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Americans’ Views On The Coronavirus Are Shifting Fast

Welcome to Pollapalooza, our weekly polling roundup.

Poll(s) of the week

The new coronavirus is the topic on everyone’s minds these days, and pollsters are stepping up to tell us what people are thinking about it. Since the end of last week, pollsters have released over a dozen surveys that have asked about all aspects of the coronavirus — how worried people are, what precautions they’re taking, how policymakers are handling the crisis, etc. Here’s a summary of the American mindset in the age of COVID-19.

Last week in this space, my colleague Likhitha Butchireddygari noted that between 45 and 57 percent of Americans told pollsters they were concerned that they or someone around them would contract COVID-19. That number appears to have risen as the threat has begun to disrupt everyday life. After 47 percent of adults told YouGov/The Economist on March 1-3 that they were “very” or “somewhat” worried about experiencing the coronavirus, 56 percent did so in the pollster’s March 15-17 survey. And three other polls released this week found that more than three-fifths of Americans were very or somewhat concerned that they or someone in their family would get the disease: YouGov/HuffPost (61 percent), the Kaiser Family Foundation (62 percent), and SurveyMonkey/Fortune (69 percent).

Large majorities of Americans also reported being anxious about the coronavirus more broadly. In a Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted Monday and Tuesday, 79 percent of Americans were either “very” or “somewhat” concerned about the “spread” of the virus, while just 19 percent said they were not very concerned or concerned at all. A Morning Consult/Politico poll conducted March 13-16 found that nearly identical shares were concerned about the coronavirus “outbreak.”

Some of those respondents, though, may be more worried about the economic impacts of the pandemic than about getting sick. Already as of March 13-14, when an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist College poll was conducted, 18 percent of working adults said that they or someone in their household had been let go or had their work hours reduced due to the virus. According to a March 13-16 Morning Consult poll, 84 percent of registered voters were very or somewhat concerned about the impact the coronavirus would have on the U.S. economy. And according to the Pew Research Center, 70 percent of Americans view the coronavirus outbreak as a major threat to the U.S. economy, while only 27 percent view it as a major threat to their personal health. (To our point above, Pew’s poll was conducted March 10-16, and the later respondents were contacted, the more likely they were to say the virus is a big threat.)

Americans also appear to be giving President Trump higher marks for how he has handled the crisis following a week in which he has appeared to take it more seriously, giving a prime-time address to the nation and announcing strict guidelines to slow the virus’s spread. In this week’s Reuters/Ipsos poll, respondents were split 47 percent to 47 percent on whether they approved or disapproved of the way Trump was handling the coronavirus. That’s an improvement from March 2-3, when Reuters/Ipsos found that 38 percent approved and 47 percent disapproved. Similarly, the most recent YouGov/The Economist poll gave Trump a 45 percent approval rating on the coronavirus and a 46 percent disapproval rating. In the pollster’s March 1-3 survey, 37 percent approved and 47 percent disapproved. Interestingly, both polls showed little change in the number of Americans who disapproved of Trump’s performance on the issue, just more people approving of it.

That said, other polls, including some very high-quality ones, still found Trump underwater on the issue. For example, an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll from March 11-13 found that 45 percent of registered voters approved of Trump’s handling of the coronavirus, while 51 percent disapproved. And the aforementioned NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist survey gave Trump a 44 percent approval rating on the coronavirus and a 49 percent disapproval rating (among all adults). And Trump’s overall approval rating remains in the low 40s, where it has hovered throughout almost all of his presidency.



Why we shouldn’t hope COVID-19 is seasonal like the flu

According to this week’s YouGov/The Economist poll, though, there is broad support for the coronavirus relief package that Congress passed this week: 60 percent of Americans approve of it and 14 percent disapprove. And when asked about the bill’s specific provisions, even more Americans are supportive. For example, free coronavirus testing has the backing of 76 percent of Americans according to Data for Progress and 89 percent according to YouGov/The Economist. And paid sick leave (which the bill provides for some, but not all, workers) enjoys 66 percent support per Data for Progress and 84 percent per YouGov/The Economist.

