Data regarding the emergence of the novel coronavirus in the U.S. show the public is very attentive to the emerging threat and concerns are high. At the same time, views of the seriousness of the threat vary sharply by party, as do views of how the President is handling it. Of course, the Unites States is still in the early stages of dealing with this outbreak and we anticipate that circumstances on the ground, and public opinion, may change rapidly over the next weeks.
1. Americans are paying a great deal of attention to coronavirus. This topic is swamping other issues. The NBC/Wall Street Journal poll¹ conducted from March 11-13 finds that 99% of Americans have seen, read or heard news coverage about the spread of the coronavirus – and 89% have heard a lot, up from 60% in their survey conducted 10 days earlier. Similarly, Navigator² finds that as of last week, 98% had heard about an outbreak of coronavirus, and 83% had heard a lot – far more than any other issue in the news such as the Democratic primary (49% heard a lot) or the stock market (43% a lot).
2. Many are concerned about the impact of the outbreak nationally, but there are large differences by party. Navigator finds 72% very or some concerned about a coronavirus outbreak becoming more widespread in the U.S. – but while 80% of Democrats are concerned, independents (58%) and Republicans (67%) are less so. Democrats (43%) are nearly twice as likely to call the outbreak a “major crisis” as Republicans (23%).
3. Voters are less concerned about getting the virus themselves – and there are partisan differences here too. NBC/WSJ finds just over half very (15%) or somewhat worried (38%) that they or their families will catch the virus – but that’s 68% of Democrats very/somewhat worried and just 40% among Republicans.
4. Large numbers of Americans are changing their behavior – and again, the pattern is partisan. NBC/WSJ shows:
- 47% have or plan to stop attending large public gatherings – but that includes 61% of Democrats and only 30% of Republicans.
- 36% have or plan to cancel travel – but that’s 47% of Democrats and 23% of Republicans
- 26% have or plan to stop eating at restaurants – 36% of Democrats and 12% of Republicans
5. Views of the economy are down only slightly despite the stock market downturn, but Americans do express concern about potential economic impacts in the future. NBC/WSJ finds 47% of voters describe the economy as excellent or good – a drop of 6 points since December. Navigator finds 43% expect the economy to be better a year from now and 27% expect it to be worse, essentially unchanged from their expectations in January 2020 (42% better, 24% worse). However, at the same time, 72% say they are very or somewhat worried about a coronavirus outbreak causing a major economic downturn.
6. Approval of Trump’s handling of the virus matches his overall approval. NBC/WSJ finds 45% approve and 51% disapprove of the way Donald Trump is handling the coronavirus – compared to 46% job approval/51% disapproval overall. Others find similar results, including ABC/Ipsos³ (43% approve, 54% disapprove of his response to coronavirus) and Quinnipiac⁴ (43% approve, 49% disapprove handling of coronavirus)
7. When presented with criticisms of the Trump administration response, however, voters say the criticisms are fair and concerning. Navigator tested five criticisms of the Trump administration’s handling of the outbreak. Each finds a majority describing them as fair criticisms and each finds a majority saying they raise serious concerns. The two most broadly persuasive criticisms are:
- Trump made it harder to fight coronavirus by gutting American preparedness to respond to outbreaks like this. The administration eliminated the U.S. Pandemic Response team, tried to cut the Center for Disease Control budget just last month, and gutted a health security initiative, firing staff and shutting down 39 of 49 pandemic centers created to combat the spread of dangerous viruses (64% serious concerns, 60% among independents); and
- Trump's approach to health care has made Americans more vulnerable if they get sick with coronavirus. Trump has tried to cut health care and Medicare for three years - raising health care costs and limiting access. He gave insurance companies power to sell junk plans that don't cover the costs of treatment from coronavirus. Now Americans are getting hit with massive bills for testing and quarantines (63% serious concerns, 60% among independents).