Majorities say they are likely to stay away from holiday gatherings; apt to respect Fauci; and indicate they will trust U.S. scientists’ approval of a vaccine when created and take the drug, but some inequities look problematic
ST. LEO, FL – After coping with the ramifications of the coronavirus pandemic for six months, more than three-quarters of Americans surveyed by the Saint Leo University Polling Institute said they are either very concerned or somewhat concerned about COVID-19. In the politically important state of Florida—the home of the Saint Leo University Polling institute—more than 80 percent reported concern.
In both samples, fewer than one in five reported they were either somewhat unconcerned or not at all concerned.
The results were collected through an online survey conducted between September 27 and October 2, before President Donald J. Trump revealed his own COVID-19 positive test results during the night of October 2. The national sample included 1,000 respondents, and in Florida, a parallel survey was conducted among 500 respondents statewide. The vast majority of both samples are likely voters: 947 of the 1,000 nationwide and 489 of the Florida respondents.
The polling institute asked a wide variety of questions about COVID-19 to try to clarify how seriously people actually regard the disease. Along with that, the polling institute wanted to find out where people go for what they consider reliable sources of information; whether people think some social groups have suffered to a greater degree; and in the near term, what respondents might do about 2020 holiday plans. The survey also asked respondents about whether they will take a vaccine when one emerges.
First, Dr. Cheryl Kozina, associate professor of biology at Saint Leo, said she was heartened to see how many people said they are concerned about the disease. She said that she has witnessed a multitude of mistaken or purposefully misleading comments on social media that claim the coronavirus is not serious, or that the threat is overblown, making it difficult for her, as a scientist, to judge whether public health messages are getting through.
|Concern Level Over COVID-19||National – %||Florida – %|
|Not at all concerned||9.3||7.0|
|Unsure / Don’t know||1.3||0.8|
In an additional timely finding, at least six out of 10 respondents in both the national and Florida sample said they would most “likely decline holiday invitations this year due to COVID-19 concerns.” Across the national sample, 31.3 percent strongly agreed with that statement, and 29.1 percent somewhat agreed, for a total of 60.4 percent. Those disagreeing somewhat (14 percent) and strongly (14.5 percent) amounted to 28.5 percent, while just over 11 percent were unsure.
In Florida, one of the country’s leading destinations for “snowbirds” fleeing northern and Midwestern winters, 36.4 strongly agreed they would likely decline holiday invitations, and 29.2 percent somewhat agreed, for a sum of 65.6 percent. The percent of those answering that they somewhat or strongly disagreed was 13.2 percent in each category, for a sum of 26.4 percent. Only 8 percent were unsure in the Florida sample.
Trusted sources and voices
In this area, Kozina said she was also relieved to see the top responses to the survey’s question on whom people trust most for information and solutions, and, on a related point, where they are turning for information.
Using a scale of one to 10, with one being the highest possible answer and 10 the lowest, survey respondents were shown a list of names of people and institutions and asked to rate their level of trust in the listing. Ratings of one through four are considered levels of “strong trust,” respondents were told. Once the answers came in, they were ranked by how frequently they appeared. Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, ranked the highest both nationally and in Florida, followed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. (Coincidentally, since the survey results were collected, Fauci urged the public to use caution and follow CDC advice in making 2020 Thanksgiving plans.) The president was at the bottom of the list.
|For information and solutions, trust and confidence in…||National: Strong Trust – %||Florida: Strong Trust – %|
|Head of the NIAID, Dr. Anthony Fauci||62.8||67.9|
|The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC)||57.2||62.8|
|The Food & Drug Administration (FDA)||50.9||58.6|
|The private companies working on developing COVID-19 vaccines and treatments||49.4||53.2|
|The World Health Organization (WHO)||49.2||53.4|
|The public sector (government) agencies working on developing COVID-19 vaccines and treatments||42.7||50.4|
|President Donald Trump||32.1||40.6|
Similarly, when people chose their most trusted sources of reliable information (they were allowed to choose more than one) from a list including recognizable names, certain occupations, and print and broadcast media, Fauci was ranked first nationally and in Florida. His name appeared in 39.5 percent of national responses and in 45.6 percent of responses from Florida. Following Fauci, people listed their personal physician, both national and in Florida. Next in the national listings came mainstream media; followed by non-government scientists and physicians; and then scientific journals, such as Science, Nature or The New England Journal of Medicine. The same three choices were also cited in Florida, except that non-government scientists ranked above mainstream media by 1.2 percentage points, and then the scientific journals followed. Those five categories all attracted answers in the 30-percent range, with scientific journals receiving the lowest amount at 33.7 percent of national answers collected (probably because fewer people in the general population regularly read them).
