As the pandemic hits the rear-view mirror, voters who identify concerns over COVID-19 restrictions as their top issue have sunk to 26%, according to Pew Research. As a result, some political strategists see a campaign focused on the impacts of the pandemic as an uphill battle, arguing that COVID holds less salience among voters.
Yet, top contenders in the primaries, including Ron DeSantis, Donald Trump, and Robert F. Kennedy Jr., have made medical freedom and the impacts of COVID important aspects of their campaigns. In the Republican primary, the two-way battle between DeSantis and Trump has been waged on issues from crime to the economy. However, one issue — both men's handling of the coronavirus pandemic — has become a major topic on the trail.
As Governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis emerged as a prominent figure with his unyielding stance against overbearing COVID-19 restrictions, investigations into vaccines, promotion of medical freedom, and his record of opening schools and the economy during the pandemic.
Trump, a proponent of the COVID-19 vaccines, has also made health issues a topic of his campaign, this week releasing a new campaign video stating his weariness of the “public health establishment” that is “too close to Big Pharma” and “does not want to ask the tough questions about what is happening to our children’s health.”
Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a Democrat challenging President Biden for the White House, has also made overbearing COVID-19 policies central to his campaign and has openly attacked Biden and Dr. Fauci for draconian health measures, as well as challenged the efficacy of vaccines.
All of these candidates realize an important point: Running on COVID is not a bad idea because it hits on all major issues voters care about. While concerns over the pandemic itself have dropped to a new low, polling shows that voters' top concerns are the economy, healthcare, education, and security — all issues that are tied to the COVID-19 pandemic, and voters understand this.
The scientifically fraught CDC mandates put critical issues of personal autonomy, health and medical freedom, vaccine skepticism, and personal civil liberties to the front of mind for many voters, both Democrat and Republican — and these concerns are not going away because the pandemic is over.
Former President Trump, who initiated Operation Warp Speed which delivered the mRNA vaccines to the country in record time, has faced tough questions from voters about his position on vaccines and his decision not to fire Fauci during the pandemic.
Fauci and the CDC have become symbols of bureaucratic ineffectiveness, government overreach, and elite corruption. As a candidate, Ron DeSantis has sought to differentiate himself, reminding voters of Florida's open economy during the pandemic which, in his view, championed individuals' rights to make their own decisions.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has also focused on the impact of COVID-19 and corruption in America's healthcare establishment and the pharmaceutical systems. Kennedy launched his candidacy in April with a nearly two-hour speech, much of it focused on negative health outcomes as a result of experimental government treatment, COVID-19 vaccines, and more. Some videos of his previous speeches were removed by YouTube for contributing to “medical misinformation.”
Education and parental rights
Pandemic restrictions that sent kids home to learn virtually gave parents an insight into the woke agendas being taught inside classrooms. The moment helped ignite a school board revolution across the country in favor of parental oversight in the classroom, starting with transparency on masking, vaccine and health requirements, and parents' rights in their child's education.
In Florida, Governor DeSantis used this to bolster school choice, local control, parental involvement in schools, and removal of wokeism in textbooks, all while eliminating mask mandates and other health restrictions. Across the country, school closures, even for nearly two years of virtual learning in some places, lowered students' academic scores and increased mental health issues, despite evidence that showed children were least at risk and least likely to spread COVID-19.
On Tuesday, Trump released a video statement announcing his plan to address a “sharp rise in chronic illnesses and health problems especially among children.” Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has also risen sharply in the polls, hovering at a stunning 20% among Democratic voters, after questioning the health establishment's unwillingness to study or consider instances of childhood health issues, including autism, as a result of vaccines.
As a campaign strategy, parental rights in education and keeping schools open — are both consistently top issues for conservative voters in polling. COVID-19 policies acted as a catalyst for the increased visibility of these issues — and voters remember.
Misinformation and Censorship
Couched in the guise of protecting the public against “misinformation” while censoring them, the pandemic offered a glimpse to the public of the government's increased control over what people say, and how they say it.
For instance, during both the Trump and Biden administrations, claims that masks are not effective in preventing the spread of the virus, or speculation as to whether the virus was created in the Wuhan lab, were all immediately marked as “misinformation” and banned on major technology platforms, despite later proving to be true claims. Even medical professionals and doctors who spoke out were targets of CDC and UN-funded censorship efforts, as we've reported.
Voters are increasingly concerned about the impact of censorship on public discourse, and the pandemic's exposure of the merging of company censors and government actors, as detailed in Elon Musk's Twitter files release. Freedom of speech and open dialogue is a top issue for Republican voters, and DeSantis, Kennedy, and Trump have all been vocal critics of tech giants and their arbitrary content moderation policies.
Economic Shutdown and Spending
Finally, the pandemic triggered a forced global economic shutdown, leaving millions of Americans struggling with unemployment and financial instability. It also exposed America's lack of critical industry and weak supply chains for food, medicine, and other critical needs, now dependent on rogue foreign actors.
The policies pursued during and after the pandemic, including a massive infusion of cash into the financial system and soaring government spending, sent prices upward, hitting Americans' wallets particularly hard. The connection between COVID-era policies and today's economic hardship is front of mind for voters, and DeSantis is hoping that his “open-for-business” approach to keeping Florida's economy open and functioning, even amid challenging circumstances, will propel him to the front of the pack.
This has become a major point of contention within the Republican primary, with Trump taking credit for bringing the American economy back to life after the pandemic, and DeSantis arguing that his approach in Florida was much stronger than Trump’s national agenda.
The bottom line is this — Americans aren’t blind to the issues we face today, from a weaker dollar to an unaccountable health establishment, to the power of Big Pharma and the increasing government control over what we say, hear, and do.
All of these issues were exposed and amplified during the pandemic, as once-esteemed American institutions failed to respond in an efficient and moral manner. As America prepares to go to the ballot box, voters will surely remember what the pandemic exposed about every aspect of society.