The global coronavirus pandemic upended life in the United States and around the world in 2020, disrupting how people work, go to school, attend religious services, socialize with friends and family, and much more. But the pandemic wasn’t the only event that shaped the year. The videotaped killing of George Floyd by police officers in Minneapolis sparked an international outcry and focused new attention on the treatment of racial and ethnic minorities in the U.S. And November’s presidential election appears to have shattered turnout records as around 160 million Americans cast ballots and elected Joe Biden the 46th president.
As 2020 draws to a close, here are 20 striking findings from Pew Research Center’s studies this year, covering the pandemic, race-related tensions, the presidential election and other notable trends that emerged during the year.
Since the very beginning of the U.S. coronavirus outbreak, Democrats have been far more likely than Republicans to see COVID-19 as a “major threat” to public health. In November, Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents were nearly twice as likely as Republicans and GOP leaners (84% vs. 43%) to see the outbreak as a major threat to the health of the U.S. population, even as both sides agreed on the threat it poses to the national economy.
Partisan divisions over the public health threat posed by the virus were far from the only ones when it came to COVID-19: Democrats and Republicans also differed widely on public health strategies ranging from contact tracing to mask wearing.
The pandemic had a dramatic effect on international travel: By April, around nine-tenths of the world’s population (91%) was living in a country with partially or fully closed borders. More than 7 billion people were living in a country with at least some entry restrictions for noncitizens and nonresidents. And that included about 3 billion people, or 39% of the global population, who lived in countries with borders that were completely closed to noncitizens and nonresidents.
For the first time since at least the Great Depression, a majority of young adults in the U.S. were living with their parents this year. Millions of Americans, especially young adults, moved in with family members as the coronavirus spread. In July, 52% of adults ages 18 to 29 were living with one or both parents, up from 47% in February, before the pandemic. The share of young adults living with their parents rose among men and women, in all major racial and ethnic groups and among metropolitan as well as rural residents. Growth was sharpest among the youngest adults – those ages 18 to 24 – as well as among White young adults.
Following the UK’s exit from the European Union, the share of British adults with a favorable view of the EU rose to its highest level on record. The UK formally left the EU in January, concluding a withdrawal process that lasted more than three years. But in Pew Research Center’s first survey in the UK after Brexit, 60% of British adults said they had a positive view of the EU, up from 54% the year before and the highest percentage in surveys dating to 2004. Britons’ views of the EU remained divided along demographic and partisan lines, with younger people, those with a postsecondary education or more and those on the ideological left more likely to express a positive opinion.
International views of China turned much more negative in 2020, with many people criticizing its handling of COVID-19. The share of adults with an unfavorable opinion of China rose 24 percentage points in Australia, 19 points in the UK and 15 points in Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden, with sizable increases in other countries as well. In all 14 countries surveyed, a majority of adults expressed a negative view of China. And a median of 61% of adults across these nations said China had done a bad job dealing with the coronavirus outbreak.
Around eight-in-ten registered voters in the U.S. (83%) said in the summer that it “really mattered” who won this year’s presidential election, the highest share in any presidential election year since at least 2000. Two decades ago, by comparison, just half of registered voters said it “really mattered” who won the contest between George W. Bush and Al Gore.
The election itself underscored voters’ engagement this year: President-elect Joe Biden received more than 81 million votes, while Donald Trump got more than 74 million – the highest and second-highest totals in American history.
Trump’s approval rating has been more sharply divided along partisan lines than that of any president in the modern era of polling. Over the course of his presidency through August, an average of 87% of Republicans approved of Trump’s handling of the job, compared with an average of just 6% of Democrats. That 81-point gap between Republicans and Democrats was far larger than the average partisan gaps in approval of Barack Obama (67 points) and George W. Bush (58 points).
Members of the out-of-power party – that is, the party that does not control the White House – have become increasingly critical of U.S. presidents in recent years. The 6% average of Democrats who approved of Trump’s job performance through August was down from an average of 14% of Republicans who approved of Obama and an average of 23% of Democrats who approved of Bush.
Amid widespread economic hardship caused by COVID-19, around four-in-ten U.S. adults said in August that they or someone in their household had been laid off, lost their job or taken a pay cut. The economic shocks of the pandemic affected a broad range of American workers and their families. In the August survey, a quarter of U.S. adults said they or someone in their household had been laid off or lost their job, while around a third (32%) said they or someone in their household had taken a pay cut. All told, 42% of adults reported at least one of these things happening to them or someone in their household. Job losses and pay cuts were especially common among younger adults, Hispanics and those in lower-income families.
More than half of Americans personally know someone who has been hospitalized or died due to COVID-19. In a reflection of the mounting toll the virus has taken, 54% of U.S. adults said in November that they know someone who has been hospitalized or died, up from 39% in August and 15% in April. Around seven-in-ten Black Americans (71%) know someone who has been hospitalized or died from COVID-19, compared with 61% of those who are Hispanic, 49% of those who are White and 48% of those who are Asian.