Then there was a gap of over 15 percentage points nationally, and 16 percentage points in Florida, with Fox News and conservative commentators cited in 17.9 percent of national responses and 20.2 percent of Florida responses. President Trump came next, with 13.7 percent of the mentions nationally and 18 percent in Florida.
Social media received 10.8 percent of the mentions nationally and in Florida.
“I was very relieved to see Dr. Fauci on top,” said Kozina. And again, she was glad social media numbers were not higher. The problem with information being floated and re-posted on social media sites about possible treatments and solutions, she said, is that “it’s not being vetted,” and the audience does not necessarily know that.
This is an indication of a broader condition, she said, that this pandemic marks the first time “the general public is seeing science happen in real time, in a way that we haven’t had happen in our lifetimes.” So, people are not necessarily aware of the time it takes to observe symptoms, form a hypothesis about what is going on, test the hypothesis with a sufficiently large sample, examine the results, and proceed according to what the results say. Setbacks and adjustments are part of the normal course of action both in immediate disease treatment and in the longer-term process of developing vaccines.
When people do not understand that, or have forgotten what science courses they may have had, they are more likely to credit bad information, or, out of frustration, become unwilling to credit scientists’ reports as credible, Kozina said she fears.
That in itself is important to know and confront for several reasons, she explained. One involves the attitudes people adopt toward taking vaccines, when they become widely available for people in the respondents’ demographic, whether that is determined by occupation—health care and other essential workers—or age or wellness category, she said.
Response on vaccines
In the survey, at least six out of 10 in both the U.S. and Florida samples indicated they are likely to get a COVID-19 vaccine “when approved by U.S. scientists.” Nationally, 31.3 percent strongly agreed and 30.6 percent somewhat agreed, for a combined sum of 61.9 percent. In Florida, the response was even more strongly in favor, as 40.8 percent strongly agreed and 26.4 somewhat agreed, yielding a total of 67.2 percent.
The survey also determined how many people agreed strongly or somewhat with other statements on the survey about public health actions. Respondents also had the option of indicating they somewhat disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statements, or were unsure.
|Test statements/questions about public health||National – % Strongly & Somewhat Agree||Florida – % Strongly & Somewhat Agree|
|When approved by U.S. scientists, I am willing to get the COVID-19 vaccine||61.9||67.2|
|When approved by U.S. scientists, I would be willing to have my own or see other children vaccinated||58.3||64.2|
|When approved by U.S. scientists, the vaccine for COVID-19 should be mandatory for the entire population||46.1||52.6|
|Over 2020, I have seen a disparity in the health care of those with COVID-19 based on race||39.8||44.2|
|Over 2020, I have seen a disparity in health care of those with COVID-19 based on economic lines||44.9||46.6|
“I’m glad so many people said they did want to get vaccinated,” Kozina said.
There are concerns, however, Kozina and her colleague Dr. Christopher Wolfe, a Saint Leo associate professor of psychology, agreed. People whose formal education stopped with their high school diploma were not as likely to say they would take the vaccine, at 48.5 percent of the population in the national survey, compared to the nearly 62 percent willing to take the drug. The same pattern (a difference of more than 13 percentage points) appeared in the Florida statistics. Kozina said she thinks this is because those without some college experience may have taken fewer science courses where they might have learned how vaccines work. She added that as she teaches some science courses for university freshmen, she has noticed a wide variation in the amount of knowledge young people have about basic science fundamentals coming into college. That, she said, adds to her belief that there is a knowledge gap.
Wolfe added that, “This difference may suggest a need to craft more accessible discussions of vaccinations and a broader push to create educational materials written toward and in the language style of those who have not had the benefit of higher education.”
A deeply disturbing finding, Kozina and Wolfe said, came in the results that show African-Americans less likely to take the vaccine than whites, Hispanics, and the population overall. In the national numbers, only 45.2 percent of African-Americans surveyed indicated they are likely to want the vaccine, more than 16 percentage points lower than the general survey results. In Florida, the percentage gap was worse; it was almost 26 percentage points. Kozina and Wolfe, as a partial explanation, pointed to two episodes from recent history during which scientists were responsible for mistreatment of African-Americans during medical trials. Wolfe cited first the decades-long public health study of syphilis in men conducted during the 20th century without adequate disclosure to the men. That case became widely known and left a wake of distrust. “From the horrors of the Tuskegee Syphilis experiment, which ran from 1932-1972 and knowingly allowed unchecked infection in a population of African-American men, to the story of Henrietta Lacks and the uninformed use of her genetic material as a basis for modern stem cell research,” Wolfe said, “the medical community has a checkered and often disingenuous history with the African-American community in particular.”
