National News

Poll: 60 percent believe worst is yet to come for the coronavirus inside US

Posted March 15, 2020 9:01 a.m. EDT

A majority of American voters say they’re worried that someone in their immediate family might catch the coronavirus, and six-in-10 believe the worst is yet to come for the outbreak inside the United States, a new national NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll finds.

In addition, more than 40 percent say their day-to-day lives will change as a result of the pandemic.

But public attitudes about the coronavirus – including President Donald Trump’s handling of it – are starkly divided along partisan lines, with nearly nine-in-10 Republican voters having confidence in Trump dealing with the outbreak, compared with just a sliver of Democrats who agree.

Indeed, 45 percent of all voters approve of Trump’s handling of the issue, which is almost identical to his overall job rating in the poll.

“What’s clear is that we are at the beginning of the story of coronavirus in America, and Americans are beginning to understand what its impact could be,” said Democratic pollster Jeff Horwitt of Hart Research Associates, who conducted this survey with Republican pollster Bill McInturff and his firm, Public Opinion Strategies.

McInturff adds that the coronavirus – so far – has affected some states and cities disproportionately from other parts of the country.

“It’s a very big country with a lot of different people,” he said.

The NBC News/WSJ poll was conducted March 11-13, and it comes as there’s now been 2,200 confirmed coronavirus cases in the United States, as well as 51 deaths from it in the country.

In the poll, a whopping 99 percent of respondents say they’ve seen, heard or read about the spread of the coronavirus, including 89 percent who say they’ve heard “a lot” about the story – the highest percentage the NBC News/WSJ poll has registered for a major event going back to 2009.

A combined 53 percent say they’re either “very” or “somewhat” worried that someone in their immediate family might catch the coronavirus, while a combined 47 percent say that they aren’t too worried or worried at all.

Forty-one percent of voters believe their day-to-day lives will change in a major way in the future, versus a combined 56 percent – a majority – who say their lives will change only in a “small way” or won’t change at all.

And 60 percent think that the worst is yet to come, while 31 percent say the coronavirus is not likely to be a major problem.

But a glaring partisan divide exists within these numbers.

Sixty-eight percent of Democratic voters are worried that an immediate family member might catch the coronavirus, compared with just 40 percent of Republicans who agree.

Fifty-six percent of Democrats believe their day-to-day lives will change in a major way in the future, versus only 26 percent of Republicans who think that.

And 79 percent of Democrats say that the worst is yet to come, versus just 40 percent of Republicans who hold the same opinion.

That partisan split also carries over to plans and activities.

Forty-seven percent of all voters say they’ve stopped or plan to stop attending large public gatherings, which includes 61 percent of Democratic respondents but just 30 percent of Republicans.

What’s more, 36 percent say they’ve canceled or plan to cancel travel, which includes 47 percent of Democrats but just 23 percent of Republicans.

And 26 percent say they’ve stopped or plan to stop eating out at restaurants, which includes 36 percent of Democrats but only 12 percent of Republicans.

“Simply put, it is very clear that partisanship has infected our views of the coronavirus,” said Horwitt, the Democratic pollster.

Trump’s overall job approval stands at 46 percent

The same partisan divide also underscores perceptions of President Trump.

In the poll, 45 percent approve of the president’s handling of the coronavirus, while 51 percent disapprove.

But Democrats and Republicans have completely opposite views: 81 percent of Republican voters approve of Trump’s handling of the issue, while 84 percent of Democrats disapprove.

Independents are split: 43 percent approve, 52 percent disapprove.

Trump’s overall job performance – 46 percent approve, 51 percent disapprove – is essentially unchanged from last month’s poll, as well as the NBC News/WSJ surveys over the last two years.

More confidence in state and local governments than with Trump

Yet voters have more confidence in their state and local governments than they do in President Trump.

A combined 75 percent of all voters say they have a “great deal” or a “fair amount” of confidence in their state government to deal with the outbreak.

A combined 72 percent say the same of their local government, and 62 percent say it for the federal government.

But just 48 percent say they have confidence in Trump, with Republican respondents having high confidence (89 percent), and with Democrats having very little (15 percent).

Attitudes about the economy decline slightly

Finally, when it comes to an economy that has seen steep drops and then a big upswing Friday in the financial markets, 47 percent of all voters describe the economy as either excellent or good – down 6 points from a Dec. 2019 CNBC survey conducted by the same polling firms.

That’s compared with 52 percent who rate it as either fair or poor – up 8 points from the December CNBC poll.

And 34 percent think the economy will get better in the next year, while 31 percent think it will get worse and another 31 percent say it will stay about the same.

In December, 30 percent said the economy will get better; 24 percent said it would get worse; and 35 percent said it would stay the same.

“There has definitely been a slight tick down,” said Republican pollster Micah Roberts of Public Opinion Strategies.

But he adds that the coronavirus news – as it relates to the economy – “has not landed a knockdown punch.”

The NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll was conducted March 11-13 of 900 registered voters – more than half of whom were reached by cell phone – and it has an overall margin of error of plus-minus 3.3 percentage points.

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