What Unites the Right and Left? Coronavirus Anxiety

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Welcome to Poll Watch, our weekly look at polling data and survey research on the candidates, voters and issues that will shape the 2020 election.


Pandemics are not partisan.

And the coronavirus outbreak is no different: It threatens Americans of all political persuasions, and a fast-growing body of survey data shows that this pandemic has affected how both Democrats and Republicans describe their daily habits, the state of their pocketbooks and even their mental well-being.

At the beginning of the crisis, stark political differences emerged over whether people viewed the virus as a real threat. But now that gap is rapidly closing — driven by similarities in life experiences, and by the overwhelming attention now being paid to the pandemic by top officials in both parties.

Last month, the Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index — a polling indicator of the national economic mood — recorded its sharpest two-week drop in 34 years of collecting data.

“It is rare to see something change so dramatically in a two-week period,” said Mollyann Brodie, the executive director of the foundation’s survey research program. “Our last poll was a couple weeks ago. And then in this poll we saw a real narrowing of the partisan divide.”

She continued: “I think some of that is just the course of the pandemic. It spread a lot farther across the country, and a lot more people were seeing it in their daily lives. But I think you also can’t dismiss the change of tone at the top. President Trump really changed his tone over that time period, and certainly his followers picked up on those cues.”

Common experiences seem to be playing a big role. Twenty-two percent of both Democrats and Republicans said in the Kaiser poll that they had lost income from a job or business because of the virus. Independents were markedly more likely to say so, at 30 percent.

And Republicans lagged just behind Democrats on reporting a range of other experiences: from becoming unable to get nonvirus-related medical care (30 percent of Republicans; 37 percent of Democrats) to suddenly finding themselves without access to groceries (28 percent of Republicans; 34 percent of Democrats).

On a lighter note, members of both parties are using technology to keep in touch with loved ones at just about the same rate. More than three in five Republicans and Democrats said they had video chatted with a friend or family member in the past week.

Of course, there are signs that Democrats and Republicans still see this crisis differently. While most Democrats said the virus had had a negative impact on their mental health, two-thirds of Republicans said it hadn’t, according to the Kaiser poll. And unsurprisingly, Republicans were far more likely to trust the president to handle the crisis.

Differences in geography could also be playing some role. Republicans are more likely to live in rural areas, many of which have not been as affected by the virus. And Republican governors have generally been slower to issue stay-at-home orders, meaning a possibly less drastic shake-up in the lives of their residents.

In another poll released Thursday, by The Associated Press and the NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, most Democrats described the national economy as poor, but 65 percent of Republicans said it was still doing well. Independents tend to agree more with Democrats here, and over all, Americans are far more likely to say the economy is in bad shape. That is a huge change from January, when two-thirds of Americans said the economy was doing well in a different AP-NORC survey.

Since January there has been a seven-percentage-point jump in the share of Americans describing their financial situation as poor; 38 percent now do, the AP-NORC poll found.

More than six million people joined the unemployment rolls last week, but we’re not quite in a depression yet: In the Kaiser survey, 7 percent of respondents said they were unemployed and looking for work. That is far lower than the nearly 25-percent unemployment rate at the height of the Great Depression.

But among all respondents without jobs, 54 percent said they had lost work at the hands of the virus. With the crisis’s impact expected to grow only deeper and more widespread over the coming weeks, those numbers will most likely rise.

Unemployed Americans were twice as likely as those with jobs to tell Kaiser that the virus had had a major impact on their mental health.

And unemployed people were more likely to express grave concern that supplies would run out at their hospital — and that the nation’s health care system would become overrun. They were more apt to be seriously worried that local businesses would wind up permanently closing because of the crisis. On all of these measures, about three-fifths of jobless Americans expressed strong concern, while the number was closer to half among those with jobs.

These feelings may come partly from experience: The Kaiser poll found that 54 percent of jobless Americans said the crisis had already prevented them from getting medical care for conditions not related to the virus. And 50 percent of them said the pandemic had prevented them from getting prescription medication.

In both cases, the numbers were far less dire among respondents who were still working.

Yet the overall story, Dr. Brodie said, is one of commonality. “Nobody’s been immune,” she said. “Certainly there are some harder-hit groups: groups that are part-time workers, paid by the job, or by the hour. But what is really striking is that the impact has been wide and deep and quick.”