Half of Americans Still Think the Worst of the Pandemic is Yet to Come

August 26, 2020
R&WS Research Team
Coronavirus | Coronavirus Testing | Donald Trump | Education | Health | Joe Biden | Personal Habits | Young People

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As coronavirus cases in the United States surpass 5.5 million, 49% of the American public think the worst of the coronavirus pandemic is yet to come, whereas only 29% think the worst is behind us. Although the proportion of respondents in August who think the worst is yet to come is slightly lower than the equivalent in July (54%), it is nonetheless still higher than in June, when only 43% thought the worst was yet to come. These changes broadly correspond with the rapid increase in the number of coronavirus cases that took place in the US from July onwards, but which now appears to be slowly stabilizing, therefore allowing for a degree of optimism to return.

As in previous months, outlook on the coronavirus is still heavily influenced by political allegiance, with likely Trump voters being more optimistic than likely Biden voters. Overall, 30% of Trump voters believe that the worst is yet to come and 47% believe the worst is behind us, compared to 69% of Biden voters who think the worst is yet to come and 14% who think the worst is behind us.  

At this stage, 55% of the public consider it a genuine possibility that they could contract coronavirus anytime they go outside compared to 32% of people who do not consider it a genuine possibility. Responses were similar across different regions of the country, suggesting that fear is not necessarily linked to a region’s respective caseload but rather to people’s own views on how dangerous the virus is, as well as their perception of the pandemic’s trajectory in the United States. Concerns about contracting coronavirus were also spread somewhat evenly across age groups and gender, leaving political allegiance as the more salient dividing line once again: over two-thirds (70%) of likely Biden voters consider it a genuine possibility that they may contract coronavirus when they go outside, compared to fewer than half (44%) of likely Trump voters.

Despite such high numbers considering it a real possibility that they might contract coronavirus when they go outside, the majority of the public feel safe leaving their home (69%) or shopping at a supermarket (64%). Confidence levels are similar compared to July, when 70% felt safe leaving their home and 56% felt safe going shopping. When it comes to restaurants, only 41% of respondents feel safe eating at a restaurant or drinking at a bar outside and 26% feel safe eating at a restaurant or drinking at a bar inside. This differential in how safe people feel eating inside versus outside might have an impact on the restaurant industry as summer winds down and the cooler months approach, making outdoor dining a greater challenge in some regions of the country. Nonetheless, despite the headwinds facing the restaurant industry, other entertainment venues are likely to find themselves in ever direr straits: at this point, almost six months after the pandemic arrived in the United States, only 20% feel safe going to the gym, 19% feel safe going to a movie theatre, and 16% feel safe attending a sporting event.

Mask usage among the public continues to increase: 58% of the US public now say they always wear a mask whenever they leave their home and 70% say they always wear a mask when they go to the supermarket. This represents a slight increase even from last week, when 55% said they always wear a mask leaving their home and 65% said they always wear a mask when grocery shopping. In July, 52% said they always wear a mask when leaving home, and 57% said they always wear one when shopping at the supermarket.

Greater levels of mask usage are partly thanks to the increased willingness of likely Trump voters to wear face coverings. In July, 42% of likely Trump voters reported always wearing a mask when leaving home, compared to 59% in August. Similarly, 48% reported to always wear one when shopping at the supermarket in July compared to 64% in August. While our earlier research showed masks to be a very partisan issue, Trump’s decision in July to wear a mask in public, and even imply that wearing one is patriotic, may have done a great deal to change the opinion of his supporters. By contrast, mask compliance among likely Biden voters has been virtually unchanged since July.  

The level of concern respondents have about their personal health remained constant compared to last week: 24% of the public would be extremely worried about their health if they caught coronavirus and would fear that they might lose their life. Likewise, 22% would be very worried and think that it could have a severe effect on health, and 27% would be somewhat worried and think it would likely be very unpleasant. These figures add up to a total of 73% of respondents who would be at least somewhat concerned about the impact of coronavirus on their health. On the other hand, 15% say they would not be worried, and think they would experience at most some mild discomfort; 11% claim they would not be worried at all, and doubt they would even notice the virus.

Around two thirds (63%) of Americans agree that if they wanted to get tested for coronavirus they would know where to find a test. The proportion of 18-to-24 year olds who know where to find a test (47%) is lower than average, which is also the case for respondents in the Midwest region (56%). A strong majority (68%) of people aged 65 or above know where to find a test, which reflects the higher level of risk faced by individuals in that age group if they were to contract the virus.  

As the US struggles with one of the highest incidence rates of Covid-19 and travel bans from 33 countries, pressure continues to grow for President Trump to explain what has gone so wrong. The highest number of new daily coronavirus cases during any point in the pandemic was recorded on July 17, when more than 77,000 cases were registered in the United States in a single day. In response, President Trump offered the explanation that “we have more Cases because we do FAR more Testing than any other Country!” When asked whether they agree with this explanation, the plurality (41%) of respondents agreed that more tests (rather than a worsening of the coronavirus situation) is the primary reason why there has been a rise in confirmed cases of coronavirus cases in the country; on the other hand, 28% disagreed. Fewer people were convinced by Trump’s coronavirus test argument than last week when 47% agreed with the statement.

