Politics

Non-Partisan, but Not Neutral

Entertainment

Binge This

Arts and Culture

Style, Sex, Media, and The Stage

Trump’s Coronavirus Disinformation Campaign Isn’t Working: Poll

TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE
The president has presented an overly rosy picture about how the fight against the virus is going. A new poll suggests the public isn’t buying it.

Sam SteinMar. 28, 2020 8:31 PM ET

A clear majority of the American public, including self-identified Republicans, do not believe the disinformation that President Donald Trump keeps pushing around the spread of coronavirus. And even members of the president’s own party are skeptical of his argument that getting the country back to work needs to be as prioritized as public safety measures. 

A new survey conducted by Ipsos exclusively for The Daily Beast provides some of the clearest evidence to date that the president’s attempts to paint a rosy picture about the coronavirus’ spread throughout the country are not resonating beyond a small segment of the populace with a small exception for those who say they’re getting their information from Fox News. 

  • A full 73 percent of respondents, including 75 percent of Republicans, said that it was not true that “anyone who wants to get tested [for the virus] can get tested.” Just 17 percent said it was true.
  • Only 20 percent of the public, and just 25 percent of Republicans, said that they believed a vaccine will be available soon. Forty-two percent said that was false and 38 percent said they did not know.
  • Fifty-one percent of respondents, including a plurality or Republicans (46 percent), said it was false that the virus would go away on its own in warm weather, while just 13 percent said that was true.
  • And 61 percent of respondents said that they believed COVID-19 was more deadly than the flu; with 22 percent saying it was about the same and 11 percent saying they believed it was less deadly.

The question that seemed to generate the most confusion was on whether the Federal Drug Administration had “approved anti-malaria drugs to treat the virus.”

But even then, 45 percent of respondents correctly identified that statement as false, 22 percent said it was true and 33 percent said they did not know.

Collectively, the results present a portrait of a public that is sober minded about the coronavirus and unpersuaded by talk that life could return to normalcy soon. Over the past few weeks, Trump has suggested that the spread of coronavirus would abate as the temperature warmed. He’s repeatedly insisted that those who want a test can get one, against overwhelming evidence to the contrary. He’s downplayed the lethality of it by comparing it to the flu. He’s talked about a vaccine hitting the markets in weeks, if not months, and pushed hydroxychloroquine as a therapy for coronavirus, despite his own medical experts warning that there is nothing more than anecdotal data suggesting it could work. 

That Trump has had difficulty selling the public on these ideas suggests that he is operating from a trust deficit as he encounters the most existential challenge of his presidency to date. Though self-identified Fox News viewers were more likely to believe these claims than those who got their information from local news, national news or other cable channels, even they were skeptical of the president’s posture. Just 20 percent of those who watched the Trump-supportive cable channel said they believed anyone could get a test if they wanted to; just 31 percent said a vaccine would be available soon; and just 15 percent said the virus would go away in the warm weather. However, 44 percent of those who said they were getting their information from Fox News said that they believed the FDA had approved anti-malaria drugs to treat COVID-19, compared to 34 percent who said that was false. 

Fox News viewers were evenly split when it came to Trump’s most recent focus: getting American businesses back up and running on an expedited timeline even if it were to involve public health risk. Forty-seven percent of Fox News viewers said they agreed with the sentiment while 50 percent said they did not. 

But beyond that, the public was largely in favor of keeping public safety measures in place, even if it meant delaying a return to economic activity. Just 26 percent of respondents said that they agreed that “getting people back to work is more important than social distancing” while 69 percent said they disagreed. Those numbers were similar when isolating just for Republicans, with 57 percent disagreeing and 39 percent agreeing. 

Though the public may not be with him on his descriptions of and prescriptions for the coronavirus crisis, Trump has earned relatively positive views for his handling of the pandemic. Public opinion polls have consistently shown more people approving of the job he’s doing than disapproving. The Ipsos survey suggests one potential explanation as to why: self-identified Independents were relatively comfortable with the president’s push to start focusing on the economy. 

The survey found that 46 percent of Independents believed that the “cost to slow the spread of COVID-19 is too much for our economy to bear” compared to 39 percent who said they disagreed. Meanwhile, 39 percent of Independents said “getting people back to work is more important than social distancing”—the same percentage as for Republicans. A solid chunk of Independents (31 percent) even said that they believed “The media and Democrats are overstating the COVID-19 threat in order to damage Donald Trump’s presidency.” 

Latest