The news that Donald and Melania Trump have Covid-19 and must self-isolate has halved the time the sitting president has to campaign before the election –which is in just 32 days.
The couple have been forced to cancel all of their upcoming engagements in order to self-isolate. There is also some question over whether he will be prevented from attending the second presidential debate, set to take place on October 15 in Miami, Florida.
But that might not be a bad thing for Trump.
While there is no precedent for how a US election could play out amid a pandemic where the president is infected, there is precedent for something else: how the polls have reacted to world leaders who caught and recovered from coronavirus.
We took a look at what changed.
On March 27, the British prime minister became the first major world leader confirmed to have tested positive for coronavirus. He was admitted to St Thomas’ Hospital on April 5 and discharged a week later, after spending three nights in intensive care.
A YouGov poll on the PM’s approval ratings suggested a clear surge of support from the public after news broke of his condition. When asked: “Do you think that Boris Johnson is doing well or badly as PM?”, 46% of those surveyed said they believed he was doing well before he was infected. That number jumped 20 points to 66% by April 13 – an all-time high in approval ratings, even though he had not done a single day’s work since the previous poll.
A poll conducted by Ipsos MORI showed similar results, reinforcing the idea that the country “rallied” around the PM as his symptoms worsened. By mid-April, the majority (51%) of Britons had a favourable opinion of Johnson, up 17 points from early March.
The same study also suggested support for Johnson translated to an increase in support for his party: 39% of the public had a favourable view of the Conservative Party, up compared to 32% a month before.
But pollsters have been quick to note that the Conservatives had already been enjoying a strong lead well before Johnson fell sick. Opinium/Observer polls taken in April showed 55% of the public would vote for the Conservatives – almost exactly the same (54%) as in March.
Similarly a YouGov survey taken just before Johnson was taken to hospital showed the Conservatives (52%) were already far ahead of Labour (28%). Two weeks later, that number stayed roughly the same (Conservatives 53%; Labour 32%).
The Brazilian president first announced he had tested positive for Covid-19 on July 8, after months of publicly flouting public health guidelines and dismissing the virus as a “little flu”.
Brazil has suffered tragically since the start of the pandemic and is the second-worst Covid-hit country in the world, with almost 145,000 deaths to date.
But the polls seem to indicate that public support for Bolsonaro has only increased since July. A Datafolha poll taken in August found 37% of those surveyed viewed his government as great or good, compared to 32% in June – making it his highest approval rating since he first took office at the beginning of last year.
Recent polls show his popularity has not wavered in the months since he first contracted the illness. Political pundits say the rise in his political favourability could be due to Bolsonaro’s quick and full recovery from coronavirus, which appeared to bolster his dismissals of the virus and helped strengthen his image as a “superhuman messiah”.
So will the surge of public support seen in the case of Bolsonaro and – to a lesser extent – Boris Johnson also apply in the case of Donald Trump? Only last week did Trump tell Americans not to worry about Covid-19 because “it affects virtually nobody”.
If he recovers, could Covid-19 win Donald Trump a second term in the White House?
The problem is there just is no comparison that can be made between Trump and Johnson or Bolsonaro, according to Joe Twyman, co-founder of Deltapoll.
“We just don’t know,” he tells HuffPost UK. “And anyone who’s making any conjecture is simply speculating.”
The crucial difference here is timing – we are right in the heart of an election cycle in the US – Twyman explains.
“We all know from years of looking at the polls that people answer questions around voting intention very differently when there actually is an election coming up at the moment,” he said.
“There are very good and clear arguments for why it might have an impact in one way or the other – or why it might not have an impact at all, but the point is we just don’t know.
“Anyone who claims to know what’s happening is either ignorant of how public opinion works, or using that for political reasons – or probably both.”
There is something else to consider, however: the impact of stopping Trump from putting his foot in his mouth.
The only national poll on American voting intentions to be conducted fully after the debate – by Change Research for CNBC – had Biden leading by 13 points, compared with nine points two weeks previously from the same pollster.
If that’s a result of Trump’s debate performance, which saw him criticised for repeatedly interrupting both Biden and the moderator, as well as casting doubt on the validity of the election itself, then forcing him to stay out of the public eye could be good for him.