Sixty percent believe worst is yet to come for the U.S. in coronavirus pandemic

Public attitudes about the coronavirus response are split along partisan lines in a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.
Image: Dee Jackson wears a gas mask as she and other shoppers line up before opening at a Costco store, following reports of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases in the country, in Seattle
Dee Jackson wears a gas mask as she and other shoppers line up before the opening of a Costco store in Seattle on Saturday, March 14, 2020.David Ryder / Reuters

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By Mark Murray

WASHINGTON — A majority of American voters say they're worried that someone in their immediate family might catch the coronavirus, and 6 in 10 believe the worst is yet to come in the U.S., according to a new national NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.

In addition, more than 40 percent say their day-to-day lives will change as a result of the pandemic.

But public attitudes about the coronavirus — including President Donald Trump's handling of it — are starkly divided along partisan lines, with nearly 9 in 10 Republican voters having confidence in Trump's dealing with the outbreak, compared with just a sliver of Democrats who agree.

Indeed, 45 percent of all voters approve of Trump's handling of the issue, which is almost identical to his overall job rating in the poll.

"What's clear is that we are at the beginning of the story of coronavirus in America, and Americans are beginning to understand what its impact could be," said Democratic pollster Jeff Horwitt of Hart Research Associates, who conducted the survey with Republican pollster Bill McInturff and his firm, Public Opinion Strategies.

McInturff added that the coronavirus — so far — has affected some states and cities disproportionately from other parts of the country.

"It's a very big country with a lot of different people," he said.

The NBC News/WSJ poll, which was conducted Wednesday through Friday, comes as there have now been more than 3,000 confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S., as well as 61 deaths.

In the poll, a whopping 99 percent of respondents say they've seen, heard or read about the spread of the coronavirus, including 89 percent who say they've heard "a lot" about the story — the highest percentage the NBC News/WSJ poll has registered for a major event going back to 2009.

A combined 53 percent say they're either "very" or "somewhat" worried that someone in their immediate families might catch the coronavirus, while a combined 47 percent say they aren't too worried or aren't worried at all.

Forty-one percent of voters believe their day-to-day lives will change in a major way, versus a combined 56 percent — a majority — who say their lives will change only in a "small way" or won't change at all.

And 60 percent think the worst is yet to come, while 31 percent say the coronavirus is not likely to be a major problem.

Full coverage of the coronavirus outbreak

But a glaring partisan divide exists within these numbers.

Sixty-eight percent of Democratic voters are worried that an immediate family member might catch the coronavirus, compared with just 40 percent of Republicans who agree.

Fifty-six percent of Democrats believe their day-to-day lives will change in a major way, versus only 26 percent of Republicans.

And 79 percent of Democrats say the worst is yet to come, versus just 40 percent of Republicans who hold the same opinion.

The partisan split carries over to plans and activities.

Forty-seven percent of all voters say they've stopped or plan to stop attending large public gatherings, which includes 61 percent of Democratic respondents but just 30 percent of Republicans.

What's more, 36 percent say they've canceled or plan to cancel travel, which includes 47 percent of Democrats but just 23 percent of Republicans.

And 26 percent say they've stopped or plan to stop eating out at restaurants, which includes 36 percent of Democrats but only 12 percent of Republicans.

"Simply put, it is very clear that partisanship has infected our views of the coronavirus," said Horwitt, the Democratic pollster.

Trump's overall job approval stands at 46 percent

The same partisan divide also underscores perceptions of Trump.

In the poll, 45 percent approve of the president's handling of the coronavirus, while 51 percent disapprove.

But Democrats and Republicans have completely opposite views: 81 percent of Republican voters approve of Trump's handling of the issue, while 84 percent of Democrats disapprove.

Independents are split: 43 percent approve; 52 percent disapprove.

Trump's overall job performance — 46 percent approve; 51 percent disapprove — is essentially unchanged from last month's poll, as well as NBC News/WSJ surveys over the last two years.

More confidence in state and local governments than in Trump

Yet voters have more confidence in their state and local governments than they do in Trump.

A combined 75 percent of all voters say they have a "great deal" or a "fair amount" of confidence in their state governments to deal with the outbreak.

A combined 72 percent say the same of their local governments, and 62 percent say it for the federal government.

But just 48 percent say they have confidence in Trump, with Republican respondents having high confidence (89 percent) and with Democrats having very little (15 percent).

Download the NBC News app full coverage of the coronavirus outbreak

Attitudes about the economy decline slightly

Finally, when it comes to an economy that has seen steep drops and then a big upswing Friday in the financial markets, 47 percent of all voters describe it as either excellent or good — down by 6 points from a December CNBC survey conducted by the same polling firms.

That's compared to 52 percent who rate it as either fair or poor — up by 8 points from the December CNBC poll.

And 34 percent think the economy will get better in the next year, while 31 percent think it will get worse and another 31 percent say it will stay about the same.

In December, 30 percent said the economy would get better, 24 percent said it would get worse and 35 percent said it would stay the same.

"There has definitely been a slight tick down," said Republican pollster Micah Roberts of Public Opinion Strategies.

But he added that the coronavirus news — as it relates to the economy — "has not landed a knockdown punch."

The NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll was conducted March 11-13 of 900 registered voters — more than half of whom were reached by cellphone — and it has an overall margin of error of plus-minus 3.3 percentage points.