Public Opinion About Government Handling of COVID-19 and Voter Choice
Surveys show views of pandemic influence presidential picks
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In Virginia, wearing a mask is required in polling stations like this one in Fairfax County on November 3, 2020.
How have Americans’ opinions changed about the government responses to COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic? Are their attitudes about public health measures connected to their choice of presidential candidate? Two new sets of survey findings demonstrate that public opinion and political choice are closely connected.
A four-university consortium of Northwestern, Harvard, Northeastern, and Rutgers studying the public’s opinions during COVID-19, co-led by IPR political scientist James Druckman, polled over 119,000 people over eight waves of surveys between April and October 2020.
One survey tracks respondents’ views of the federal reaction to COVID-19, and of their individual state governments’ reactions. In April, a majority of those surveyed (53%) said the federal government was “reacting about right” to the pandemic. By October, quite consistently across the country, increasingly more respondents stated that the federal government was “not taking the outbreak seriously enough” (50%).
Democrats were less likely to approve of the federal government’s actions, dropping from 33% approval in April to 19% in October. Across all the survey waves, more Republicans said the federal government was not taking the pandemic seriously than said it had overreacted. In October, one in four Republicans viewed the government as underreacting, while one in six said it overreacted.
Respondents’ opinions about their state governments fell into three groups. In states with activist Republican governors, approval ratings were high. States with Democratic governors had lower approvals, and states with non-activist Republican governors had the fewest number of people who viewed their state response as “about right.”
In another report of survey findings, the association between attitudes about mask wearing, hand-washing, social distancing, and other preventive behaviors and choice of presidential candidate is analyzed. Biden supporters have higher levels of adherence to public health recommendations than do Trump supporters, the surveys show.
Among voters who changed their minds about which candidate they supported, those who no longer supported President Donald Trump became more likely to think the federal government had not taken the pandemic sufficiently seriously. However, voters who moved away from Democratic candidate Joe Biden showed no significant changes in their attitudes toward COVID-19 views or behaviors.
James Druckman is Payson S. Wild Professor of Political Science and IPR associate director and fellow. Previous surveys can be found here.
Photo credit: PZ Sunrays, flickr.com
Published: November 3, 2020.