March 18, 2020

Majorities express confidence in CDC and state and local officials

Vice President Mike Pence and President Donald Trump speak to journalists about the coronavirus in the White House press briefing room on March 16. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

More view coronavirus outbreak as a major threat to the nation than to their own health and finances As coronavirus cases increase across the United States and federal and state governments scramble to address the crisis, 70% of Americans say the COVID-19 outbreak poses a major threat to the nation’s economy and 47% say it is a major threat to the overall health of the U.S. population.

So far, Americans are less concerned about how the new coronavirus is affecting their health, finances and local communities. Still, 27% say the coronavirus is a major threat to their personal health, while 51% say it is a minor threat. Only 22% says it does not threaten their personal health.

Underscoring the rapidly changing nature of this crisis, the shares of Americans who say the COVID-19 outbreak is a major threat to the economy and other aspects of life increased substantially over the past week. 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.

The national survey by Pew Research Center – conducted March 10-16 among 8,914 adults using the Center’s American Trends Panel, in conjunction with the Center’s Election News Pathways project – finds widespread public confidence that public health officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and state and local government officials are doing a good job in responding to the coronavirus outbreak.

Broad public confidence in how CDC, state and local officials are responding to coronavirus outbreak More than eight-in-ten (83%) say they are very or somewhat confident that CDC officials are doing a good job, including 40% who are very confident. Most (73%) also say they are confident in state and local government officials.

The public is less confident in how President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence are responding to the crisis: Fewer than half are very or somewhat confident that Trump (45%) and Pence (48%) are doing a good job responding to the crisis.

Here are the other major findings from the new survey:

News media’s response to coronavirus outbreak. An Election News Pathways report out today finds that Americans are closely following news about the coronavirus outbreak, and they give the news media fairly high marks for their coverage: 70% say the news media are doing very or somewhat well covering the story. And misinformation is also part of the story: 48% of Americans report having seen at least some news they thought was made up about the virus.

Strongly partisan reactions to the government’s response to COVID-19 outbreak. Partisanship is evident in the public’s views of most national problems, and so far, the coronavirus outbreak is no exception. Perhaps the most striking example of this: 59% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents say the outbreak is a major threat to the health of the U.S. population as a whole; only 33% of Republicans and Republican leaners say the same.

Trump viewed as minimizing coronavirus risks; news media seen as exaggerating them. Reflecting the public’s modest level of confidence in Trump’s response to the outbreak, 52% say he has not taken the risks from the coronavirus outbreak seriously enough, while 37% say he has gotten the risks about right; 10% say he has exaggerated the risks. By contrast, a majority of adults (62%) say the news media have exaggerated risks from the outbreak.

Financial toll from coronavirus. Among those who are currently employed, only 36% say they would continue to get paid if they were unable to work for two weeks or more because of the coronavirus. Another 21% say they could still meet basic expenses, even if they did not get paid during the crisis. A third of Americans say they would not get paid and that it would be difficult to keep up with expenses. Among adults with family incomes of less than $50,000, about half (49%) say they would struggle with day-to-day expenses.

Has the coronavirus been exaggerated – or not taken seriously enough?

Americans generally say that the public health officials at the CDC have gotten the risks of the coronavirus about right. But far fewer say that about the news media, Donald Trump and congressional Democrats.

A majority (63%) says public health officials at the CDC have gotten the risks for the coronavirus about right. Relatively few say they have exaggerated the risks (21%) or not taken them seriously enough (15%).

By contrast, a majority (62%) says the news media have exaggerated the risks from the coronavirus outbreak. Just 30% say they have handled the risks appropriately, and 8% say they have not taken the risks seriously enough.

Critiques of Trump’s response run in the opposite direction. About half (52%) say either that Trump has not taken the risks seriously enough (23%) or that he hasn’t taken them seriously at all (29%); 37% say he’s gotten the risks about right.

