The coronavirus has been detected in more than 1,500 people across the United States. Public schools are closing and mass gatherings are being canceled. The National Collegiate Athletic Association called off its March Madness tournaments. The stock market took a historic plunge on Thursday.
And yet polls show that many voters still don’t see the virus as a serious threat. How much it worries you depends heavily on your personal politics — to a degree that’s not typical for a national crisis.
In a Quinnipiac University poll released this week, roughly six in 10 Republican voters nationwide said they were not especially concerned that the coronavirus would disrupt their lives. Two-thirds of Democratic voters said the opposite. All together, a slight majority of Americans expressed serious concern.
And Democratic voters were about twice as likely as Republicans to worry that they or someone they knew could catch the virus, the poll found. Sixty-three percent of Republican voters said they were relatively unconcerned.
Geography could play a role, as Democrats are more likely to live in cities, which are the sites of the worst outbreaks. But this partisan divide may well be linked to the kind of media people consume: While most newspapers and TV networks are treating the crisis as a dire threat and covering local governments’ efforts to contain it, many right-wing pundits are casting doubt on the virus’s risks and even its very existence — following a precedent set by President Trump, who has played down the danger of the virus.
On his nationally syndicated radio show, Sean Hannity wondered aloud on Wednesday if the coronavirus might be a “fraud” — just hours before Mr. Trump delivered a televised address about the virus.
Over all, Americans are skeptical of Mr. Trump’s ability to confront the crisis. Last month, before the virus had spread throughout the United States, 62 percent of voters nationwide said they were not very confident in the federal government’s ability to deal with it effectively, according to a Fox News poll. Democratic voters were more than twice as likely as Republicans to say that they had no confidence at all.
For weeks, Mr. Trump oscillated between reassurances that he had the situation under control and suggestions that the whole issue was vastly overblown. Democrats, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the party’s leading presidential candidate, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., have called the situation grave and pushed for an aggressive response.
Mr. Biden and his leading rival, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, canceled in-person rallies this week and announced online campaign events in their stead. On Thursday, both candidates strongly criticized Mr. Trump’s address to the nation.
“Public fears are being compounded by pervasive lack of trust in this president,” Mr. Biden said. He offered his own plan to combat the crisis while condemning what he called Mr. Trump’s “colossal” failure to guarantee citizens access to coronavirus testing.
For Mr. Trump, the perception that he is a strong leader has been central to his appeal since the beginning of the 2016 presidential campaign. Gallup regularly asks Americans about their feelings about the president on a range of personal qualities. Out of the seven qualities Gallup tests, only one applies to Mr. Trump in the eyes of a majority of Americans: being a strong and decisive leader. When Mr. Biden attacks him over the coronavirus, he is taking a cut at Americans’ view of Mr. Trump as a forceful leader.
But the virus may have an effect on Mr. Trump’s public approval in ways that ripple far beyond his direct response to the crisis — particularly as the economy absorbs the severe impact of the virus.
Before the outbreak, Americans were more likely to describe themselves as satisfied with the way things were going in the country than at any point in the past 15 years, according to Gallup polling. Mr. Trump’s approval ratings have been in the mid- to high 40s in recent months — among the highest numbers of his presidency — lifted by the thriving economy. Americans generally tend to approve of his handling of the economy more than of his overall performance.
But as businesses close and the stock market craters, some persuadable voters may lose their main rationale for backing the president, even if they do not directly blame him for the virus’s spread.