As Cases Rise, Poll Finds Growing Partisan Divide on Virus Risks

Visitors, some wearing masks to protect against the spread of Covid-19, walk along the River Walk in San Antonio on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

(CN) — On the heels of an estimate that up to 8% of all Americans have contracted Covid-19, the Pew Research Center reported Thursday that people are becoming more divided along party lines over their concerns about the pandemic and comfort in engaging in public activities again.

As positive cases spike in states like Arizona, California and Texas, researchers found in a survey of 4,708 adults between June 16 and June 22 that while 59% of respondents are still concerned about a worsening pandemic, such concern has fallen from 73% in April.

Most Democrats (76%) are still concerned about what is to come, but 23% believe Covid-19 to be in decline — a 10% increase from April.

A majority of Republicans, however, have reversed course since the last survey, and 61% believe that the U.S. has seen the worst of the pandemic already. Only 38% of Republican respondents maintained their level of concern.

Partisanship played a key role in how respondents were reacting to the pandemic. Though fewer Democrats were worried that the pandemic will get worse, they largely maintained their concern about the virus’ health impacts. In contrast, Republican concern regarding virus contraction and spread fell from 47% to 35% and 58% to 45%, respectively.

People on opposite sides of the aisle also differed greatly when asked about their comfort level with certain public activities, such as shopping, visiting friends, visiting salons, eating at restaurants, as well as larger events such as concerts and crowded house parties.

Though majorities from both major political parties were comfortable going to the grocery store (73% of Democrats and 87% of Republicans) and visiting close friends and family at home (68% of Democrats and 88% of Republicans), partisans differed the most on restaurants and hair salons. Seventy-two percent of Republicans said that they felt comfortable going to a hair salon, whereas only 37% of Democrats said the same. Sixty-five percent of Republicans were felt comfortable dining inside a restaurant, compared to only 28% of Democrats.

Though only minorities of respondents from either party felt comfortable attending an indoor sporting event or concert or attending a crowded party, Democrats were significantly more hesitant at 11% and 8%, respectively, compared to 40% and 31% of Republicans, respectively.

The survey was released the same day the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that between 5% and 8% of the total U.S. population has been infected with the new coronavirus, based on antibody test surveys that suggest the actual rate of infection is about 10 times higher than the number of confirmed cases.  

Pew researchers found an average 26% difference between Republicans’ responses and Democrats’ responses, and the schism has grown in the last two months. A notable example was that between April and June, Republicans flipped on feeling comfortable eating at restaurants, from a 29% minority to a 65% majority in the latest survey. Though Democrats’ comfort with public activities has grown, their stance on any given activity has not switched to majority support.  

Democrats and Republicans also differed significantly on use of face coverings, which has become politicized after President Donald Trump resisted public pressure to encourage widespread mask use or wear one himself.

Sixty-three percent of Democrats said that people should always wear a mask in public spaces, whereas only 29% of Republicans said the same. Nonetheless, most respondents (55%) believed that seeing mask use in public would be met with approval from others, while only a slim minority (4%) expected to see disapproval.

Respondents were also divided along party lines on specific aspects of economic aid as the markets fell into recession during the pandemic. Majorities from both major parties supported eviction and foreclosure protection due to layoffs (93% of Democrats and 82% of Republicans), as well as tax cuts and loans for small businesses to supplement payroll (89% of Republicans and 87% of Democrats). However, only 58% of Republicans supported financial assistance to local governments, compared to 91% of Democrats.

Republicans and Democrats seemed to differ most on extending the $600 increase in unemployment benefits during the pandemic. Seventy-seven percent of Democrats supported the measure, while only 39% of Republicans said the same.

Though most of the public does not believe that the economy is doing well – only 46% of Republicans see “excellent” or “good” economic conditions and only 9% of Democrats said the same – Republicans were more optimistic about the country’s economic future.

More Republicans think the economy is doing well now and 67% think the economy will be doing better in a year. In contrast, 38% of Democrats believe the economy will improve soon, 30% think it will worsen and 32% said it will stay the same.

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