Americans Are Still Divided Over COVID-19, Pew Survey Shows
SAmericans have disagreed over the response to the pandemic since COVID-19 was first reported in the U.S. A new Pew Research Center survey suggests little has changed.
The survey of more than 10,000 adults was conducted from May 2-8, 2022, and shows not only that Americans remain divided on their approach to and opinions on the pandemic, but also that those divisions break down along some predictable lines—especially political party affiliation and age.
Perhaps the most remarkable number, according to Pew research is the one which shows surprising agreement on an (perhaps too optimistic) positive note. 76% believe the worst is over. However, caseloads are still very high, and an uber-transmissible variant with unprecedented levels of immune evasion is now dominant in the U.S.—so that hopeful outlook warrants some caution. Another point of agreement was that more or less across the demographic board, eight in 10 Americans say their own communities’ hospitals and health care facilities have done an excellent or good job of dealing with COVID-19. Americans also agree with the fact that the government has failed to adequately address the critical importance of K-12 education during the epidemic. Overall, 62% of the public—including 69% of Republicans and 57% of Democrats—say that the U.S. has given too little priority to meeting students’ needs since the virus first started spreading in the early months of 2020, and schools began shuttering.
There was less agreement on other metrics. For one, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) health officials are receiving love from some people but not other groups. About 72% believe that the public health authorities have done a great or excellent job in responding to this pandemic as compared with 29% for Republicans.
People also held different views on vaccines, which—no surprise—continue to divide us, but less so than all the public shouting over them may suggest. Overall, 73% say that they have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents, the figure is 85%; for Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, it’s 60%. Only 55% believe that vaccines have been very or extremely effective in preventing the spread of the disease. Rest of the population are split evenly between saying that it was effective, not very effective, or having little to no impact. (If you look at the science, there’s little debate on this point: a modeling study published in June 2022 estimated that COVID-19 vaccines saved an estimated 20 million lives globally in the first year they were available.)
When it comes to opinions on the extent that the government has given public health the attention it deserves, partisan divisions are open. Among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents, 46% say it’s received too little priority, 46% say it’s received the right amount, and only 7% say it’s received too much. The numbers for Republicans and Republican-leaning Independents are 40% and 20% respectively for not enough attention and 38% and 38% respectively for the correct amount.
According to the survey, age is a significant dividing line in terms of who has been diagnosed with COVID-19. Among adults 18 to 29 years old, 59% say they have tested positive for COVID-19 or are pretty sure they’ve had it, compared to just 26% of adults 65 and older.
Concerning the controversial debate about masking, 48% of Americans believe that masks or social distancing are very or very effective in limiting spread of the disease. A similar amount say they have had minimal or no impact. These practices have been supported by a lot of research, even a 2021 study. Nature Communications study finding that people who reported reliably wearing masks were about 62% less likely to contract COVID-19 than those who didn’t wear masks.)
Finally, for the person who inevitably takes the most heat or praise in any national emergency like a pandemic—the President—the numbers offer no joy. At the beginning of President Joe Biden’s term, 65% of Americans said they were confident in his ability to deal with the outbreak. Now? But not much. Not so much. Only 43% of respondents say that he does a great or excellent job in handling the pandemic. 56% say that his performance is only average or poor. Biden is feeling the pain, unlike former President Donald Trump.
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