In our latest poll of 2,000 Americans, conducted in mid-December, we at Redfield & Wilton Strategies found almost half (48%) of Americans thinking the worst of the pandemic was yet to come. A quarter (26%) thought ‘the worst is behind us,’ while a further quarter (25%) said they don’t know. This finding represented only a slight decrease in pessimism from 25 October prior to the US election.

The key difference between before the election and December is to be found among political subgroups. Prior to the election, 73% of those that intended to vote for Biden had said they think the worst of the virus is yet to come, compared to 63% of 2020 Biden voters in December. Meanwhile, those that said they intended to vote for Trump prior to the election were somewhat less likely to think the worst is yet to come (29%) than 2020 Trump voters more recently (34%).

Widespread pessimism was also reflected in the fact that less than a third (31%) agreed with a statement suggesting that the coronavirus situation in the United States was coming under control, despite the then recent vaccination news. A slight plurality (36%) disagreed that the pandemic was coming under control, while a significant minority (29%) neither agreed nor disagreed. In October, a similar proportion (29%) agreed coronavirus was coming under control, yet the proportion who disagreed (48%) was much greater than in December. Two months earlier, in August, a third (33%) had agreed that the pandemic was being controlled, and 41% disagreed.

Again, political differences appear. At this more recent stage, Donald Trump supporters (42%) appeared much more likely to agree that the coronavirus situation is coming under control than those who said they voted for Joe Biden (23%). 

Meanwhile, the strong majority (62%) said that the extent to which the coronavirus pandemic had so far spread within the United States could have been avoided. 38% believed the extent to which the coronavirus pandemic had so far spread was inevitable. The proportion who said the current impact of the pandemic could have been avoided has remained relatively stable since August (61%) and May (57%).

A clear partisan dimension was present within responses to this question. A majority (53%) of Donald Trump supporters said the spread of the pandemic to the current level was inevitable, in contrast to less than a quarter (24%) of Joe Biden voters. More than three quarters (76%) of those who said they had voted the Democrat candidate said the extent to which the pandemic had spread could have been avoided.

Public perspectives on whether the severity of the coronavirus situation in the United States had been exaggerated also varied by political allegiances. A majority (55%) of those who voted for Donald Trump in November agreed with a statement suggesting that the severity of the pandemic had been exaggerated, compared to just 21% of Joe Biden supporters. Overall, a clear plurality (45%) disagreed that the coronavirus situation had been exaggerated, while a sizable 38% agreed. 15% neither agreed nor disagreed.

The proportion of Americans who agree (38%), or disagree (45%), that the severity of the coronavirus situation had been exaggerated remains relatively the same compared to our polling conducted between 30 August and 1 September. In July, 30% agreed that the impact of the pandemic had been exaggerated, whereas 49% disagreed.

A plurality (42%) of the American public thought the media had accurately reported the threat of the coronavirus to the public, while a significant third (32%) thought the media had exaggerated the threat of coronavirus to the public.

The majority of 2020 Trump voters (55%) thought the media had exaggerated the threat posed by coronavirus while the majority of 2020 Biden voters (57%) thought the media has accurately reported the threat. A tenth of Trump voters (10%) and a fifth of Biden voters (21%) think the media had not emphasised the threat of coronavirus to the public.

Turning to the economic effects of the pandemic, half (48%) of the American public think the worst impacts are yet to come. Levels of pessimism about the economic effects appeared the same as for the coronavirus pandemic generally, suggesting that the American public was split between those who think the worst of the pandemic, including economic effects, is yet to come, and those who think the worst on both economic and health grounds is behind us.

A plurality of 2020 Trump voters (40%) and the majority of 2020 Biden voters (63%) thought the worst of the economic effects were ‘yet to come.’ A notable third (33%) of 2020 Trump voters thought the worst of the economic effects of the pandemic were ‘behind us.’

The majority (60%) of the American public considered the coronavirus crisis to be primarily a public health crisis, while a quarter (26%) considered it to be primarily an economic crisis.

Three-quarters (75%) of 2020 Biden voters considered the crisis to be primarily a public health crisis and less than a fifth (18%) considered it to be primarily an economic crisis. 2020 Trump voters were more evenly divided, with a third (35%) considering it to be primarily an economic crisis. Nevertheless, a plurality of Trump voters (47%) considered the crisis to be primarily a public health crisis.

