Did a Chinese lab make the virus? Nearly half of Americans think so

May 07, 2020, 1:00 PM GMT+0

President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have proclaimed a belief that the coronavirus came from a lab in Wuhan, China.

The latest Economist/YouGov Poll finds about half (49%) of the country say this is definitely or probably true, although US intelligence agencies have not said this was how the outbreak began. Like so many American opinions these days, partisanship makes a big difference in how people view this claim.

Last week, in a question about laboratory origins of the coronavirus that did not mention China, nearly as many adults agreed that the virus was lab-created.

Whether or not Americans believe that a laboratory in China was responsible for the release of the virus, they do hold China responsible for the spread of COVID-19. By nearly five to one, they believe China’s handling of the outbreak led to the global pandemic (66%), a position taken by leaders in many countries. While Republicans are near-unanimous in this belief (83% of Republicans hold China responsible), a majority of Democrats (54%) also agree. More than eight in 10 (85%) of those who believe the virus originated in a Chinese lab hold China responsible for its spread. Even among those who don’t believe a Wuhan lab released the virus, 46 percent also blame China for its global spread.

While there have been calls to punish China for this behavior in the early days of the outbreak, Americans aren’t sure that should be done. Americans are closely divided on the question of punishment.

Party differences are clear: Republicans want punishment, Democrats don’t. What people believe about the start of the pandemic also matters: three in five (62%) of those who believe the virus was released from a Wuhan laboratory want China punished; two-thirds (66%) of those who don’t think that happened say the country should not be punished.

However, there has been no change in the last week in the share of the public that looks on China as an enemy. Close to three in 10 (28%) think that this week; 27 percent said that a week ago. At least two in five (44%) Republicans see China as an enemy. But overall, more Republicans think of Iran (64%) and North Korea (59%) as enemies than think that about China.

See the full toplines and tables results from this week’s Economist/YouGov Poll

Image: Getty