Americans critical of government response in states with a rise of COVID-19

July 13, 2020, 9:45 PM UTC

New coronavirus cases have increased dramatically in a cluster of mostly southern states and the death toll is starting to rise across the Sun Belt.

Who’s taking the most heat? State and local governments, it seems.

According to tracking surveys conducted for Yahoo News by YouGov, people living in states where coronavirus cases are surging tend to be more critical of state government handling than Americans elsewhere. Folks in states that are not surging give their state and local governments higher marks. 

These differing levels of awareness help fuel very different perceptions of how the various states have been handling the pandemic. Specifically, the rating of how “your state has handled COVID–19 so far” is now much lower in states with a recent surge in coronavirus (36% excellent or good), higher in states with medium level recent surge (46%) and higher still in the states with the lowest levels of recent increase (59%). 

To better assess how opinions are changing in the most affected areas, YouGov divided its tracking survey samples into three segments using coronavirus test positivity data from early July published by The COVID Tracking Project.

The first grouping of states, with a recent test positivity of greater than 10 percent, shows the heaviest recent COVID surge. These include three large states that have been the focus of recent news coverage – Texas, Florida, and Arizona – as well as Alabama, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Nevada, and South Carolina. Republican governors preside over all but Nevada, and all were carried by Donald Trump in 2016. 

A second group of 22 states has shown a moderate level of recent increase, indicated by coronavirus test positivity of between 3 and 10 percent. These states include California and the rest of the West Coast, plus many states in the Mountain region, Great Plains, and Midwest. 

Finally, a third grouping of 19 states has shown low recent coronavirus spread, indicated by test positivity under three percent. This grouping includes New York, New Jersey, and the rest of the Northeast states. Along with Michigan and Illinois, this grouping includes the states hit hardest in the early phases of the pandemic, where total per-capita coronavirus deaths still lead the United States. These residents of these states with low recent increases are also more likely to identify with or lean toward the Democratic Party (48%) than residents of the states showing moderate (39%) or high (38%) recent increases in coronavirus

One big difference between these states is not surprising. People are generally aware if their state has had a recent spike in COVID–19. Awareness of rising infections “in your state” is far greater in the recent surge states (73%) than in medium (53%) and low surge (23%) states. 

The gaps among states have been present since early May, and the lower overall ratings of their state government by those in the recent surge states have been present since the earliest days of the crisis. 

The data show something of a contrast: Residents of states hit hard early gave their governments a modest bump in support which has faded only slightly since. The same thing happened in the middle states, though the recent decline in ratings of state government handling of coronavirus has been greater. 

In the high recent surge states, however, residents never increased their view of state government handling of coronavirus, and those ratings have declined by more than fifteen percentage points since March. 

We do not see the same dramatic regional differences in other attitudes. For example, while overall concerns about coronavirus have started to increase again after a steady two-month decline from a peak of worry in early April, the trends have been similar across regions, and nearly identical in terms of the recent uptick. 

The one regional pattern in worries about coronavirus, which we reported previously, involves consistently higher concerns in the areas hit first and heaviest by COVID–19 from March through late May, though it has since subsided. 

We also see a lack of regional distinctiveness in Trump’s handling of COVID. While his overall coronavirus approval has tended down, with disapproval now at a new high, the changes have been consistent across the three regions. Disapproval for Trump’s handling of COVID comes in consistently lower in the states where cases have surged, likely because of their more Republican composition. 

Finally, the data show hints of the differing behaviors that may contribute to the recent surge in cases, such as less mask wearing. The last two Yahoo tracking surveys asked how often respondents had “worn a mask on your face when outside your home,” and hardcore resistance – the percentage saying they “never” wear a mask – was higher in the recent surge states (13%) than in states with medium (11%) and low (7%) recent cases of coronavirus. 

Similarly, residents of the states with the biggest surge in recent cases have been more likely than those elsewhere to say that other Americans have been “underestimating the risks” of COVID–19, or at least they did between late May and the end of June. This gap vanished on the most recent survey. 

We have seen throughout the crisis that attitudes about coronavirus can change most where the impact has been most severe, so many of these trends may continue to evolve again as the virus continues to spread.

Related: Biden voters prefer Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren as vice-presidential nominees

See more surveys from the Yahoo News/YouGov Polls

Methodology: The Yahoo! News surveys were conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative samples US adult residents interviewed online between March 6-8 (n=1,636), March 25-26 (n=1,579), April 6-7 (n=1,566), April 17-19 (n=1,597), May 4-5 (n=1,573), May 20-21 (n=1,640), May 29-30 (n=1,060), June 9-10 (n=1,570), June 24-25 (n=1,507) and June 29-July 1, 2020 (n=1,525). These samples were weighted according to gender, age, race, and education based on the American Community Survey, conducted by the US Bureau of the Census, as well as 2016 Presidential vote, registration status, and news interest.

States were classified using recent coronavirus test positivity data published by The COVID Tracking Project. High surge states (10%+ positive) are Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Nevada, South Carolina, and Texas. Medium surge states (3-10% positive) are Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Maryland, Missouri, Nebraska, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. Low surge states (<3% positive) are Alaska, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Vermont, West Virginia and the District of Columbia.

Image: Getty