Americans are still divided over COVID-19, Pew . research shows


sEver since COVID-19 first started spreading in the US, Americans have disagreed on the national pandemic response, arguing about everything from vaccines to masks, homeschooling to quarantine. Now, a new study from the Pew Research Center suggests that little has changed.

The survey of more than 10,000 adults, conducted from May 2-8, 2022, shows not only that Americans remain divided over their approach to and opinions about the pandemic, but also that those divisions are breaking down along 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 the worst of the pandemic is behind us. However, caseloads are still very high and an uber-transmittable variant with unprecedented levels of immune evasion is now dominant in the US — so those hopeful prospects warrant some caution. Another point of agreement was that more or less across the demographic, eight in 10 Americans say their own community’s hospitals and healthcare facilities have done an excellent or good job of dealing with COVID-19. And when it comes to the importance of K-12 education during the pandemic, Americans agree officials have dropped the ball. Overall, 62% of the public — including 69% of Republicans and 57% of Democrats — say the US has not given enough priority to meeting the needs of students since the virus spread in the early months of 2020 first began to spread and schools began to close.

There was much less consensus on other statistics. For starters, health authorities, including those at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), are feeling the love of some groups, but not others. About 72% of Democrats say public health officials have responded well or excellently to the pandemic, compared to just 29% of Republicans.

People also had different views on vaccines, which – no surprise – continue to divide us, but less than all the public clamoring about it would suggest. Overall, 73% of Americans say they have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Among democrats and democratically oriented independents this is 85%; for Republicans and Republican independents, that’s 60%. Yet only 55% of Americans overall say vaccination has been extremely or very effective in limiting the spread of the disease. The rest is split more or less evenly between saying it has been somewhat effective or has had little or no effect. (If you look at the science, there’s little debate on this point: A pilot study published in June 2022 estimated that COVID-19 vaccines saved an estimated 20 million lives worldwide in the first year they were available.)

Disagreements between the parties are wide when it comes to views on whether protecting public health has received the right amount of attention from government and health authorities. Of Democrats and Democratic-oriented independents, 46% say it’s been given too little priority, 46% say it’s been given the right amount, and only 7% say it’s been given too much. Among Republicans and independents leaning Republican, the numbers are 40% for too much attention, 20% for too little, and 38% for the right amount.

The study also found that age is an important dividing line when it comes to who contracted the disease. Of adults ages 18 to 29, 59% say they’ve tested positive for COVID-19 or are pretty sure they’ve had it, compared to just 26% of adults age 65 and older.

As for the near-radioactive masking debate, unsurprisingly the nation is split in the middle, with 48% saying masks and social distancing have been extremely or very effective in limiting the spread of the disease, and a nearly equal numbers say they have had little or no effect. (Again, a lot of research has been found in favor of these practices, including a 2021 nature communication study found that people who reported wearing masks reliably were about 62% less likely to contract COVID-19 than those who didn’t wear masks.)

Finally, for the person who inevitably gets the most heat or praise in a national emergency like a pandemic — the president — the numbers offer no joy. At the start of President Joe Biden’s term, 65% of Americans said they were confident in his ability to cope with the outbreak. Utilities? Not so much. Only 43% say he is doing a good or excellent job in tackling the pandemic, compared to 56% who say his performance was only fair or poor. Unlike former President Donald Trump, Biden may have avoided contracting the disease until now, but he is definitely feeling the pain of it.

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write to Jeffrey Kluger at [email protected]