POLITICS

Poll: Americans Are Just Starting To Feel The Effect Of Coronavirus

Public opinion on the outbreak is evolving quickly, a new HuffPost/YouGov survey finds.
An MTA transit worker walks through a nearly empty Times Square - 42nd St. subway station during the morning rush in New York
An MTA transit worker walks through a nearly empty Times Square - 42nd St. subway station during the morning rush in New York, U.S., March 16, 2020. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Americans are growing more concerned by the day about the spread of the new coronavirus in the U.S., a new HuffPost/YouGov poll finds, with the share who say they’ve been personally affected rising rapidly within the past week. Attitudes toward the outbreak and to the government response, however, remain sharply divided along partisan lines.

Seventy percent of Americans now say they’re at least somewhat concerned about the spread of the coronavirus in the U.S., and 61% are at least somewhat concerned that they or a family member will contract the virus; 35% are very concerned about the spread of the disease, and 28% are very concerned their family will be affected.

The share of Americans who are very concerned about the virus has climbed in past weeks.
The share of Americans who are very concerned about the virus has climbed in past weeks.

The share of the public who thought it was the right decision to cancel large events like rallies and conferences rose from a 61% majority in a poll taken last Tuesday through Thursday to an even-more commanding 72% in the newest poll, taken just days later, Friday through Sunday. And the share who said they’d been personally affected by the virus, while still low, rose from 12% to 22%. (Other polls that asked Americans about specific changes to their behavior, like stocking up on food or cancelling plans, found higher numbers affected.)

Some who said they’d felt an effect were worried about the disease itself: “I have been feeling sick, but can’t get tested,” wrote one Alabama woman who was surveyed. “I’m especially worried because I am over 60 and I have an autoimmune disorder―the medication I am on suppresses my immune system.”

Others were working from home, caring for children whose schools were shuttered, or already feeling the economic and personal consequences of daily life slowing to a standstill. 

“I work in the entertainment industry. All of my sources of income have been cancelled or postponed,” wrote one Tennessee woman surveyed. A Utah man in his 80s said that, after being furloughed from the part-time job he used to supplement his Social Security, he was starting to ponder the choice between skipping prescriptions or eating less. One woman in Nevada said she was missing her only child’s military graduation, which had been abruptly canceled; another, in Florida, was no longer able to visit her husband in his locked-down rehab facility. A plumber, a food server, an airline employee, a retail worker, a nurse practitioner, a music teacher, a pastor and a firefighter all reported already feeling strain from the consequences of the pandemic.

Respondents across the country also noted other effects, from falling stock prices to ravaged supermarkets to NCAA cancellations. And some expressed exasperation at what they considered an exaggerated panic.

“The shortage of everyday items people are hoarding because they think the world’s ending!” one respondent griped. “We are bound to catch this no matter how safe or prepared you think you are.”

 WHO’S MOST CONCERNED ABOUT CORONAVIRUS?

Americans’ level of concern about the coronavirus ― and their willingness to endure widescale preventative measures in response ― are in some cases modestly divided along generational or geographic lines. Fifty-nine percent of Americans under age 30 say they’re at least somewhat concerned about the outbreak’s spread, the survey finds, while 73% of those 30 and up say the same. About two-thirds of city dwellers are at least somewhat concerned they or a family member will contract the virus, compared to about half of rural Americans who say the same. These divides make a certain amount sense: COVID-19 has proved especially deadly to older people, and the disease’s first inroads into the U.S. have been concentrated in urban centers.

But, as is often the case in recent public opinion, the most glaring divide is political. President Donald Trump, who on Monday warned of the seriousness of the outbreak, had often downplayed the issue in previous statements, an attitude that’s reflected in his supporters’ reactions. Democrats are 35 percentage points likelier than Republicans to say they’re at least somewhat concerned about the spread of coronavirus in the U.S. A 55% majority of Democrats, but just 19% of Republicans, say they’re very concerned. (Previous epidemics like avian flu, H1N1 and Ebola, it’s worth noting, also drew polarized responses.)

Those divides aren’t necessarily set in stone. Over the course of the last week ― during which Trump announced a decision to cancel campaign rallies ― the share of Republicans who supported canceling large events rose from 55% to 70%. Although other metrics showed less change, Trump’s change of tone Monday might help to reduce his supporters’ skepticism about the scale of the problem.

WHAT DO AMERICANS THINK OF THE GOVERNMENT RESPONSE?

Americans say, 47% to 39%, that they approve of the government’s handling of issues related to the coronavirus. They’re about evenly split on Trump’s handling of the crisis, with 45% approving and 43% disapproving. Slightly under half, 46%, are at least somewhat confident that the government’s statements on coronavirus are reliable and accurate, with 41% not very or not at all confident. Opinions are again polarized: Republicans are 55 points likelier than Democrats to approve of the government response, and 69 points likelier to approve of Trump specifically.

       

Most Americans think the government should be taking action: A 62% majority say the federal government has a lot of responsibility to help manage the outbreak, with 60% saying the same of their state government, and 53% of their local government. About half, 47%, say regular people in their community bear a lot of responsibility. Just 35% say the same of big companies like Walgreens, Target, Walmart and CVS, whose efforts Trump stressed in a recent press conference, and just 27% say the same of local business owners.

WHO DO AMERICANS THINK SHOULD PAY FOR CORONAVIRUS TREATMENT?

By a broad margin, 72% to 13%, Americans believe that the U.S. government has a responsibility to provide free coronavirus testing for any Americans who might have the virus. The public also says, 62% to 18%, that the government has a responsibility to provide free medical treatment for any Americans who are confirmed to have the new coronavirus. 

By comparison, 57% of the public thinks the government has a responsibility to make sure all Americans have affordable health care coverage, with 24% saying it does not. By a 10-point margin, 45% to 35%, the public supports the idea of all Americans getting their insurance from a single government plan. (Half of those surveyed saw the coronavirus questions prior to the other questions about health care, and half after; the order did not appear to make a significant difference.)

       

 WHAT DOES OTHER POLLING SHOW?

-NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist: “Poll: Americans Don’t Trust What They’re Hearing From Trump On Coronavirus”

-NBC/Wall Street Journal: “Sixty percent believe worst is yet to come for the U.S. in coronavirus pandemic”

-Gallup: “U.S. Coronavirus Concerns Surge, Government Trust Slides”

-CNN/SSRS: “CNN Poll: Most Americans confident government can stop nationwide epidemic, but see local cases on the horizon”

-YouGov: How the virus is affecting everything, from politics to brands

-FiveThirtyEight roundup of polling: “How Concerned Are Americans About Coronavirus So Far?” 

-Reuters/Ipsos: “President Trump’s overall approval rating remains stable”

HOW WAS THE POLL CONDUCTED?

The HuffPost/YouGov poll consisted of 1,000 completed interviews conducted March 13-15 among U.S. adults, using a sample selected from YouGov’s opt-in online panel to match the demographics and other characteristics of the adult U.S. population.

HuffPost has teamed up with YouGov to conduct daily opinion polls. You can learn more about this project and take part in YouGov’s nationally representative opinion polling. More details on the polls’ methodology are available here.

Most surveys report a margin of error that represents some but not all potential survey errors. YouGov’s reports include a model-based margin of error, which rests on a specific set of statistical assumptions about the selected sample rather than the standard methodology for random probability sampling. If these assumptions are wrong, the model-based margin of error may also be inaccurate. Click here for a more detailed explanation of the model-based margin of error.

 

Keep up with the latest updates on the coronavirus at our live blog.

CONVERSATIONS