The team at Civis has conducted a series of studies over the past year to gauge how members of the public respond to different types of messages encouraging them to…
Civis fields regular surveys to track public opinion on issues related to the coronavirus pandemic and our national response. The analysis below reviews trends in our surveys from early April through early June. You can find the first analysis (of early March to mid-April data) here.
As the crises across America unfold and become more complex, we reviewed our longitudinal data and identified two larger trends, explored in more detail below.
The recent protests across the country, spurred by the murder of George Floyd, have focused or re-focused attention on the disparity between Black Americans’ experiences and white Americans’ experiences. Black communities disproportionately suffer during national crises such as the current COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing economic recession. Our COVID-19 polling highlights some of the ways in which the pandemic has created unique or more severe challenges for Black Americans.
Over the last two months, white Americans have gradually grown less concerned about COVID-19, while Black Americans have grown more concerned.
Their concerns are specific: Black Americans are relatively more worried about how COVID-19 will affect their household income, job security, access to food, and personal health than white Americans. These findings stand in contrast to other topics in which white Americans are similarly or more concerned than Black Americans — for example, the global economy.1
Black Americans have good reason for their heightened concern: they are also reporting greater economic and medical distress than white Americans. Black Americans are more likely to have lost a job due to COVID-19, more likely to have missed a rent or mortgage payment, more likely to face eviction, and more likely to need medical attention. All of these differences are statistically significant, meaning they can be reliably distinguished from the chance variation found between any two samples.2
A separate series of Civis polls funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation adds further detail: more Black Americans than white Americans wish that the state governments would do even more to protect the public from COVID-19 (by 11 percentage points), more Black Americans than white Americans believe that they will lose their job in the next three months (by 12pp), and fewer Black Americans than white Americans report having active health insurance (by 12pp). In aggregate, Black communities feel (and are) more vulnerable to the future effects of this economic and medical crisis.
These disparities are not due to any unique feature of the novel coronavirus, but rather the multigenerational harms inflicted on Black communities by white citizenry and power structures before coronavirus ever reached the United States. Our findings regarding mortgage/rent payments and eviction, for example, are tied to the well-documented wealth gap between Black Americans and white Americans. The economic cushion afforded by white Americans’ wealth allows them to better endure a few months of reduced income and allows them greater access to medical care.
Employers and policymakers should consider that while the causes of these disparities are fixed in the historical record, the disproportionate harm suffered by Black Americans during this pandemic is ongoing and likely to continue, meaning that it can be actively redressed, e.g. through state-level expansion of COBRA benefits, or additional relief to minority-owned business enterprises (MBEs).
The COVID-19 response in the United States has been complicated by our evolving understanding of the disease and conflicting messaging from authorities. Misinformation about COVID-19 persists even now, more than two months after many state and local governments enacted shelter-in-place orders and despite near-constant media coverage. Some Americans show both higher levels of misinformation as well as greater frustration with quarantine restrictions, for example, men:3
These results may not surprise many readers —previous polls and studies have explored how men and women regard scientific evidence differently, perhaps summed best in cognitive psychologist Leon Festinger’s quote, “a man with a conviction is a hard man to change.” (But what do those eggheads know, amirite, fellas?)
Perhaps more intriguingly, our research finds that very similar splits exist in younger adults aged 18–34, those living with children at home, and in Americans who voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 election. The graph below presents results for those living with children at home:
These splits are generally larger than the effects we see when looking within any individual age group (though contrasting younger adults aged 18–34 to older adults comes close), suggesting a unique effect from parenting or living with children. We can easily sympathize with a parent’s desire for the schools to reopen, or the belief that no pandemic could be worse than quarantining with a moody teen. But we have no mechanism to suggest why parents seem more susceptible to dangerous misinformation — which might be an interesting research project for the future.
Speaking of trusted sources, the American public have sometimes received conflicting messaging from different government officials, but seem to trust their state and local governments more than the federal response. Only 55% of Americans believe that the federal authorities will handle this crisis effectively, compared with 68% and 69% who believe the same of their state or local governments. And while attitudes toward the federal response are sharply polarized by political affiliation, both Trump voters and non-Trump voters are equally supportive of their state and local governments.
During an April 23rd press conference, in unscripted remarks, Donald Trump suggested that coronavirus patients might be treated by “injection” with either UV rays or disinfectants (he later described these remarks as sarcasm). The president has also publicly discussed his choice to take a two-week course of hydroxychloroquine, which is not recommended by the CDC as a treatment for COVID-19.
The president’s supporters pay attention to these remarks, whether or not they were made in seriousness or reflect expert medical opinion. The CDC recently reported that one-third of adults may have used chemicals or disinfectants unsafely while trying to protect against COVID-19. Although Trump voters are not significantly more likely than non-Trump voters to believe in fringe theories such as a connection between coronavirus and 5G networks, they are significantly more likely to believe that disinfectants, UV rays, and hydroxychloroquine are effective personal treatments for COVID-19.
Unproven treatments aside, Trump voters are not engaging in riskier behavior than other Americans, despite their greater belief that the dangers are exaggerated. Compared to non-Trump voters (including those who did not vote in 2016), Trump voters stay indoors as often, wear masks at only slightly lower rates, and hold an equal belief that they can manage their exposure risk through their own actions.
As the public health crisis and economic recession continue, Civis will continue to run regular surveys, allowing us to more accurately understand trends emerging across the country. Stay safe out there!
Methodology: Responses were gathered through online web panels and weighted to accurately reflect the entire adult U.S. population. Findings in this report were drawn from several waves of surveys fielded April 2nd, 2020 through June 1st, 2020.