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Experts: Specter of COVID-19 Hangs Over VP Debate, Election

Authorities on Politics and Public Opinion Available for Interviews

Pile of 2020 Presidential Election buttons Photo by Carsten Reisinger
UMass Lowell experts are available to be sources for reporters covering the presidential election.


Contacts for media: Nancy Cicco, 978-934-4944 or and Christine Gillette, 978-758-4664 or

Every moment spent talking about COVID-19 during tomorrow night’s vice presidential debate is a moment Republicans will be “losing the message war,” according to UMass Lowell political scientists available for interviews on the subject.

With less than a month before Election Day, Vice President Mike Pence and Democratic challenger U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris are set to square off in Salt Lake City in their only debate of the presidential race. The event will feature enhanced COVID-19 safety protocols announced yesterday. President Trump is battling the coronavirus at the White House and more than 210,000 Americans have died from the disease. 

Against that backdrop, “Pence has his work cut out for him” during the debate, said Joshua Dyck, director of UMass Lowell’s Center for Public Opinion. “As the head of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, he will have much to account for, not just in defending the president’s record, but in defending his own record on protecting the country.”  

Even so, Dyck said viewers should expect the interaction between Pence and Harris to “at least resemble a debate – a return to presidential politics after the WWE screaming match of the first presidential debate” a week ago.

He expects the event will be the last among the candidates. 

“Given that Trump is likely to still be contagious, I think the remaining presidential debates are in question,” Dyck said. 

All of which leaves Pence with little room to share any positives in the incumbents’ campaign platform tomorrow night.

“I wouldn’t trade places with Pence for all the clam chowder in New England. Pence has to look distinctly vice-presidential – someone who can be trusted with the country should President Trump have to relinquish some of his duties, but also someone who does not outshine his boss,” said John Cluverius, the Center for Public Opinion’s associate director. “Every moment that Trump or Pence spends talking about the pandemic is a moment he’s losing the message war.”

Cluverius and Dyck are also available to discuss:
  • How Americans’ views on the COVID-19 pandemic are affecting Trump’s campaign strategy;
  • What Harris needs to do to move beyond her lukewarm debate performances during her own run for president. 
Along with leading the Center for Public Opinion, Cluverius and Dyck are faculty members in the university’s Political Science Department. Dyck is an authority on public opinion research, political campaigns, voter behavior and government. Cluverius is an expert in research methods and state and local politics. 

To arrange an interview with either of them via phone, email or Zoom (or another platform), contact Nancy Cicco at, 978-934-4944, or Christine Gillette at, 978-758-4664.