When it comes to Democratic leaders in Congress, about as many say they have exaggerated the risks (40%) as say they have gotten them about right (38%); 19% say they haven’t taken the risks seriously enough.

About half say Trump has not taken risks from the coronavirus seriously enough; a majority says news media have exaggerated the risks

Views of how Trump, Democratic leaders and the news media have responded to the risks of the coronavirus are highly partisan. However, there is bipartisan agreement that officials at the CDC have responded appropriately: 64% of Democrats and Democratic leaners and 63% of Republicans and Republican leaners say CDC officials have gotten the risks of the coronavirus about right.

Roughly three-quarters of Republicans (76%) say the news media have exaggerated the risks of the coronavirus, including 53% who say they have greatly exaggerated them. While Democrats are less likely than Republicans to say this, many do criticize the news media in this regard: 49% of Democrats believe the media have exaggerated the coronavirus risks, compared with 41% who think they’ve gotten them about right.

Partisans are far apart in how they assess Trump’s response to the coronavirus. Nearly eight-in-ten Democrats and Democratic leaners (79%) think the president has not taken the risks seriously enough, including 50% who say he hasn’t taken the risks seriously at all. Among Republicans and Republican leaners, 68% think he’s gotten the risks about right, compared with far fewer (22%) who say he hasn’t taken them seriously enough.

A narrow majority of Democrats (56%) say their party’s leaders in Congress have gotten the risks of the virus about right; the remainder of Democrats are about evenly split between saying their leaders have exaggerated the risks (23%) and saying they haven’t taken them seriously enough (20%). Most Republicans (60%) criticize Democratic leaders in Congress for exaggerating the risks of the coronavirus, while 20% say they’ve gotten the risks about right and 18% say they haven’t taken them seriously enough.

Coronavirus threat perceptions rose over survey field period

Information about the coronavirus outbreak and guidance from federal, state and local officials evolved over the survey’s seven-day field period, and public concern about the threat posed by the virus was higher at the end of the survey than at the beginning.

Threat seen to public health and other areas rose over the course of the survey periodFor instance, in the first two days of the survey field period (March 10-11), 42% said the new coronavirus outbreak was a major threat to the health of the U.S. population. In the final three days of the survey field period, this share had risen to 55%.

This increase in the perceived threat posed by the coronavirus over time was seen across the four other areas of concern measured in the survey.

Bipartisan confidence in CDC, state and local officials

Republicans, Democrats confident that CDC officials are doing a good job responding to the coronavirusRepublicans have much more confidence than Democrats in Trump and Pence to respond to the coronavirus, but majorities of both partisan groups say they are confident in CDC health officials and their state and local officials to respond to the coronavirus outbreak.

A large share of Republicans and Republican leaners (87%) say they either are very (48%) or somewhat (39%) confident in public health officials at the CDC to do a good job responding to the coronavirus. Most Democrats and Democratic leaners (80%) also say they are confident in CDC officials, though fewer (33%) are very confident.

Similarly, 75% of Republicans and 72% of Democrats say they are at least somewhat confident that their state and local officials are doing a good job responding to the coronavirus outbreak.

Republicans are broadly confident that Trump and Pence are doing a good job responding to the coronavirus, while large shares of Democrats lack confidence in them to do this.

About eight-in-ten Republicans (82%) say they are very or somewhat confident in Trump to do a good job responding to the coronavirus; nearly as many (77%) say the same about Pence. By contrast, 87% of Democrats say they are not too (20%) or not at all (67%) confident in Trump to do a good job responding to the coronavirus; a slightly smaller majority (77%) say they are not too (30%) or not at all (47%) confident in Pence.

Fewer Republicans than Democrats see ‘major’ threats from coronavirus

Democrats far more likely than Republicans to view COVID-19 as major threat to health of AmericansDemocrats are more likely than Republicans to describe the coronavirus as a major threat across all five areas of concern tested in the survey.

Most notably, Democrats and Democratic leaners are 26 percentage points more likely than Republicans and Republican leaners to say that the virus presents a major threat to the U.S. population as a whole (59% vs. 33%).

