New Yahoo News/YouGov poll shows Trump voters worry less about coronavirus — and take fewer precautions — than Clinton voters

Andrew Romano
·West Coast Correspondent
·10 min read

Voters who cast their ballots for Donald Trump in 2016 are more likely than voters who cast their ballots for Hillary Clinton to say that they have “cheated” on social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic — and much less likely to say they will continue to obey their state’s lockdown order as long as it’s in effect.

According to the latest Yahoo News/YouGov poll, which was conducted from April 17 to 19, most Trump and Clinton voters claim they haven’t broken the rules of social distancing. But the share of Trump voters who say they haven’t cheated (63 percent) is 10 points lower than the share of Clinton voters who say the same, while the share of Trump voters who say they have cheated (26 percent) is 6 points higher than the share of Clinton voters (20 percent) who are willing to confess. That’s a net difference of 16 percentage points.

When it comes to complying with lockdown measures going forward, the divide between the two camps is even more pronounced. A full 82 percent of Clinton voters say they will adhere to their state’s stay-at-home orders for the duration; only 54 percent of Trump voters say the same. Thirteen percent of Trump voters openly admit they won’t; another 13 percent say they’re “not sure.” (Twenty percent of Trump voters say they aren’t under lockdown orders.)

Trump voters are also 19 points less likely than Clinton voters to say they have strictly obeyed existing stay-at-home regulations — and 8 points more likely to describe their level of compliance as “not strict” at all.

These disparities provide a window into a larger phenomenon. According to the Yahoo News/YouGov survey, Americans in Trump Country and Clinton Country are experiencing and reacting to lockdown in very different ways.

Hillary Clinton and President Donald Trump. (Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: AP(3), Getty Images)
Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: AP (3), Getty Images

It’s logical to wonder whether such differences simply reflect different circumstances in the communities where Trump and Clinton voters tend to live: i.e., red, rural, inland America (where the coronavirus has spread less rapidly) vs. blue, urban, coastal America (where the deadly pathogen has hit hardest), respectively.

But the poll suggests this isn’t necessarily the case. In fact, Trump voters and Clinton voters are equally likely — at 61 percent and 59 percent, respectively — to say they live in communities where “most people” are staying home, even if the share of Trump voters who say they’re not under lockdowns (20 percent) is higher than the share of Clinton voters who say the same thing (13 percent).

Greater economic hardship doesn’t seem to explain the higher levels of resistance to lockdown among Trump voters, either. Asked how much the shutdown has affected their income over the last month, 36 percent of Trump voters say their earnings have decreased. Thirty-five percent of Clinton voters say the same thing. The share of Clinton and Trump voters who say they have been laid off because of the pandemic is also the same (10 percent vs. 9 percent).

Yet while almost no Clinton voters (a mere 7 percent) agree with the view that stay-at-home orders are an example of “the cure being worse than the disease,” a full 41 percent of Trump voters say just that. That’s 9 points higher than Republicans overall and 20 points higher than registered voters more broadly.

Why? Because many Trump voters seem to have concluded that the coronavirus isn’t much of a worry for them. In fact, only 18 percent of them say they are “very worried”; among Clinton voters that number is nearly 30 points higher (47 percent). Meanwhile, a full 43 percent of Trump voters say they’re “not very worried” or “not worried at all” — higher than the number of Americans (26 percent), Clinton voters (9 percent) or even Republicans (35 percent) who say the same thing.

A note about methodology: YouGov selects a national representative sample of poll respondents from its opt-in panel — a large database of Americans who’ve said they’re open to being regularly surveyed — and then interviews them online. To characterize someone as a Trump or a Clinton voter, the firm relies on how that respondent said they voted when they were first polled after the election. If they joined the panel later, YouGov asks them to recall how they voted in 2016. This means that while there is a lot of overlap between self-identified Republicans and self-identified Trump voters — as well as self-identified Democrats and self-identified Clinton voters — they aren’t necessarily the same thing. A Democrat might have voted for Trump; an independent might have voted for Clinton.

Asked whether they believe the threat of COVID-19 has been exaggerated, Clinton voters are close to unanimous; 88 percent say no and only 7 percent say yes. Trump voters are evenly divided, with a narrow plurality (45 percent) saying the threat has, in fact, been exaggerated — an assertion that even half of Republicans (50 percent) disagree with.

Closer to home, three-quarters of Clinton voters feel the threat to their communities is either “about the same” as elsewhere (50 percent) or “more serious” (24 percent). Trump voters don’t share that sentiment. Nearly half (49 percent) characterize the threat to their communities as less serious than elsewhere, while only 34 percent say it’s about the same. This means Trump voters feel that the coronavirus is less of a risk to their personal health than Clinton voters, with a majority saying it’s either “one of many risks I face” (39 percent) or “not a risk” at all (19 percent). As a result, Trump voters are 5 points more likely than Republicans overall and 22 points more likely than Clinton voters to agree that “most Americans are overreacting to the actual risks” of the virus.

