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As a new strain of coronavirus (COVID-19) swept through the world in 2020, preparedness plans, masking policies and more public policy changed just as quickly. WVXU has covered the pandemic's impact on the Tri-State from the very beginning, when on March 3, 2020, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine barred spectators from attending the Arnold Sports Festival in Columbus over concerns about the virus, even though Ohio had yet to confirm a single case of COVID-19.

Analysis: Pandemic Top Of Mind For Ohio Voters On Both Sides Of The Aisle

donald trump circleville
Jason Whitman
President Trump arrives to a crowd of supporters at a ‘Make America Great Again’ campaign rally at Pickaway County Fairgrounds in Circleville, Ohio, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Saturday, October 24.";s:

The last thing President Trump wants to talk about is clearly the first thing on the minds of Ohioans and voters in Great Lakes battleground states – the COVID-19 pandemic.

It hangs like a pall over the election, with the death toll mounting to 225,000 and the numbers of infections spiking sharply in Ohio and other Midwestern states.

There is no avoiding it.

"Clearly the pandemic is the issue at the top-most of people's minds," said John C. Green, director emeritus of the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron.

But as Trump barnstorms across the country holding large rallies of supporters who, for the most part, aren't wearing masks and are packed together like sardines, Trump loudly denies the simple fact that the coronavirus cases are spiking and the pandemic is no where near going away.

"All they are talking about is COVID, COVID, COVID,'' Trump said to a fairgrounds rally in Circleville, Ohio, Saturday. "They're trying to scare everybody. But you have to live your life. You have to get out."

trump circleville
Credit Jason Whitman / WVXU
Trump supporters wait for the arrival of the president outside the press pool during a ‘Make America Great Again’ campaign rally at Pickaway County Fairgrounds in Circleville, Ohio, in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, Saturday, October 24, 2020.

Green, though, can point to hard polling numbers of registered voters in Ohio to make the case that the pandemic is their top concern.

Over the summer, Your Vote Ohio, a consortium of news organizations around the state, and the Bliss Institute teamed up on an online poll of 1,037 registered voters which showed Democrat Joe Biden with a four point lead in Ohio at the time. Since then, other polls have suggested that the presidential contest in Ohio is so close that it might not be known who will take Ohio's 18 electoral votes until weeks after the Nov. 3 election.

But the Ohioans who were polled ranked the top five issues they will consider as they vote in order of importantance – the COVID-19 pandemic; economic recovery; adequate health care; livable income; and structural racism.

"There's no question that Trump supporters tend to see this pandemic as an economic problem, while Biden's supporters see it as a health problem,'' Green said.

But different blocks of voters in Ohio view the pandemic and what should be done about it differently, the poll showed.

The poll groups Ohioans into five categories: market voters; safety net voters; public order voters; progressive voters; and populist voters. 

Who are these people? Here are some brief descriptions:

Market voters: They tend to be older, white, married men – well educated and affluent. They are found in metro areas all over the state. They tend to be conservative Republicans and most supported Trump at the time of the poll.

They see the pandemic as principally an economic problem.

"Trump needs a strong turnout from this group,'' Green said.

Safety net voters: They tend to be middle-aged, white, married women and closely divided between Republicans and Democrats. At the time of the poll, they were split between Trump and Biden.

Their main concern is the pandemic – specifically, how it impacts the well-being of ordinary people. A group that is up for grabs in the election.

Public order voters: This is the largest group of Ohio voters. They tend to be young and single, and evenly divided between men and women. About 40% of Black voters fall in this group. About one-fifth are white working class voters. They are concerned about the pandemic but want to hear the candidates talk about public safety issues, too.

Progressive voters: They tend to be young, single white women. They are well-educated, with middle incomes and are a racially diverse group. They tend to be liberal Democrats and supported Biden in the poll – although, for about a quarter of them, their support was soft.

"If he is going to win Ohio, Biden really needs to get maximum turnout from this group,'' Green said.

Populist voters: This is Trump's base in Ohio. They are the only group of voters who did not list the pandemic among their top five issues. They tend to be white men of all ages, with the lowest education and income levels.

They are also the smallest group – about one-seventh of all Ohio voters.

They clearly don't want to hear the candidates talking about the pandemic; they are much more interested in what the candidates want to do to improve economic conditions.

"The vast majority of Ohioans are concerned about the pandemic,'' Green said. "The differences come in what they want the candidates to do about it.

"Whichever candidate can appeal to as many of these groups of voters wins Ohio."

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Credit Jim Nolan / WVXU

Read more "Politically Speaking" here.

Howard Wilkinson is in his 50th year of covering politics on the local, state and national levels.