Americans See Spread of Disease a Top International Threat

Other concerns include terrorism, cyberattacks and nuclear weapons, according to the Pew Research Center survey.

(AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

(CN) — Americans say the spread of infectious disease is the top international threat, though the proliferation of nuclear weapons, climate change and the increasing influence from China and Russia on the world stage are also top concerns as the Covid-19 pandemic sweeps the globe, a Pew Research Center survey found Monday.

The Covid-19 outbreak originated in Wuhan, China, but has since spread around the world. The novel coronavirus has infected more than 1.9 million and claimed the lives of nearly 119,000 people worldwide, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

More than 554,000 Americans have contracted the virus and nearly 22,000 have died, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

According to the Pew survey conducted through the month of March, roughly eight in ten Americans, 79%, say the global outbreak of the novel coronavirus is the top “major” threat to the international community. But Americans with a college degree are 9 points less likely to be concerned about the threat of infectious disease than those who don’t have a degree, the survey found.

Researchers said the figure represents a 27-point difference from the level of concern about infectious disease during the 2014 outbreak of the Ebola virus in West Africa.

Nearly all U.S. adults, 98%, say the global pandemic is at least a “minor” threat to the country, the survey found. 

The issue has cut through partisan divides, too, with Democratic and Republican survey respondents nearly equal in their concern about the spread of infectious disease. Over 8 in 10 Democrats say the issue is a major threat to the U.S., while 77% of Republicans say the same.

The survey was conducted during a surge of Covid-19 cases in the U.S. when the fatality rate and confirmed positive cases grew at an exponential rate. 

President Donald Trump’s declaration of a national emergency on March 13 was followed by major shocks in the economy. Stocks and oil prices plummeted, retail and food industries have shuttered, and unemployment has risen to levels not seen in decades. 

Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a key adviser to the White House, now estimates the United States could see as many as 60,000 deaths from the virus.

The pandemic has led to aggressive social distancing orders from governments seeking to curb the surge in positive cases and propelled a global economic downturn that has seen millions lose their jobs as industries shut down.

According to the Pew survey, the virus outbreak has increased Americans’ anxiety about the global economy: 55% say Covid-19 is a major threat. 

But the spread of infectious disease is not the only worrying issue for Americans.

Terrorism and the spread of nuclear weapons were also named top concerns by Americans, with 73%, respectively, saying each issue is a major threat to the world.

More Democrats (68%) say that Russia’s power and influence in world affairs is a major threat to the U.S. than Republicans (46%), the survey found. 

A majority of Americans (72%) say cyberattacks from other nations are a major threat while many (62%) also say the same about China’s expanding power and influence in world affairs, the Pew survey found. 

In 2017, only 41% of Americans said China’s behavior and influence in international affairs was a major threat to the United States, according to the survey.

Trump has come under fire for calling Covid-19 the “China Virus” — a comment that heightened already elevated tensions between the superpowers — and for his decision to delay pandemic response efforts. 

Cooperation with other countries in responding to the pandemic is very important for 86% of Americans, according to the survey, which found 97% of Americans say cooperation on a global pandemic response is at least somewhat important.

But cooperation seems most distant for the nation’s top political parties when it comes to the issue of climate change, an issue that 88% of Democratic and Democratic-leaning Americans say a major threat to the U.S. Only 31% of GOP members say the same.

Partisan divides on the issue of immigration remain vast.

More Republicans (58%) than Democrats (29%) are concerned that “large numbers of people moving or migrating from one country to another” is a major threat to the U.S., the survey said.

The survey of 1,000 U.S. adults was conducted by telephone.

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