Although President Trump was correct in highlighting that the number of tests increased rapidly during June and July (it has since fallen slightly), data also indicates that the proportion of positive tests in relation to the overall number of tests taken rose from a low of 4.3% on June 12 to a high of 8.5% on July 17, and currently stands at 6.1%.

Despite younger age groups often being more likely to oppose the President’s approach, 46% of 18-to-24 year olds and 44% of 25-to-34 year olds believe the rise in cases is primarily due to a rise in tests. In contrast, just 38% of respondents aged 65 or older agree, while a plurality (42%) disagree and consider that the rise in cases is due to a worsening coronavirus situation.

Among those who intend to vote for Donald Trump in November, a majority (62%) hold the same view as the President. Just 11% of likely Trump voters think a rise in cases proves that the coronavirus situation in the country is worsening. Half (50%) of likely Biden voters disagree that the rise in cases is primarily due to the rise in tests, yet 24% do agree with the President’s explanation.

However, the majority (61%) of respondents agree that the extent to which the coronavirus pandemic has so far spread in the United States could have been avoided.

The overwhelming majority (81%) of Biden’s likely voters agree that the impact of the coronavirus pandemic could have been avoided, a view in which they are joined by 36% of likely Trump voters. Notably, almost two thirds (63%) of respondents aged 65 or over agreed that the impact of the pandemic could have been reduced, compared to 53% of 18-to-24-year olds.

A strong plurality (44%) of Americans believe Joe Biden would have handled the coronavirus pandemic better, had he been President. A quarter (25%) think Biden would have handled it worse, while a further 17% say there would have been no difference. A clear plurality of all genders, age groups and regions believe Biden would have performed better than Trump.

Responses to this question are highly partisan. 81% of likely Biden voters think he would have been more successful than Trump at handling the coronavirus, while just 5% think he would have been worse. Among likely Trump supporters, only 10% think Biden would have been better at tackling the pandemic, while 53% say he would have been worse. However, a quarter (25%) of Trump voters say there would have been no difference, which is likely linked to their tendency to consider that the level of impact of the coronavirus was inevitable.

When asking if President Trump is doing as much as any President can do to reduce the spread of coronavirus, our research once again found a stark partisan split: 78% of likely Trump voters agreed that Trump is doing as much as any President can do, compared to 89% of likely Biden voters who disagreed. However, the President’s likely voters have lost some faith compared to last week, when 87% felt that Trump was doing as much as any President could do.

Trump has been pushing hard for in-person school this fall, yet only 17% of respondents want schools to reopen in their state by the end of August. Moreover, only 30% of likely Trump voters support opening schools this month, which may be a reaction to recent news reports of 1,193 students in Atlanta who had to be quarantined after fellow students tested positive for the virus. The plurality of respondents (34%) felt that schools should not reopen until the pandemic is fully over, including 18% of likely Trump voters and almost half (49%) of likely Biden voters.

Parents of school-aged children were notably more likely to want schools to open sooner: 27% of parents with school-aged children said schools should be open by the end of August compared to just 13% of those without school-aged children. Similarly, 37% of non-parents thought that schools should not open until the pandemic was fully over compared to just 28% of parents who felt the same way. This disparity may come from the pressure parents are facing to find alternative childcare if their school adopts a remote or hybrid model.

Indeed, the majority (54%) of parents with school-aged children say they would send their child to school if their school reopened.

Furthermore, 38% of parents say they are likely to try and transfer their child to another school if their current one does not reopen for in-person learning. This figure compares to 48% of parents who rule out transferring their children for this reason.

If schools do reopen for in-person learning, only 22% of respondents think parents should be required to send their children to school. Among parents, this figure rises to 40%.

If schools are unable to open, the plurality of respondents (38%) would not blame anyone in particular but put it down to the pandemic. Meanwhile, 22% of respondents would primarily blame the President and the Federal Government, including 38% of likely Biden voters and just 7% of likely Trump voters. Meanwhile, 14% of overall respondents would blame the Governor of their state, and only 6% would blame teachers and school administrators.

Indeed, the fact that only 22% would primarily blame the President for the delay in reopening schools is reflective of how the plurality of respondents (46%) think that Trump’s responsibility for the extent of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States has been exaggerated. 22% of likely Biden voters (alongside 77% of likely Trump voters) agreed.

More schools are getting ready to reopen and others to shut back down this week as the pandemic rages on, particularly in California and the South. Ultimately, a clear majority of Americans think the current impact of coronavirus in the country could have been avoided, and a plurality consider that Biden would have tackled the pandemic better than Trump has. Almost half do not think that Trump has done enough to combat coronavirus, yet a clear plurality also think that the recent rise in coronavirus cases is due to increased testing rather than a worsening situation. Redfield & Wilton Strategies will continue to monitor the situation in the US and across the world over the coming weeks.

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. Follow us on Twitter

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