At a personal level, a plurality of the American public (46%) nine months into the pandemic said they were just as scared of contracting coronavirus at that moment as they had been in March and April. A fifth (19%) said they were less concerned about contracting the virus now as they had been earlier, while a third (34%) said were more concerned.

There were no significant differences between age groups, despite the increased risk with age. Approximately a quarter (27%) of 2020 Trump voters said they were more concerned, and a further 29% say they were less concerned. 2020 Biden voters were divided between those why were more scared (44%) and those who were equally scared (47%).

The majority of the American public (64%) thought coronavirus to be more dangerous than the seasonal flu, while only 6% thought it’s less dangerous. A fifth (22%) thought the two were about the same. Public perceptions on the danger of the coronavirus have remained stable throughout the pandemic. On March 23, 62% said the coronavirus was more dangerous than seasonal flu, 11% said it was less dangerous and 22% said it was about the same.

Both the majority of 2020 Trump voters (51%) and 2020 Biden voters (81%) thought coronavirus to be more dangerous than the seasonal flu. Only 8% of 2020 Trump voters thought it to be less dangerous than the seasonal flu and approximately a third (33%) thought it to be equally as dangerous.

Furthermore, more than a quarter (26%) of the US public said they would have been extremely worried and would have feared losing their life if they had contracted coronavirus. Over a fifth said they would have been very worried and would have thought it could have had a severe effect on their health, and 24% said they would have been somewhat worried. Just 16% said they would have mostly not been worried, and only 12% say they would not have been worried at all and doubt they would have even noticed it.

Interestingly, concern has increased among younger people during the pandemic. In March, only 8% of those aged 18-24 years old said they would be extremely worried if they contracted coronavirus, whereas over a quarter (27%) held this view in December. Only 11% in December said they would not be worried at all, while 18% of those polled in March expressed this view. Meanwhile, concern declined among 2016 Donald Trump voters. Just 38% of this subgroup in December said they were “extremely” or “very” worried, compared to 44% in March.

In December, half (49%) of the American public said they were actively scared of contracting coronavirus and considered it a genuine possibility that they may get the virus, while a significant 40% were not scared.

Younger people were more likely to be scared of contracting coronavirus than older people, but this may have been because they are more likely to be going outside and exposing themselves to the virus, rather than heightened fear. Another reason is that young people were more likely to be Biden voters. The majority of 2020 Trump voters (51%) were not actively concerned while 59% of Biden voters were actively concerned.

A fifth (21%) of the American public thought they had already had coronavirus and a further 6% thought they currently had the virus. Approximately three-quarter (73%) did not believe they had coronavirus at the time or before.

Younger people were more likely to think they had had the virus: 57% of 18-to-24-year-olds do not think they currently or previously had the virus compared to 88% of those 65 and over––a likely reflection of the fact that many young people can have asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic cases, which means colds, flus, and other illnesses could have been confused with the coronavirus. An older individual, meanwhile, may have expected to notice severe enough symptoms such that the absence of such symptoms likely meant they had not had the virus.

Notably, among the group of respondents who said they believed they had the virus at some point, only a third (34%) had had a positive test––a likely consequence of the severe testing shortage in the early months of the pandemic.

Nevertheless, the majority (61%) of the American public personally knew someone who had tested positive for coronavirus.

Of those that personally knew someone who had tested positive, two-thirds (68%) knew someone who had been seriously ill as a result of coronavirus.

And the majority (59%) of that subgroup of people knowing someone who had been seriously ill, knew someone who has died as a result of coronavirus. As an overall percentage of the entire poll, 24% of respondents reported personally knowing someone who had died as a result of coronavirus.

Ultimately, Americans appeared pessimistic about the future, in terms of both the economic effects and health effects of the pandemic. A clear plurality thought the extent of the coronavirus pandemic could have been avoided, yet a significant minority thought that the spread had been inevitable. Moreover, a sizable contingent of Americans said that the impact of the coronavirus had been exaggerated in the country. Overall, Trump voters were generally more optimistic about the future timeline of the pandemic. A quarter of the American public thought they had at the time or had already had coronavirus, and younger people were significantly more likely to think they had had it. However, the vast majority of this subgroup have not actually tested positive.

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.

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