Views on US handling of virus split along political lines: Poll

People relaxing within circles marked out on the grass to promote social distancing to curb the spread of the coronavirus in San Francisco, California, on Thursday.
People relaxing within circles marked out on the grass to promote social distancing to curb the spread of the coronavirus in San Francisco, California, on Thursday.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

Americans have sharply split views about the handling of the coronavirus pandemic in the country and on US engagement with the world, a new Pew Research Centre survey found.

The results of the survey showed how immutable the political divide is in the United States.

"While 81 per cent of liberal Democrats think the US has done an only fair or poor job of dealing with the coronavirus outbreak, just 22 per cent of conservative Republicans say the same," Pew said.

And about six in 10 Republicans, or 62 per cent, now think the US does too much in helping address global challenges, while just 26 per cent of Democrats share this view, the report said.

This partisan gap was far more modest in telephone surveys on this question dating back to 2013, Pew said.

A related question about the US' role in international affairs also shows strong differences along partisan and ideological lines.

"Six in 10 Americans say the US should focus on its own problems and let other countries deal with their problems as best they can; only 39 per cent think the US should help other countries deal with their problems."

But liberal Democrats felt more strongly that the US should help other countries, more so than moderate or conservative Democrats.

Liberal Democrats also stand apart for their bleak assessment of how the pandemic will affect US' standing on the global stage: 56 per cent believe the US will have less influence in world affairs - 20 percentage points higher than the share of moderate and conservative Democrats who say this.

Very few Republicans say the US will have less influence.

This seems a logical consequence of differing views on the handling of the Covid-19 pandemic in the US itself. Americans gave higher ratings to South Korea and Germany than to their own country for their response to the coronavirus pandemic - placing the US in fourth place behind them as well as the United Kingdom.

Rated lower than the US were the World Health Organisation (WHO), Italy and China.

Overall, 47 per cent of adults say the US has done a good or excellent job of handling the pandemic, but an overwhelming number of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents (71 per cent) think the US has done a good job.

Conversely, just 27 per cent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents think so.

The political divide also colours opinion of WHO's performance. "While 62 per cent of Democrats believe the agency has done an excellent or good job of dealing with the pandemic, just 28 per cent of Republicans agree," Pew said.

A majority of eight out of 10 Democrats trust coronavirus information from the WHO, but few Republicans do, the report revealed.

The Trump administration last month suspended its funding to the United Nations body, accusing it of towing China's line.

On Monday, President Donald Trump threatened to stop funding and drop out of the multilateral organisation if it did not "commit to major substantive improvements in the next 30 days".

Separately, on Wednesday, the top medical journal Lancet, which has been critical of Mr Trump's decision, refuted his claim that the global health body "consistently ignored credible reports of the virus spreading in Wuhan in early December 2019 or even earlier, including reports from the Lancet medical journal".

"This statement is factually incorrect," the Lancet said. It had published "no report in December 2019, referring to a virus or outbreak in Wuhan or anywhere else in China".

Pew said: "Conservative Republicans stand out for their especially negative evaluations (of the WHO). Only 21 per cent believe the Geneva-based organisation has done an excellent or good job of dealing with the Covid-19 crisis, compared with 40 per cent of moderate and liberal Republicans."

But "solid majorities" of liberal Democrats (67 per cent) and moderate and conservative Democrats (58 per cent) give the WHO positive reviews, the report said.

"There's more agreement… when it comes to information from the Chinese government: 84 per cent of Americans say they place not too much or no trust in information from Beijing regarding the coronavirus outbreak," the Pew report added.

Many also believe the crisis will have a long-term impact on China's global stature; 50 per cent said China will have less influence in world affairs after the pandemic.

This is in line with rising negative perceptions of China in the US.

A March survey by Pew found that overall negative attitudes towards China have been on the rise, with 66 per cent of Americans expressing an unfavourable opinion of China, the most negative rating for the country since the centre began asking the question in 2005.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 23, 2020, with the headline 'Views on US handling of virus split along political lines: Poll'. Print Edition | Subscribe