Conversations with nearly a dozen thinkers from the worlds of political science, political psychology, technology, organizing and campaigning suggest that we are ill-designed for the pandemic election. The internet, many said, is centrifugal, driving people away from each other and toward only close friends, immediate family and themselves — the opposite of the centripetal force that elections and their aftermaths demand, and that physical interactions often provide.

Yet these thinkers have not abandoned all hope. Like the pandemic itself, the next several weeks, they said, will constitute an acid test for a frightened and divided country.

“The virus turns on this,” said Mr. Putnam. “Are we a we, or are we an I?”

Decades of political science research instruct that whether and how the people closest to you vote plays a huge role in your own decisions.