The United States has now recorded more than 5 million cases of COVID-19, but Republicans and Democrats point to different explanations for the recent increase in confirmed cases, according to a new Pew Research Center survey.
Overall, six-in-ten Americans say the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S. is rising primarily because there are more new infections in the country, not just because more people are being tested compared with previous months. Around four-in-ten (39%) say the increase is primarily the result of more people being tested, according to the survey, which was conducted July 27-Aug. 2 among 11,001 U.S. adults.
Most Republicans and Republican-leaning independents (62%) say the primary reason for the rise in confirmed cases is that more people are being tested. Self-described conservative Republicans are especially likely to hold this view: Around two-thirds (68%) say this, compared with 53% of moderate and liberal Republicans.
We conducted this analysis to understand what Americans see as the primary reason for a recent increase in confirmed COVID-19 cases in the United States. The analysis is based on a survey of 11,001 U.S. adults conducted in July and August 2020. Everyone who took part is a member of Pew Research Center’s American Trends Panel (ATP), an online survey panel that is recruited through national, random sampling of residential addresses. This way nearly all U.S. adults have a chance of selection. The survey is weighted to be representative of the U.S. adult population by gender, race, ethnicity, partisan affiliation, education and other categories. Read more about the ATP’s methodology. Here are the questions used for the report, along with responses, and its methodology.
By contrast, 80% of Democrats and Democratic leaners say the primary reason for the recent increase in confirmed COVID-19 cases is that there are more new infections, not just more tests. Liberal Democrats are considerably more likely than moderate and conservative Democrats (90% vs. 73%) to say the increase in cases is mainly due to more new infections, not just more testing.
The U.S. has carried out more than 69 million COVID-19 tests nationwide as of Aug. 13, 9% of which – more than 6.2 million – came back positive, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The number of positive tests exceeds the number of confirmed cases because some people may have been tested more than once, the CDC notes. While the number of tests has risen in recent months, the increase has not been enough to account for an even bigger rise in confirmed COVID-19 cases, according to a July analysis by The New York Times.
Americans’ perceptions about the recent increase in cases also differ by educational attainment, according to the survey.
Around seven-in-ten adults with a bachelor’s degree or more education (71%) say the recent increase in confirmed cases is primarily the result of more infections, not just more testing. A little over half of those with some college or less education (54%) say the same. In both partisan coalitions, those with at least a bachelor’s degree are more likely than those without to attribute the rise in confirmed cases primarily to more infections.
Majorities across all major racial and ethnic groups say the increase in confirmed COVID-19 cases is primarily due to a rise in infections and not just an increase in testing. White Americans (55%) are less likely than Black (66%), Hispanic (67%) and English-speaking Asian Americans (72%) to hold this view. However, when taking partisanship into account, white Democrats (87%) are more likely than Black (69%), Hispanic (77%) or Asian American Democrats (78%) to say this.
President Donald Trump has said that the country’s increase in COVID-19 cases is the result of more testing, and Americans who approve of Trump’s job performance largely agree with that assessment. Around two-thirds of those who approve of the job Trump is doing as president (66%) say the rise in confirmed cases is primarily the result of more people being tested than in previous months. An even larger majority of those who disapprove of Trump’s job performance (78%) say the main reason is an increase in new infections, not just more tests.