For example, in interviews conducted March 10-11, 42% of the public said the coronavirus was a major threat to the health of the U.S. population; in interviews conducted March 14-16, 55% say it is a major threat to the nation’s overall health.
Even still, after listening to President Trump and right-wing media for weeks, only 33 percent of Republicans and Republican leaders think the virus is a threat to the nation’s overall health.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials garner the most confidence (83 percent). State and local government officials are also well trusted (73 percent). However, “fewer than half are very or somewhat confident that [President] Trump (45%) and [Vice President] Pence (48%) are doing a good job responding to the crisis.” (Should Trump find out Pence is getting more credit, the latter’s days on the ticket might be numbered.)
The results are heavily affected by partisanship, with nearly 80 percent of Democrats and Democratic leaners saying Trump “has not taken the risks seriously enough, including 50% who say he hasn’t taken the risks seriously at all.” Trump’s base of Republicans and Republican leaners overwhelming (68 percent) thinks he has assessed the threat correctly. Nevertheless, it is telling that more than 1 in 5 Republicans and Republican leaners say he didn’t take the threat seriously enough.
As for the credibility of the media, “a majority of adults (62%) say the news media have exaggerated risks from the outbreak.” (Maybe voters who now consider it a serious threat should consider that the media was properly sounding the alarm when they incorrectly thought it was no big deal.) Naturally, the most suspicious are Republicans, 76 percent of whom say the media exaggerated the threat.
Not everyone views the threat the same way. As you might expect, the most vulnerable are the most concerned. “In particular, older adults, black and Hispanic people, and those with no college experience are especially likely to view the coronavirus as a major threat to their own health.” These Americans may feel they have less access to health care or are less healthy than younger, white and college-educated Americans.
Finally, the more voters know about the threat, the more concerned they become: “78% of those following news very closely say the coronavirus outbreak is a major threat to the U.S. economy, compared with 65% of those following news fairly closely and just 46% of the relatively small share of the public that’s following the news not too or not at all closely.”
Politicians should be aware that public opinion is shifting quickly as voters realize the magnitude of the problem. If and when mass casualties occur, concern may well morph into widespread panic. When that occurs, those most affected are likely to remember who understood the threat and acted swiftly to protect them. Given that there is growing recognition the virus is a very big deal, perhaps the media will regain some trust and credibility with Americans. After all, Americans are getting a steady diet of reliable, factual information not from Trump but from the people Trump just days ago was excoriating as hysterics and liars.