Fear of COVID-19 more based on politics than personal experience

November 13, 2020, 2:00 PM UTC

There are two worlds of coronavirus opinion – not a difference based on experience as much as a difference based on politics. The latest Economist/YouGov Poll finds, as it has for most of the year, far greater concern about the possibility of contacting the virus among supporters of President-elect Joe Biden (85%) than supporters of President Donald Trump (33%).  

In nearly all states the rate of infection rose in the last week, and the White House itself experienced another wave of cases. The pandemic reached across the aisle: Trump voters are just as likely as Biden voters to say they have personally lost a job (10% vs 10%) and that they have tested positive for the virus (4% vs 4%). Supporters of the Republican president (16%) are only slightly less likely than Biden supporters (22%) to know someone who has died from the virus. Knowledge of COVID-related death of a friend or family member plays a bigger role for Trump voters than for Biden supporters.  

Trump supporters who have contact with someone who has died from COVID-19 are more worried about their own susceptibility to the virus than those who know no one (49% vs 29%).  But knowing someone who has only contracted COVID-19 doesn’t have much impact on Trump voters’ concerns about their own health: 36% of those who know someone who tested positive say they’re worried about contracting the virus compared to 29% of those who do not know someone who’s experienced COVID. Biden supporters are similarly concerned, no matter their experience with the virus so far. 

Official reports show the coronavirus death toll in the US is creeping up to 250,000. But a majority of the President’s supporters claim that the final US death toll for 2020 will be less than the reported number, apparently disbelieving that the coronavirus was the actual cause of death for many of those who have died. For Biden supporters, a majority believes deaths will rise above 250,000 this year, and 7% say it will reach over 1 million, which experts suggest is highly unlikely over the next month and a half. 

Biden voters are twice as likely as Trump voters to state they always wore a mask in public in the week. About four in five (79%) say that, compared with 37% for Trump supporters. Seven in ten Trump voters view a national mask mandate as an infringement on civil liberties. Only 5% of Biden supporters agree. 

With at least one drug company, Pfizer, reporting its vaccine as both safe and effective, the big question remains whether registered voters will let themselves be vaccinated.  For many of both political persuasions, there are safety concerns about a fast-tracked vaccine, and most registered voters don’t expect a vaccine to be available anytime soon, certainly not in this calendar year. 

Although politics plays a role overall and in most age groups, with the President’s voters as likely to say they won’t be vaccinated (37%) as to say they will (37%), that isn’t the case for the nation’s most vulnerable group, senior citizens. Whatever their voting preference, those 65 and older are at least 20 points more likely to say they will be vaccinated as to say they won’t. 

See the toplines and crosstabs from this week’s Economist/YouGov Poll 

Methodology: The Economist survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,500 registered voters interviewed online between November 8 - November 10, 2020. This sample was 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, geographic region, and news interest. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all US citizens. The margin of error is approximately 3.2% for the overall sample.   

Image: Getty