As the United States surpasses 3 million confirmed cases of coronavirus, the American public is becoming increasingly pessimistic about the public health situation. In a poll conducted by us at Redfield & Wilton Strategies in July, 51% of respondents said the coronavirus situation in the US is not coming under control, with only 28% saying it is.
Concern has increased since our last poll on the 9th of June, where the public was sharply divided on the matter. Indeed, 34% of respondents in June thought that the coronavirus situation was coming under control but an equal share of respondents (34%) thought that it was not.
A month later, in July, a majority of respondents (54%) believe that the worst of the coronavirus pandemic is still ahead compared to just 26% of respondents who believe that the worst is behind us. This latest result represents an 11% increase in the pessimistic view since June, when a plurality (43%) thought that the worst was yet to come compared to 34% who thought that the worst was behind us.
The increased pessimism in July is likely a result of the alarming rise of coronavirus cases since lockdowns were lifted in many areas across the US. While new cases had slowed across the board in April and May, the coronavirus’ reproduction rate is now increasing in all but 6 states. In the North East region, the states of Maine, Connecticut, Rhode Island and New Hampshire are seeing a decrease in cases. Arkansas and Utah, which are in the South and West of the US respectively, are also experiencing a decrease.
When asked if the coronavirus situation was under control, the prognosis was roughly similar for respondents across the different regions of the US. Respondents in the South were the most optimistic in July, with 30% agreeing it was under control compared to 23% of respondents in the West. This breakdown is a change from June when the South and the West were the least optimistic regions with only 31% agreeing that the situation was under control compared to 42% of respondents in the North East.
Altogether, a large majority (70%) of Americans still feel safe going outside in general, but fewer feel safe than in June (77%). Respondents also felt less safe in July than in June for every other specific activity. In June, 38% felt safe going to a restaurant or bar compared to 34% in July, 60% felt safe visiting their friend’s house compared to 52% in July and 28% felt safe going to a movie theatre compared to 23% in July.
The largest determinant for outlook on the coronavirus situation we found was political orientation. Among respondents who intend to vote for Donald Trump in the upcoming election, 46% thought that the coronavirus situation was coming under control, compared to just 15% of the respondents who intend to vote for Joe Biden in November. Similarly, 43% of likely Trump voters agreed that the worst was behind us compared to just 14% of likely Biden voters.
This trend also holds true when looking at respondents’ 2016 vote. 48% of those who voted for Trump in 2016 think that the coronavirus situation is now coming under control, compared to just 18% of respondents who reported to vote for Hillary Clinton. Similarly, 43% of 2016 Trump voters said the worst of the coronavirus was behind us, compared to just 15% of respondents who voted for Hillary.
While the plurality of respondents in the US (49%) think that the severity of the coronavirus situation has been accurately reported, 30% say they think the severity of the coronavirus crisis has been exaggerated. The majority of the respondents (51%) who intend to vote for Trump in November believe that coronavirus fear has been exaggerated compared to just 13% of the respondents who intend to vote for Biden.
This divide between likely Trump and Biden voters may be for several reasons. Support for Trump in the next election is likely contingent on the electorate’s opinion of the President’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, and likely Trump voters may be inclined to believe in ‘their side.’ Moreover, since President Trump’s stance has been to downplay safety concerns and push for economic reopening in opposition to the Democrats’ plans that tend towards caution, the coronavirus pandemic will, in any case, be interpreted through partisan lens. Another factor is location. As likely Trump voters tend to live in more rural areas rather than concentrated urban areas, they may also be less affected by the coronavirus than likely Biden voters, leading to an increased sense of optimism.
Though Trump’s numbers have seen a marked increase since our previous US voting intention poll in June, the President has consistently trailed Biden since the coronavirus crisis in the US began, suggesting that, come November, the coronavirus crisis could cost President Trump his re-election.