A 'glaring partisan divide' in public attitudes on coronavirus

As one pollster put it, "Simply put, it is very clear that partisanship has infected our views of the coronavirus."
Image: An empty restaurant is seen in the Manhattan borough following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease
An empty restaurant in New York City on March 15, 2020.Jeenah Moon / Reuters
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By Steve Benen

The latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, conducted late last week, generated some top-line results that were easy to predict. Nearly every American has heard about the coronavirus outbreak, for example, and most are concerned about loved ones getting sick. Similarly, a majority believes the worst is yet to come.

But as the NBC News report on the poll results noted, there's a "glaring partisan divide" in the data.

Sixty-eight percent of Democratic voters are worried that an immediate family member might catch the coronavirus, compared with just 40 percent of Republicans who agree. Fifty-six percent of Democrats believe their day-to-day lives will change in a major way, versus only 26 percent of Republicans. And 79 percent of Democrats say the worst is yet to come, versus just 40 percent of Republicans who hold the same opinion.

Just as importantly, if not more so, while 61% of Democrats said they're steering clear of gatherings, roughly half (30%) of Republicans said the same thing. More than a third (36%) of Democrats are avoiding restaurants during the crisis, while only 12% of Republicans are making the same choice.

Democratic pollster Jeff Horwitt of Hart Research Associates, who conducted the survey with Republican pollster Bill McInturff and his firm, Public Opinion Strategies, said, "Simply put, it is very clear that partisanship has infected our views of the coronavirus."

The latest survey from Quinnipiac pointed in the same direction: across every age group, Republicans are simply less concerned about the public-health crisis than their Democratic counterparts.

For weeks, as GOP leaders and conservative media downplayed the threat, this was more than a political annoyance. The concern has long been that voters on the right, who've been told repeatedly not to listen to mainstream sources, would take the conservative rhetoric seriously, and conclude that the coronavirus is comparable to the common flu, and the global reaction is little more than a scheme to affect the 2020 election.

Such talk had a predictable effect.