Coronavirus cases are on the rise in every swing state

The Midwest, which helped deliver Trump the presidency, is now the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in the United States.

7-day rolling average of daily new cases
per 100,000 people in 13 swing states
Hover on the chart to see each state’s trajectory.
 | Updated Nov. 2 at 12:00 p.m.

Coronavirus cases are surging in every competitive state before Election Day, offering irrefutable evidence against President Trump’s closing argument that the pandemic is nearly over and restrictions are no longer necessary.

In the 13 states deemed competitive by the Cook Political Report, the weekly average of new cases reported daily has jumped 52 percent over the past two weeks, from fewer than 23,000 on Oct. 18 to more than 34,000 on Nov. 1.

Note: States sometimes changed their reporting methods or added backlogs of cases. Known instances are smoothed in the data.

Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota and Pennsylvania have all hit new weekly average highs in recent days, and in Florida and Georgia, case counts are growing again after having fallen from summer highs.

The rising coronavirus caseloads have been especially alarming in Minnesota and Wisconsin, as well as in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, all places that had managed to avoid the worst of the deadly surges this summer.

Even in New Hampshire, a state where the pandemic has remained relatively subdued, case counts are on the rise in recent weeks.

7-day rolling average
of new reported cases
per 100,000 people
Note: States sometimes changed their reporting methods or added backlogs of cases. Known instances are smoothed in the data.

As states Trump depended on to defeat Hillary Clinton in 2016 post record numbers of new daily cases, the president continues to minimize the threat of the virus. “We’re rounding the turn, regardless,” Trump told a Bullhead City, Ariz., crowd Wednesday.

Nationally, the president’s coronavirus response remains unpopular. Since late May, a growing majority of poll respondents have said they disapprove of the way Trump is handling the coronavirus outbreak.

As the virus has swept across Wisconsin, perceptions of Trump’s performance have sagged. His overall approval rating is now 41 percent positive and 58 percent negative, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll conducted Oct. 20-25.

In the same poll, most registered voters in both Wisconsin and Michigan say they trust Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden over Trump on handling the coronavirus. In Wisconsin, voters trust Biden over Trump 57 to 37 percent to handle the pandemic; in Michigan, the spread is 53 percent for Biden to 39 percent for Trump.

“The more the conversation is about the pandemic, the more that’s going to mobilize Democratic turnout,” said Jan Leighley, a political science professor at American University and an expert on voter turnout.

Yet as the danger from the coronavirus mounts, so do concerns that voters in these crucial states may choose to avoid the polls rather than risk exposure. Others who contract the virus may remain in isolation as voting concludes.

“It’s going to come down to a calculation of risk and risk aversion,” said Kevin Arceneaux, a professor of political science who directs the Behavioral Foundations Lab at Temple University. He plans to vote in person in Pennsylvania. “If people are really risk-averse about this and cases are spiking, it could deter some people from going to the polls.”

Wisconsin residents take advantage of early voting at Waukesha City Hall on Oct. 20.
Wisconsin residents take advantage of early voting at Waukesha City Hall on Oct. 20. (Darren Hauck For The Washington Post)

Or the risk-averse may have found ways to cast their ballots before Election Day.

The coronavirus pandemic has spurred record early voting this year. Nearly 94 million Americans, or about 62 percent of the total number of voters in the 2016 election, have already cast their ballots. In the 13 swing states, that percentage is even higher; about 75 percent of 2016′s electorate — 42.2 million people — have cast ballots.

Wisconsin, Arizona and Iowa, all competitive states, greatly expanded mail-in voting, joining nine other states mailing absentee applications to every registered voter.

Even in Texas, one of just five states that have resisted loosening voting rules in response to the pandemic, 9.7 million voters have already cast their ballots, more than the total votes cast in Texas four years ago.

2020 ballots cast to date
compared with all votes in 2016
Source: Washington Post analysis. Note: Data updated

Thus far, Democrats have outnumbered Republicans in early voting. But the Trump campaign expects, and the Biden campaign concedes the possibility, that Republican voters will outnumber Democrats on Election Day and the gap will narrow.

However people end up voting, the health and economic crises caused by the pandemic should at least encourage people to seriously consider their choice, said Lonna Rae Atkeson, a political science professor at the University of New Mexico who co-authored “Catastrophic Politics: How Extraordinary Events Redefine Perceptions of Government”.

“Most of the time you’re motivated to live in your own head and have attitudes consistent with your worldview,” Atkeson said. During crises, however, people are often motivated to seek information more rationally, what Atkeson calls a “stop-and-think condition.”

”This is an opportunity for opinion change,” she added.

Jacqueline Dupree contributed to this report.

Harry Stevens is a graphics reporter at The Washington Post. He was part of a team at The Post that won the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting for the series “2C: Beyond the Limit.”