The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

A rare bit of unity: Americans are worn out by the pandemic

A discarded face mask sits on the ground in the parking lot of Newton-Wellesley Hospital in Newton, Mass., on March 16, 2020. (Adam Glanzman for The Washington Post)

One of the patterns that emerged early in the pandemic was that Democrats were more concerned about contracting the coronavirus than Republicans. That wasn’t true immediately; in mid-April 2020, three-quarters of Republicans expressed concern that they or a member of their families would become sick with covid-19. But then President Donald Trump’s rhetoric shifted and so did perceptions among members of his party.

Since then, there have been two broad universes in the country. One group expresses concern about the virus, advocates mask-wearing and has high rates of vaccination. The other group is not as worried, waves away masks and is more likely to shrug at vaccination. Those two groups also generally go by shorter descriptors: Democrats and Republicans.

New polling from Monmouth University released on Wednesday, though, shows one area where partisan alignments collapse. Most Americans, regardless of party, say they’re worn out over pandemic changes.

The Monmouth poll otherwise shows consistent sets of correlations that align with party. Let’s use as a baseline the percentage of people who say that they are very or somewhat concerned about a family member becoming seriously ill with the virus. Sixty percent of Americans hold that view, including 84 percent of Democrats and fewer than half of Republicans. Unsurprisingly, the percentage of people who say they’re personally concerned about getting sick from the coronavirus variants follows the same pattern: 74 percent of Democrats are worried about that, compared to 28 percent of Republicans.

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If we put that on a graph, you can see the correlation. More concern about a family member getting ill from left to right; more concern about variants from bottom to top. The line from the red Republican dot to the blue Democratic is parallel to that diagonal line, showing near-perfect correlation.

(The line is labeled with the measure that’s displayed on the vertical axis because the charts in this article all share the same horizontal axis.)

The same is true with vaccine uptake. The percentage of those who’ve gotten at least one dose of a vaccine increases as concern about the virus increases, as does the percentage of those who’ve gotten a booster shot already.

The group that says they will probably never get a dose of a vaccine, though, is inversely correlated to concern about the virus. That is, as concern goes up, the percentage of those who say they’ll never get a dose goes down. The line from Democrat to Republican is perpendicular to the diagonal.

One interesting finding from Monmouth’s polling is that just under half of Americans support either the reintroduction of mask and social distancing guidelines or the requirement from employers that workers be vaccinated. This, too, correlates to concern over the virus.

But then we come to two questions that are relatively unique in polling on the pandemic. Respondents were asked if they ever felt angry or worn out about the ongoing changes to normal life the pandemic has inflicted.

The question of anger was inversely correlated to concern about the virus: the more concern expressed, the less anger felt. (The line connecting the parties was perpendicular to the diagonal.) But the question of feeling worn out was flat. Democrats and Republicans both feel tired. It’s just that Republicans are also generally mad about it.

This makes sense in context. If you aren’t worried about the virus and are unwilling to take steps aimed at containing its spread, you might be expected to be annoyed that there are still calls to keep the virus spreading rapidly.

It’s also useful to recognize that the question centered on anger at “changes you have had to make to your daily life.” Had it focused on anger generally, allowing for expressions of anger about the continuation of the pandemic, there might have been more bipartisan sentiment on that question, too.