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Polling Shows Signs of Public Trust in Institutions amid the Pandemic

The ongoing effort to fight COVID-19 wins broad support, even across partisan divides

This article was originally published in Scientific American.

Most say their state and local governments are reacting about right to the coronavirus outbreak

In the face of unprecedented measures to limit social contact at work, at school and on the main streets of communities across the nation, Americans give themselves good marks, with 86% saying people in their households are “reacting about right.” Most also say their local school system is reacting about right (86%), and majorities say the same about their local (74%) or state (72%) government.

These findings from a new national survey by Pew Research Center, conducted March 19 to 24 among 11,537 U.S. adults using the Center’s American Trends Panel, suggest that Americans see the “social distancing” measures urged by public health officials to limit the spread of the disease as generally appropriate.

Large majorities say restrictions on travel, closures of businesses have been necessary responses

Indeed, when Americans consider a number of specific measures taken in recent days and weeks, majorities see each one as a necessary step to address the spread of coronavirus. Roughly nine-in-ten say travel restrictions (95%), cancellations of major sporting and entertainment events (91%), K-12 school closings (89%), and efforts to limit the size of social gatherings (87%) have been necessary to address the outbreak. Large majorities of both Democrats and Republicans, as well as those who lean toward each party, agree that each of these is a necessary step.

There is comparatively more partisan disagreement over whether it has been necessary to require most businesses to close, though, there too, majorities of Republicans (61%) and Democrats (81%) call this a necessary step.

Most in both parties say public health, state and local officials are doing well responding to COVID-19 outbreak

Challenges stemming from the coronavirus outbreak spotlight both the role of science in society and the need for effective partnerships between scientific experts and government officials across local, state and federal levels.

About eight-in-ten Americans (79%) rate the performance of public health officials in responding to the coronavirus outbreak as either excellent or good. And, roughly seven-in-ten say the same about the performance of state (70%) and local elected officials (69%). Notably, Democrats and Republicans align closely in their ratings of these groups.

There are, however, wide partisan differences when it comes to evaluations of the news media, with Democrats much more inclined to give positive ratings than Republicans are. These differences are in keeping with the fact that Democrats generally are more trusting of the news media than Republicans are.

President Donald Trump’s early responses to the COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S., in which he downplayed the severity of the outbreak, engendered strong rebuke from Democratic lawmakers and others. In the latest survey, there are gaping differences in how partisan groups see the president’s handling of the outbreak, with 83% of Republicans and those who lean toward the Republican Party saying that Trump is doing an excellent or good job handling the outbreak, compared with just 18% of Democrats and those who lean toward the Democratic Party.

Around seven-in-ten Americans are confident that hospitals can treat seriously ill people during COVID-19 outbreak

Health care providers at hospitals and medical centers around the country are on the front line of care for those ill with the virus. As Americans take stock of early efforts to control the outbreak, 71% are very or somewhat confident that hospitals and medical centers in their local area can handle patient needs.

And, majorities of both Republicans and Democrats express confidence in their local area hospitals; 78% of Republicans and GOP-leaning independents say they are at least somewhat confident that their local hospitals and medical centers will be able to meet the needs of seriously ill people, as do 65% of Democrats and Democratic leaners.

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