Poll Shows Partisan Differences Over How Seriously People Are Taking Coronavirus

Mar 17, 2020
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A majority of Americans say they lack trust in what they've heard from President Trump on the coronavirus. That is the finding of a new NPR/PBS Newshour/Marist poll. It was conducted this past Friday and Saturday and released today. As NPR's Don Gonyea reports, there's also a deep partisan divide on how seriously to treat the crisis.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Let's start with one of the voters who participated in the survey. Sixty-eight-year-old Patricia Bell lives outside Pittsburgh. She's a moderate Republican. We asked her about the president.

PATRICIA BELL: I think we kind of blame the president too much.

GONYEA: She's been watching the news closely as businesses and states and, finally, the federal government have called for increasingly serious responses.

BELL: But do I agree with the reaction? I think it's a serious issue. I think, to some extent, we've overhyped it.

GONYEA: Given the partisan divide we see on issue after issue in American politics today, it's hardly a surprise deep divisions show up in polling on this. But what is striking is the size of that divide. A solid majority, 60-37, say they don't have trust in what they're hearing from the president on the coronavirus. But that gap becomes massive when you break it out by party. Ninety-one percent of Democrats say they don't trust the president's words on this, while 74% of Republicans do.

LEE MIRINGOFF: It all comes down to credibility. Who do you believe?

GONYEA: Lee Miringoff is the head of the Marist poll, which conducted the survey.

MIRINGOFF: The politics of the era and the polarization that exists has played out, at least to this point, in terms of how people are perceiving the severity of the event - whether enough is being done, whether it's being blown out of proportion.

GONYEA: The percentage of people who think the worries about the coronavirus are overblown has grown. Weeks ago, the number was around 25%. In this poll, it's grown to nearly 40%. That's driven by GOP skepticism about the response.

In Montana, 51-year-old Harry Kenck is a securities trader and a political independent who says he's a conservative. Right now he's more worried about the impact on the economy.

HARRY KENCK: Is this a society-killer? Is it going to destroy entire countries' governments and economies? Is this the beginning of the end of the world? I don't think so.

GONYEA: In North Carolina, 60-year-old Anne Tendyke is a Democrat. She works as a financial analyst. She says the seriousness of the coronavirus is not overblown.

ANNE TENDYKE: Look at the numbers. Look at the history. Look at the data.

GONYEA: She then adds...

TENDYKE: I don't see it as a conspiracy. I don't see it as media hype. I look at the science. I understand how viruses work. I understand how they spread. They can spread when people don't have symptoms.

GONYEA: This poll was taken before the president's messaging has gotten more dire and more in step with advice from medical experts over the past two days. Pollster Miringoff says he'll be watching to see if that shift results in a change in any of this skepticism he has found.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, Washington.

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