The YouGov/The Economist poll also gave us a glimpse into how the coronavirus is changing Americans’ behavior. While 53 percent said they were eating out less and 48 percent said they had been planning to attend an event that was canceled by the coronavirus, only 27 percent said they were working from home, and only 9 percent said they had worn a medical face mask in public. Oh, and despite the reports of people buying out all the toilet paper, just 22 percent said they had bought extra toilet paper.

Yet about half of Americans seem to think the coronavirus panic is overblown. According to the same poll, 45 percent of adults think most Americans are overreacting to the risks of contracting COVID-19, while 24 percent think most people are behaving appropriately, and another 20 percent think most Americans are not taking the risks seriously enough.

However, majorities of the country are on board with some of the preventive measures the government has taken. Respondents told YouGov/The Economist, 62 percent to 26 percent, that public officials did not overreact by closing bars and restaurants in major cities; similarly, they agreed with the decision to close colleges and universities 64 percent to 23 percent. And a whopping 77 percent approved of the travel ban between the U.S. and Europe; only 14 percent disapproved.

Many of these precautions have only been in place for a few days, yet they look like they will be with us for weeks, if not longer. Therefore, this is likely to be only the beginning of how public opinion responds to these measures. For as long as the coronavirus crisis persists, we’ll be keeping an eye on the polls to see how our fellow Americans are holding up.

Other polling bites

  • According to Associated Press VoteCast data from the three states that held primaries on Tuesday, large majorities of Democratic voters supported a single-payer health care system similar to that proposed by Sen. Bernie Sanders: 70 percent in Illinois, 72 percent in Florida and 76 percent in Arizona. However, support for a public option — former Vice President Joe Biden’s preferred plan — was even higher: 87 percent in Illinois, 89 percent in Florida and 91 percent in Arizona.
  • Arizona Sen. Martha McSally already looked like one of the most vulnerable Republicans on the ballot in 2020, and two new, very high-quality polls this week delivered her more bad news. According to an NBC News/Marist poll, Democrat Mark Kelly has 48 percent support to McSally’s 45 percent, and according to Monmouth University, Kelly leads McSally 50 percent to 44 percent.
  • Montana Gov. Steve Bullock also recently delighted Democrats when he decided to run for Senate, and a new poll from Public Policy Polling for liberal group End Citizens United suggests that he could indeed make the race competitive. The survey found Bullock and incumbent Republican Sen. Steve Daines tied at 47 percent support.
  • A new YouGov poll finds that 39 percent of Americans think it is very or somewhat important for a male presidential candidate to pick a female running mate, while 51 percent think it is not very important or not important at all. Among Democrats, however, 55 percent believe it is important and 37 percent believe it is not important.
  • In a climate-change-focused poll by St. Leo University, 57 percent of respondents nationally said they supported a ban on plastic straws, and 60 percent supported a ban on single-use plastic bags.

Trump approval

According to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker, 43.3 percent of Americans approve of the job Trump is doing as president, while 52.6 percent disapprove (a net approval rating of -9.3 points). At this time last week, 42.3 percent approved and 53.2 percent disapproved (for a net approval rating of -10.9 points). One month ago, Trump had an approval rating of 44.3 percent and a disapproval rating of 51.0 percent, for a net approval rating of -6.7 points.

Generic ballot

In our average of polls of the generic congressional ballot, Democrats currently lead by 7.4 percentage points (48.8 percent to 41.4 percent). A week ago, Democrats led Republicans by 7.1 points (48.8 percent to 41.7 percent). At this time last month, voters preferred Democrats by 6.4 points (47.7 percent to 41.3 percent).

Check out all the polls we’ve been collecting ahead of the 2020 elections.

Nathaniel Rakich is an elections analyst at FiveThirtyEight.

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