The coronavirus pandemic has not equally affected every part of the United States. The virus has come in waves and starts at different rates and numbers, while different states also possess unique features, like the number of urban spaces, population size, and common occupations. Given their constitutional authority granted by the Tenth Amendment, each State Government has instituted their own guidelines for residents. Moreover, as many States begin to reopen, much of the US has seen a decrease in infection numbers, yet certain states, like Arizona and Florida, have seen significant surges. Despite the importance of policies implemented at a national level, the coronavirus crisis may be better understood as a series of local crises.
With this context in mind, we asked respondents in our six swing states research earlier this month on their views on the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Nearly half (42% to 49%) of respondents in these states are very worried about the effect on coronavirus on their personal health and believe that it could have a severe effect. Despite advances in healthcare resources since the pandemic began, many still fear the effects of this novel virus, about which much is still unknown.
Demographically, these figures are consistent––even among respondents of varying age groups who may perceive the threat differently. Interestingly, likely voters for Joe Biden appear somewhat more likely than likely voters for Donald Trump to be very concerned. This differentiation could be a result of the differences in news media consumed by these different groups, or the greater extent to which likely Biden voters may live in urban settings (and thus more likely to know friends or family who have contracted the virus). On the reverse, those who are less or more concerned may have warmed up to the candidate who best matches their level of concern.
As states begin to reopen, we asked whether the public felt comfortable going outside despite the continued threat of coronavirus. Respondents in these states are nearly equally divided on whether to fear contracting the coronavirus when going outside. 45% to 53% of swing state respondents say they are actively concerned, while 47% to 55% say they are not. Notably, these figures are rather consistent across states with varying infection rates, but again, majorities of likely Trump voters said no, they are not scared, while majorities of likely Biden voters said, yes, they are actively scared.
Our poll further found that the public in these states believe some activities are safer than others. Strong majorities of respondents say they would feel comfortable going outside (74-83%), shopping (53-63%), and visiting a friend’s house (57-66%). But most say they would not feel comfortable going to a bar or restaurant (59-66%), a gym (68-73%), or a theater (57-86%). Currently, many states are allowing outside dining at restaurants, but it appears a large portion of the public may still prefer takeout and cooking at home over dining in person. About half of respondents do not trust going to a barber or hair salon (51-56%), although this activity is increasingly possible in many states. As sports leagues look for ways to stay safe, a majority of respondents (68-80%) in these states say they are not comfortable with attending sporting events. Despite reopening plans, the majority still fear hospitals for ailments other than the coronavirus (51-76%) and public transportation (57-80%), indicating a difficulty for states attempting to restart the economy.
Swing state respondents generally see their state on the same plane as the country as a whole, even though the virus has hit differently across the US. Roughly half (47% to 57%) of respondents disagree that the coronavirus crisis is under control in the United States generally and about the same figure (43% to 60%) in Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, and Wisconsin feel similarly about their own states. Yet, respondents in Michigan and Pennsylvania are split on the coronavirus crisis in their states. A slight plurality (35-36%) of respondents agree that the pandemic is under control in their states, but about a third (32-33%) disagree with this sentiment. Respondents in Arizona appear particularly pessimistic about the situation in their State.
A plurality (37-48%) of respondents in every swing state except Michigan also believes that the worst is yet to come for the United States as a whole. Respondents in Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, and Wisconsin feel similarly about their own state prospects, with a significant group (38-54%) believing that the worst is yet to come for their own state. Increased infection numbers since the US began reopening has likely worried the public about the future of the pandemic.
Many in Michigan and Pennsylvania are also more optimistic about the future of the coronavirus than the rest of the swing states and America more broadly. A plurality (43%) believe that the “worst is behind us” in both states. The optimism of Michigan residents extends to the rest of the US as well. Michigan is the only state where a plurality (36%) believe that the “worst is behind us” in the US as a whole. Meanwhile, Arizona has the most pessimistic group of respondents.
Notably, there is a significant difference in optimism and pessimism based on for whom respondents say they intend to vote. This difference will have extraordinary implications in the months to come. If the crisis continues and the virus still hangs over the lives of respondents in these states, then optimistic respondents may re-evaluate their views on this crisis and thus maybe also their choice of candidate. Conversely, if the crisis fades, pessimistic respondents may warm up to the optimism of Donald Trump.
It may be worth trying to interpret this crisis in the context of who leads which states. A strong plurality (42%) of Michigan respondents agree that their state is better prepared to stave off a so-called ‘second wave.’ Meanwhile, a plurality of respondents in North Carolina (41%), Pennsylvania (43%), and Wisconsin (45%) neither agree nor disagree with this statement. It is likely that residents may not consider their state coronavirus approach significantly different from other states, but also feel fine about how it has been handled.
By contrast, a plurality of respondents in Arizona (44%) and Florida (36%), led by Republican Governors, believe their states are less prepared to manage such a crisis than the US as a whole. Both states have recently been criticized for instating reopening plans sooner than advisable, and record spikes in coronavirus infection numbers have attracted pessimistic news coverage.
A plurality (41%) of Arizonan respondents also believe that their state has handled the crisis worse than most other states. Floridan respondents, however, are split on how their state compared to others, with a slight plurality (37%) agreeing that Florida has handled the crisis better than other states, but over a third (35%) disagreeing. In all other polled states, a significant figure (from 39% in North Carolina to a whopping 53% in Michigan) believe that their state handled the virus better than most others, indicating confidence in their respective local governments.
We also asked how respondents saw their own state governors. Democratic governors, with the strange exception of Tom Wolf (PA), tend to have high approval ratings, ranging from 42% to 58% approve, but Republican governors in Arizona and Florida are not commanding the same level of support. Residents in both states are deeply divided into thirds on governor performance. In Arizona, 36% approve with their governor, while 37% disapprove. In Florida, 42% approve, while 34% disapprove.
There is a significant divide between likely Trump voters and likely Biden voters, varying by which Party holds the governorship in each State. For instance, in Arizona, 63% of those who plan to vote for Trump approve of Governor Ducey’s approach, while 60% of those who plan to vote for Biden disapprove. Meanwhile, in Florida, 73% of potential Trump voters approve of Governor DeSantis’ approach, while 58% of potential Biden voters disapprove.
Despite challenges with state response to coronavirus, many still feel an allegiance to their own state and prefer local governance. About half of respondents (42-53%) agree with a statement suggesting that the pandemic has shown that public health is better managed on a state rather than a federal level. Local governments are better attuned to health issues on the ground and can make decisions that appropriately consider the unique features of each state.
Even though the Presidential Election is important and interpretation of what’s going on in the coronavirus has become, to an extent, partisan, our polls also suggest that people may ultimately see the coronavirus crisis as a state-by-state issue. Since the virus has been handled at a local level, variations in infection and policies across the US may further lead to widening differences in views among the public towards their respective State governments.