Omar Rodriguez organizes bodies in the Gerard Neufeld funeral home in Queens on April 22, 2020 in New York City. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Omar Rodriguez organizes bodies in the Gerard Neufeld funeral home in Queens, N.Y., on Wednesday. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

That makes a certain kind of sense: The less threatened you personally feel, the more likely you are to think that others are overreacting. But this effect — the sense among Trump voters that the pandemic is overblown — appears to extend to more empirical questions about its scale and duration as well. Experts and epidemiologists agree, for instance, that the coronavirus is likely to kill at least tens of thousands more Americans than the 47,000 or more who have already died; that it is likely to spread until a vaccine comes to market in another 12 to 18 months; and that there are likely to be subsequent spikes in infection between now and then.

Yet 35 percent of Trump voters estimated that fewer than 50,000 Americans will die from COVID-19 — a milestone the U.S. might have already passed, given the lag in reporting. Only 10 percent of Clinton voters (and 27 percent of Republicans) said the same; the consensus pick among other groups was 50,000 to 100,000 fatalities. Likewise, a majority of Clinton voters (66 percent) and a wide plurality of Americans overall (48 percent) said that COVID-19 would be a “serious problem for you and your community” for longer than three months. Only 34 percent of Trump voters agreed, with two-thirds instead predicting that COVID-19 would be a serious problem only for either a few more weeks (11 percent), one month (17 percent), two months (24 percent) or three months (14 percent). At the same time, the percentage of Trump voters who said a resurgence of the coronavirus was “very likely” if the economy reopened now (34 percent) was 43 points lower than the percentage of Clinton voters who expressed the same fear.

The upshot is that Trump voters are less open than Clinton voters to measures meant to slow the spread of the virus. Consider face coverings. A majority of both Trump and Clinton voters say they’ve started wearing masks — but there’s a 19-point gap between the two groups on the question (56 percent and 75 percent, respectively). Geography and local government messaging likely plays a part here. But even when told that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now recommends that everyone wear a cloth mask in public, only 41 percent of Trump voters say they will wear one; 29 percent still say they won’t. Among Clinton voters, those numbers are 59 percent yes and 10 percent no.

Going forward, disagreements over distancing are likely to grow — as will the larger political divisions over America’s coronavirus response.

Only 42 percent of Trump voters say they would continue to wear a mask in public after lockdown ends, compared with 67 percent of Clinton voters. And nearly 40 percent of Trump voters say they won’t continue to practice social distancing after official restrictions are lifted (14 percent) or they’re “not sure” (25 percent). Among Clinton voters, those numbers are both 10 points lower.

Testing and tracing — the two main techniques for containing future coronavirus outbreaks — could be a sticking point as well. Half of Clinton voters and nearly 40 percent of Republicans say they would install a contact-tracing app of the sort being developed by Apple and Google on their phones; only 29 percent of Trump voters say the same. Majorities of Americans (57 percent), Republicans (54 percent) and Clinton voters (77 percent) say they would support being tested regularly and repeatedly for COVID-19 to limit its spread after lockdown ends. That number is significantly lower (48 percent) among Trump voters.

By the same token, a full third of Trump voters say their community is ready to reopen either now (12 percent) or by May 1, the president’s preferred deadline (21 percent). In contrast, only 1 percent of Clinton voters say now and only 5 percent say May 1.

People practice social distancing as they wait in line for a complimentary meal at Someone's Son restaurant, during new coronavirus pandemic, Wednesday, April 22, 2020, in Coral Gables, Fla. (Lynne Sladky/AP)
People practice social distancing as they wait in line at Someone’s Son restaurant in Coral Gables, Fla., on Wednesday. (Lynne Sladky/AP)

Asked which statement comes closest to their view about when America as a whole should reopen, 60 percent of Trump voters say “as soon as possible to prevent further economic damage”; 92 percent of Clinton voters say “when public-health officials are fully able to test and trace new cases and outbreaks.” A wide majority of Americans (71 percent) and even a narrow majority of Republicans (51 percent) sided with the Clinton voters.

And Trump voters were the only group in which a majority say they are more concerned about lifting restrictions too slowly (51 percent) than too quickly (49 percent). Ninety percent of Clinton voters, 71 percent of Americans overall and 56 percent of Republicans say the opposite.

Likewise, a plurality of Trump voters (42 percent) say they support right-wing protesters calling on governors to lift the lockdowns in their states. A majority of Americans (60 percent) and a plurality of Republicans (47 percent) oppose the protests.

The Yahoo News survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,597 U.S. adult residents interviewed online between April 17 and 19, 2020. This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race and education. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all U.S residents. The margin of error is approximately 3.0 percent.

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