A large majority of U.S. adults (86%) say there is some kind of lesson or set of lessons for mankind to learn from the coronavirus outbreak, and about a third (35%) say these lessons were sent by God. In open-ended survey responses collected by the Center in the summer, Americans pointed to practical lessons, such as wearing a mask; personal lessons, such as remembering the importance of spending time with family and loved ones; and societal lessons, such as the need for universal health care. Other responses were political in nature, including criticisms of both major parties and concerns about the politicization of the pandemic.
In several countries, the share of people with a favorable view of the U.S. fell in 2020 to its lowest point on record. America’s image abroad declined considerably after Trump took office in 2017, but there was further erosion in 2020 amid widespread criticism of the country’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak. Just 41% of adults in the UK expressed a favorable opinion of the U.S. this year, the lowest percentage on record. And in France and Germany, the share of adults with a positive view of the U.S. fell to levels last seen in March 2003, at the height of tensions over the Iraq War.
Across 13 countries surveyed this summer, a median of just 15% of adults said the U.S. had done a good job responding to the COVID-19 outbreak. That was much lower than the share who gave positive marks to their own country (median of 74%), the World Health Organization (median of 64%), the EU (median of 57%) and China (median of 37%).
Biden and Trump supporters say they fundamentally disagree with each other not just on political priorities, but on core American values. In an October survey, eight-in-ten registered voters who supported Biden (80%) – and a similar share of those who supported Trump (77%) – said they fundamentally disagree with the other side on “core American values and goals.” Only around one-in-five in each group said their differences are limited to politics and policies. In the same survey, 90% of Biden supporters and 89% of Trump supporters said there would be “lasting harm” to the nation if the other candidate won the election.
Across a range of measures, Republicans are far more negative than Democrats in their assessments of the news media. In a February survey, more than half of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents said news organizations don’t care about the people they report on (69%), are not professional (60%), are too critical of America (58%), hurt democracy (56%) and don’t care about how good of a job they do (54%). Democrats and Democratic leaners were far more positive than Republicans on all of these questions. The partisan divide in views of the news media extends to views of specific outlets, too, as a separate Center study found in January.
A small share of highly active Twitter users – most of whom are Democrats – produce the vast majority of tweets from U.S. adults. The most active 10% of users were responsible for 92% of tweets sent between November 2019 and September 2020 by U.S. adults with public-facing accounts. Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents accounted for 69% of these highly active Twitter users, while Republicans and GOP leaners accounted for 26%.
Only around a quarter of U.S. Hispanics (23%) have heard of the term “Latinx,” and just 3% say they use it to describe themselves. The gender-neutral, pan-ethnic term, which is used to describe the nation’s Hispanic population, has gained traction in recent years among some corporations, local governments, universities and news and entertainment outlets. But relatively few Hispanics are aware of the term and only a small fraction use it to describe themselves. Among Hispanics aware of the term, 65% say “Latinx” should not be used to describe the nation’s Hispanic or Latino population, while 33% say it should.
Around half of Americans (49%) say the Bible should have a great deal or some influence on the laws of the U.S., including 28% who say it should take precedence when it conflicts with the will of the people. White evangelical Christians are especially likely to hold this view. In a February survey, around nine-in-ten White evangelicals (89%) said the Bible should have a great deal or some influence on America’s laws, and around two-thirds (68%) said they favored the Bible over the will of the people when there is a conflict between the two.
The U.S. Constitution does not mention the Bible, God, Jesus or Christianity, and the First Amendment clarifies that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” Still, some scholars have argued that the Bible heavily influenced America’s founders.
The Black Lives Matter movement drew widespread public support and online engagement following the police killing of George Floyd in May. In a survey in early June, two-thirds of Americans – including majorities across all major racial and ethnic groups – expressed support for the movement (though support slipped to 55% by September).
Meanwhile, use of the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag surged to record levels on Twitter, with an average of just under 3.7 million daily uses between May 26 – the day after Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police – and June 7. On May 28, nearly 8.8 million tweets included the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter, making it the busiest single day for the hashtag since Pew Research Center began tracking its use in 2013.
Amid calls to “defund the police,” only a quarter of Americans said in June that they favor a reduction in spending on policing in their area. The largest share of Americans (42%) preferred spending on policing in their area to stay about the same, while 31% said spending on police should be increased. Support for police spending cuts was higher – but still short of a majority – among adults under 30, Black adults and those who identify as Democratic or lean to the Democratic Party.
A growing share of Americans have heard of the group of conspiracy theories known as QAnon, and a substantial portion of Republicans who are aware of it say it is a good thing for the country. The share of U.S. adults who have heard or read at least a little about QAnon rose from 23% in February to 47% in September. Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents who are aware of QAnon overwhelmingly see it as a very or somewhat bad thing for the country (90% say this), but Republicans and GOP leaners are more divided. Half of Republicans who are aware of QAnon say it is a very or somewhat bad thing for the nation, while 41% say it is a very or somewhat good thing.
In a year in which big tech companies faced growing scrutiny, nine-in-ten Republicans – and around six-in-ten Democrats (59%) – said it’s likely that social media sites intentionally censor political viewpoints. Overall, around three-quarters of U.S. adults (73%) said in June that it’s very or somewhat likely that social media sites censor political viewpoints they find objectionable. In late May, Twitter began labeling tweets by Trump as misleading, prompting the president and some of his supporters to accuse social media platforms of censoring conservative voices.