Coronavirus, China, and the 2020 Election

April 24, 2020
China | Coronavirus | USA Elections

In the earlier days of the coronavirus crisis, we at Redfield & Wilton Strategies noted that members of the public across several countries placed blame for the pandemic on China. More than a month later, we can see that, if anything, the level of blame placed by the public on China and its government has only risen. A month ago, 16% in the US found China ‘not to blame at all’ for the current crisis. This week, we found that number dropping to 10%.

This change applied across all demographic categories, including among those of differing political backgrounds. Americans of all backgrounds are therefore critical of China’s role in the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

Beyond just assigning blame, however, most Americans, like many in the UK, are losing trust in China altogether. They do not believe the numbers of cases and deaths the Chinese Government has been reporting. Again, this distrust extends to all demographics of the American public.

If trust on the Chinese government’s reporting of its coronavirus figures is non-existent, will the American public also continue to trust the Chinese government’s figures on its economy and other critical statistics? 

A strong majority of respondents to our poll this week also favored forcing China to allow an international investigation into the origins of the pandemic.

Moving to the political side of this issue, a plurality of respondents, including a quarter of those who will vote for Biden in November, say they would agree with naming the virus after its origin: Wuhan, China. This topic has had a partisan tinge to it, with many left-leaning commentators accusing the debate surrounding the name of the virus as a deflection. One left-leaning commentator, Bill Maher, however, published a lengthy spiel defending the proposed idea.

Parallel to this overall change in attitudes towards China, presumptive Democratic nominee Joseph Biden has recently issued a campaign advertisement attacking Donald Trump for not being tough enough on China during the beginning of this pandemic. At the same time, the Trump campaign has highlighted Biden’s sympathies for China in its own advertisements. ‘Being tough on China’ now promises to be a major theme in the coming election.

When asked who they thought would be ‘tougher on China’ in the future, between the two presidential candidates, a majority of respondents selected Donald Trump.

Notably, Trump supporters were nearly unanimous in selecting Trump as the candidate who would be tougher on China. Those who currently intend to vote for Biden in November were more split, with a quarter selecting Trump. Given his early aggressive stances, dating back to his very first campaign speech in 2015 in Trump Tower, the current President has certainly established a track record on this issue.

Thinking specifically about Trump, nearly half of respondents thought he had been tough on China since becoming president in 2017.

At the same time, however, a plurality of respondents also thought he should have been tougher!

It is likely these numbers would have been different absent the coronavirus crisis, considering the intense trade negotiations and tariffs between the two superpowers in 2019. Commentators even derided Trump for being too risky and destructive due to the strong independence between China and the United States.

Now, opinions have changed. Many are hoping for repercussions for China. When asked whether they would support a class action lawsuit against China by their own States, as Florida announced last week, half of respondents to our poll said they would support such a measure.

A similar number also supported the idea of reparations to the rest of the world.

What this will mean for the future of China and its relations with the United States is far from certain. However, as both candidates look for a possible campaign platform, especially the current President, they will certainly look to China as a foundational aspect of their platform due to the increasingly stronger sentiment among the American public against the country and its communist government.

This poll is part of Redfield & Wilton Strategies’ ongoing research into public opinion on the coronavirus outbreak and government’s reaction to the crisis. Further results from our polling in the UK, USA, Italy, France, Spain and Germany is featured here.

Part of this research was also published in the Spectator USA.

To find out more information about this research contact our research team. Redfield & Wilton Strategies is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.