With COVID-19 cases soaring nationally, Americans by nearly a two to one margin distrust what President Donald Trump says about the pandemic, and six in 10 in a new ABC News/Washington Post poll disapprove of how he’s handling it, up steeply since the early days of the outbreak.
Just 38% in the national survey now approve of Trump’s response, down from 46% in late May and a narrow majority, 51%, in late March, a 13-point drop. Disapproval gained 15% in the same period, to 60%.
Among Trump’s challenges is his credibility on the issue in this poll, produced for ABC News by Langer Research Associates. Only 34% of Americans place a great deal or good amount of trust in what he says about COVID-19, while 64% trust him not so much or – in the case of nearly half the public – not at all.
There’s also a disconnect in terms of priorities, with Americans, by 63-33%, saying it’s more important to control the spread of the virus than to restart the economy, a goal Trump has stressed. That 30-point preference for controlling the spread has widened from 20 points in late May.
Concern about catching the disease, moreover, remains persistently high. Sixty-six percent are very or somewhat worried that they or someone in their immediate family might become infected, and an additional 5% of Americans now say this already has happened.
In terms of protective action, 79% say they wear a mask all or most of the time when they’re around other people outside their home. Fewer, 57%, say they do so all of the time without exception.
Trust in Trump – and political views more broadly – interact with this behavior. Among people who generally trust what the president says on the issue, 41% say they always wear a mask around other people. That jumps to 66% among those who generally don’t trust him.
In strictly partisan terms, 38% of Republicans and those who lean Republican report always wearing a mask when they’re near others outside their home; this nearly doubles, to 70%, among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents.
Among other factors, always wearing a mask also is associated with ideology (it’s 71% among liberals while 38% among very conservative adults); age (42% among 18- to 29-year-olds vs. 61% among those 30 and older); and race (about 20 points lower among whites than among Black or Hispanic people). It’s also 20 points lower in rural areas compared with cities.
Most strikingly, wearing a mask is associated with worry about becoming infected. Always wearing one ranges from 81% among people who are very worried about catching the virus to 22% among those who aren’t worried at all. That suggests that the barrier to mask wearing – widely urged by public health officials – isn’t a lack of confidence that they work, but the level of public doubt that the situation is threatening enough to warrant it.
Another potential factor – state orders to wear masks – shows a more modest effect. In states where such orders were in place as of Sunday, when interviewing for this survey began, 60% say they always wear masks, compared with 51% in states with no such orders.
A statistical analysis called regression, holding all available factors constant, finds that worry about catching the virus is by far the single strongest predictor of wearing a mask. Other factors include being conservative and living in a rural area, both negative predictors of mask-wearing; and, as positive predictors, age, education, strongly prioritizing controlling the spread of the virus, living in a state with a mask mandate, living in counties with higher per-capita cases and being female.
Being worried about catching the virus is associated with partisanship and ideology, and, perhaps surprisingly, is not strongly related to the number of cases in one’s state or county. Eighty percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents are worried about becoming infected, compared with 50% of Republicans and GOP-leaning independents. The gap is similar between liberals and those who are very conservative, 82% vs. 48%, with moderates in between.
Worry also is higher among Hispanics (78%) and Black people (74%), compared with 61% among whites.
Worry about catching the virus tends to be lowest in counties with the fewest cases, or the least recent growth in cases, whether overall or per capita, in quartiles.
Approval of Trump’s handling of the situation, and trust in what he says about it, again are highly partisan. His approval rating for handling the pandemic is 79% among Republicans, but 39% among independents and a mere 4% among Democrats. Since late March, he’s lost 21 points in approval on the issue among Democrats, while losing 9 points among independents and Republicans alike.
Trump’s rating has lost 15 to 16 points since late March in the Midwest, South and West alike, while essentially unchanged in the Northeast, where he started lower. Notably, too, while he’s better-rated in rural areas – albeit just with 48% approval – he’s lost 23 points there, as well as 16 points in suburban areas and 9 points in urban centers.
In an especially wide gap, Trump’s performance wins approval from 78% of those who prioritize restarting the economy, while plummeting to 17% of those who say it’s more important to control the spread of the virus.
Indeed, in a regression, views on controlling the spread of the virus vs. restarting the economy are the single strongest independent predictor of views of Trump’s handling of the situation (with strong preference for controlling the spread negatively predicting his performance). The next strongest factors are being a Republican and a conservative, both associated with approval of Trump; and being worried about catching the coronavirus and being a Democrat, both negative predictors. Education and being a Black person also are significant negative predictors.
Trust in what the president says also is highly influenced by partisanship. It’s 71% among Republicans, lower than his typical overall approval ratings within the party, dropping to 30% among independents and 6% of Democrats. Among other factors, trust in the president is lowest, 24%, in the counties with the most COVID-19 cases per capita, though it’s not high in other counties, 37%.
This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by landline and cellular telephone July 12 to 15, 2020, in English and Spanish, among a random national sample of 1,006 adults. Results have a margin of sampling error of 3.5 points, including the design effect. Partisan divisions are 30-24-39%, Democrats-Republicans-independents.
The survey was produced for ABC News by Langer Research Associates of New York City, with sampling and data collection by Abt Associates of Rockville, Maryland. See details on the survey’s methodology here.