the ways in which Federal dollars are awarded. Regardless of the outcome on November 3rd, we can assume a call to action to restore public trust in the institutions we serve will be reflected in contracts awarded for years to come.

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