This partisan difference is clearly in part a function of President Trump’s approach to the emergence of the virus, an approach that has only sporadically deviated from unrealistically optimistic predictions and assessments of the administration’s efforts. It may also be a function of geography: Three-quarters of the coronavirus cases in the United States were confirmed in blue states. The virus has been slower to emerge in more rural states, which tend to vote more heavily Republican, though even smaller states are seeing exponential growth in confirmed cases.
This raises an interesting question. Are Republicans more skeptical of the effects of the virus because they’re Republicans or because they live in places where the virus isn’t as prevalent?
A new Washington Post-ABC News poll offers some insight into an answer. Generally, on a range of questions focused on the virus, the difference between the views expressed by Democrats (and Democratic-leaning independents) differs broadly from the views of Republicans (and Republican-leaning independents) in states harder-hit by the virus than those that have seen smaller outbreaks.
We looked at those states in two ways. One was a pure count of confirmed cases, breaking out respondents’ states into those that had seen 700 confirmed cases and those that hadn’t. We also broke it out by population, offering a better sense of the scale of the outbreak. In that differentiation, the more affected states had seen at least 50 cases for every million residents.
A good example of the partisan differences in views of the virus comes from asking respondents if they were worried about contracting the virus or having a member of their families contract it. Overall, there was a 19-point gap between the parties on the question, with Democrats more likely to express concern about contracting it. In states with more cases and more cases per resident, Democrats expressed more concern about the virus while Republican views held more steady.
Asked to evaluate their own risk of contracting the virus, there was less of a partisan gap.
There was a smaller partisan gap on the question of how much stress the outbreak had introduced into people’s lives, as well. In states with fewer cases per million, though, that gap was much wider than in states where there was a higher density of cases.
On political questions, though, the gaps were wide.
Asked if Trump acted quickly enough to address the outbreak, Democrats were more likely than Republicans to say he hadn’t by a wide margin. Interestingly, that gap continued in harder-hit states, though both Democrats and Republicans were more likely to be critical of Trump’s response.
A similar pattern held on views of Trump’s handling of the outbreak overall. Wide partisan gaps that shifted subtly against Trump in states with worse outbreaks.
That’s largely specific to Trump. There was still a partisan gap on views of the federal government’s ability to handle the outbreak, but it was much smaller and less affected by the extent of the outbreak in the respondents’ states.
It’s worth noting that while some states have been harder hit than others, the number of infections relative to the population overall is still relatively small. It may be the case that partisanship is often a determining factor in views of the outbreak because the virus is still at least something of an abstraction. In the poll, only 11 percent of respondents said they knew someone who had contracted the virus.
Then again, 41 percent said they knew of cases in their local community. That response largely wasn’t affected by the scale of the outbreak in the respondent’s state.
Emily Guskin contributed to this report.