Since COVID-19 first began spreading in the U.S., Americans have disagreed about the national pandemic response, arguing over everything from vaccines to masks, home schooling to quarantining. Now, a new survey by the Pew Research Center suggests that little has changed.
The survey of more than 10,000 adults was conducted from May 2-8, 2022, and shows not only that Americans remain divided on their approach to and opinions on the pandemic, but also that those divisions break down along some predictable lines—especially political party affiliation and age.
But perhaps the most striking number the Pew researchers announced is one that shows unexpected agreement on a (perhaps too) sunny note: 76% of Americans say that the worst of the pandemic is behind us. However, caseloads are still very high, and an uber-transmissible variant with unprecedented levels of immune evasion is now dominant in the U.S.—so that hopeful outlook warrants some caution. Another point of agreement was that more or less across the demographic board, eight in 10 Americans say their own communities’ hospitals and health care facilities have done an excellent or good job of dealing with COVID-19. And when it comes to the importance of K-12 schooling during the pandemic, Americans agree that officials have dropped the ball. Overall, 62% of the public—including 69% of Republicans and 57% of Democrats—say that the U.S. has given too little priority to meeting students’ needs since the virus first started spreading in the early months of 2020, and schools began shuttering.
On other metrics, there was much less consensus. For starters, health authorities, including those from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), are feeling the love from some groups, but not from others. About 72% of Democrats say that public health officials have done a good or excellent job of responding to the pandemic, compared to just 29% of Republicans.
People also held different views on vaccines, which—no surprise—continue to divide us, but less so than all the public shouting over them may suggest. On the whole, 73% of Americans say they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents, the figure is 85%; for Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, it’s 60%. Still, only 55% of Americans overall say that vaccination has been extremely or very effective at limiting the spread of the disease. The rest are more or less evenly divided between saying it has been somewhat effective or had little or no effect. (If you look at the science, there’s little debate on this point: a modeling study published in June 2022 estimated that COVID-19 vaccines saved an estimated 20 million lives globally in the first year they were available.)
Partisan differences split wide open when it comes to views on whether protecting public health has received the right amount of attention from the government and health authorities. Among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents, 46% say it’s received too little priority, 46% say it’s received the right amount, and only 7% say it’s received too much. Among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, the numbers are 40% for too much attention, 20% for too little, and 38% for the right amount.
The survey also found that age represents a major dividing line when it comes to who has contracted the disease. Among adults 18 to 29 years old, 59% say they have tested positive for COVID-19 or are pretty sure they’ve had it, compared to just 26% of adults 65 and older.
As to the near-radioactive debate over masking, the nation is unsurprisingly split down the middle, with 48% saying that masks and social distancing have been extremely or very effective at limiting the spread of the disease, and a near equal amount saying they have had little or no effect. (Again, plenty of research has found in favor of these practices, including a 2021 Nature Communications study finding that people who reported reliably wearing masks were about 62% less likely to contract COVID-19 than those who didn’t wear masks.)
Finally, for the person who inevitably takes the most heat or praise in any national emergency like a pandemic—the President—the numbers offer no joy. At the beginning of President Joe Biden’s term, 65% of Americans said they were confident in his ability to deal with the outbreak. Now? Not so much. Only 43% say he is doing a good or excellent job at handling the pandemic, compared to 56% who say his performance has been only fair or poor. Unlike former President Donald Trump, Biden might have avoided contracting the disease so far, but he is decidedly feeling its pain.
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