And while majorities in both parties say the coronavirus outbreak is a major threat to the U.S. economy, Democrats (77%) are more likely than Republicans (62%) to say this.

Democrats are also somewhat more likely than Republicans to say the coronavirus is a major threat to day-to-day life in their community, their personal financial situation and their personal health.

How an extended job absence would impact workers

A majority of employed people earning less than $50,000 say they wouldn’t get paid if the coronavirus caused them to miss work for at least two weeksMissing work for an extended period because of the coronavirus would hurt lower-income, less highly educated, younger and nonwhite workers more than others in the labor force.

Overall, just over half of employed people (54%) say they would not get paid if the coronavirus caused them to miss work for at least two weeks. The larger share of this group (33% of all employed people) say it would be difficult for them to keep up with their basic expenses while out of work and not being paid; 21% of workers say they would not get paid but would still be able to keep up with expenses.

Just more than a third of employed people (36%) say they would still get paid if they could not work for at least two weeks because of the coronavirus; 10% say they aren’t sure what would happen.

Nearly seven-in-ten employed people with family incomes of less than $30,000 a year (68%) say they would not get paid if they had to miss work for two weeks because of the coronavirus, including 52% who say they’d have trouble keeping up with expenses during this time. Smaller shares of employed people with higher annual incomes say this. For instance, just 11% of those earning $100,000 a year or more say they would not get paid and would have trouble meeting expenses if they were out of work for at least two weeks because of the virus; most of this group (61%) say they’d continue to get paid if they could not work.

Black and Hispanic workers are less likely than white workers to say they’d still get paid if they had to miss work for two weeks because of the coronavirus. A majority of Hispanic workers (66%) say they would not get paid if the coronavirus caused them to miss work for two weeks, including 47% who say it would be difficult to meet expenses during this time. Half of black workers say they would not get paid, while another 23% say they aren’t sure what would happen.

The youngest workers surveyed – those ages 18 to 29 – are the age group most likely to say they would not get paid if forced to miss two weeks due to the coronavirus. They also are more likely than other age groups to say they would have trouble meeting basic expenses without income.

Racial, ethnic differences in personal health concerns from coronavirus

Personal health concerns over the coronavirus higher among black and Hispanic people than white peopleMost Americans view the coronavirus as a threat to their own personal health, though far more view it as a minor (51%) than major (27%) threat; 22% say it is not a threat.

The level of personal concern about the virus varies significantly across demographic groups. 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.

Majorities of those of all races and ethnicities see the new coronavirus as at least a minor threat to their health. However, 46% of black people and 39% of Hispanics view the coronavirus as a major threat to their own health, compared with 21% of white adults.

Among adults ages 65 and older, 86% say the coronavirus is a threat to their personal health, including 33% who say it’s a major threat. Among adults ages 18 to 29, a smaller majority sees the virus as a personal health threat (72%) and 23% view it as a major threat.

Those who live in urban areas (33%) are somewhat more likely to see the coronavirus as a major threat to their personal health than those living in suburban (25%) or rural (25%) areas.

Across levels of educational attainment, 35% of those with no college experience say the coronavirus is a major threat to their personal health, compared with 26% of those with some college experience, 19% of college graduates and 21% of postgraduates.

There are not major differences in concern over personal health between those who say they are covered by health insurance and those who say they are not.

Close followers of coronavirus news more likely to see major threats

Those most attentive to coronavirus news are more likely than less attentive people to say it poses a major threat About half of U.S. adults (51%) say they are following news about the coronavirus very closely, while 38% say they are following it fairly closely and just 11% say they are following it not too or not at all closely.

Those most closely following news about the coronavirus are significantly more likely than other groups to say the virus poses a major threat in all five areas of concern tested in the survey.

For instance, 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. This pattern is consistent across the other areas of concern measured in the survey.

These measures and more can be explored further in the Election News Pathways data tool, where all of the data associated with this project is available for public use.