In contemporary medical environments, Wolfe said that Black doctors and other scientists are under-represented, and access to health care can be more difficult, financially and practically, for Black Americans than for the population at large. Those circumstances can result in fewer opportunities for education and counseling about vaccines that can take place during routine doctor-patient interactions, he explained.
The field of psychology offers ideas on how to overcome information gaps and past mistrust, Wolfe said. They include open and honest outreach efforts, information presentations about the eventual vaccines, and consent forms that are “written in concrete language that avoids jargon and emphasizes the advantages of the vaccine to both the individual and the community. “It would help, too, he added, if doctors of color and individuals who are appealing to high schoolers could act as “emissaries” and help try to reach across gaps.
Kozina added that in a public health crisis such as this one, improvements that help individuals more safely navigate the crisis will naturally benefit broader groups, such as families, extended families, schools, and neighborhoods. That is another reason to support them, she said.
Wolfe and Kozina noted that survey also shows that about four in 10 respondents in the United States and Florida agreed they had seen disparities in health care available to people with COVID-19 both along racial lines, as well as along economic lines.
Political theories and opening and closings
Because COVID-19 has also become a political topic in the past few months, the polling institute asked some questions to find out what people think of some public policy measures.
For instance, the survey asked people if they strongly agree, somewhat agree, somewhat disagree, or strongly disagree with the statement that: “Some politicians are keeping businesses/schools closed longer than necessary to impact the November 2020 election.”
Nationally, 21.8 percent strongly agreed and 19.3 percent somewhat agreed, yielding a sum of 41.1 percent. They were outnumbered by slightly by 31.7 percent who strongly disagreed and 16.1 percent who somewhat disagreed, or 47.8 percent combined. The other 11 percent were unsure.
In Florida, which is again a battleground in the presidential election, 50.1 percent agreed with the view that closings are being prolonged for a political effect. That includes 31.6 percent who strongly agree and 18.6 percent who somewhat agreed. Their numbers outstrip the 29.4 percent who strongly disagreed and 13.2 percent who somewhat disagreed, amounting to 42.6 percent. Only 7.2 percent said they were unsure.
Frank Orlando, political scientist and director of the Saint Leo University Polling Institute, said these results demonstrate that, “Voters have become so polarized that they believe that lockdowns are being ordered to harm the President’s approval ratings—never mind the fact that the pandemic is causing lockdowns in jurisdictions all over the world that have nothing to do with America.”
Orlando added: “It’s unfortunate that science and public health have become so political. As we know, partisanship trumps almost everything, and affects everything it touches. Some of this comes from the top down. When politicians question the scientific consensus, that’s dangerous. But an underrated facet is that in this hyper-polarized time, when Marches for Science become closely aligned with a particular party, negative feelings for that party bleed into negative feelings for what they support or believe in. We would have a much healthier country (in all senses), if the rhetoric around science faded away from public life and stopped being used for political points by both parties.”
Findings from another part of the survey, the politics segment, indeed show that COVID-19 has become a factor in how people are thinking politically. In fact, 69.2 percent of likely voters nationwide and 71.6 of likely voters in Florida said COVID-19 will impact their votes in congressional races and for president.
Returning to the COVID-19 survey segment, the polling institute asked people about the lockdowns and closures of various kinds of institutions, and whether what they had seen had gone too far, did not go far enough, or was “about right.” Respondents were asked in both the national survey and Florida with these results.
|U.S. Results on closure strategies||Too Far – %||About Right -%||Not Far Enough – %||Unsure – %|
|Closing down and locking down businesses/the economy||27.2||46.5||21.9||4.4|
|Closing down public schools||21.2||50.1||24.8||3.9|
|Closing down places of worship||25.0||45.4||25.4||4.2|
|Closing down bars||16.4||48.4||31.4||3.8|
|Closing down restaurants||21.4||52.3||22.5||3.8|
|Florida results on closure strategies||Too Far – %||About Right -%||Not Far Enough – %||Unsure – %|
|Closing down and locking down businesses/the economy||25.2||45.6||25.8||3.4|
|Closing down public schools||17.6||52.6||26.6||3.2|
|Closing down places of worship||24.8||44.0||28.0||3.2|
|Closing down bars||12.8||48.4||35.0||3.8|
|Closing down restaurants||19.2||50.0||27.4||3.4|
Orlando said he sees a contradiction in the results, specifically looking at the numbers of people who said the actions taken were “just right.” In a crisis where, Orlando noted, “people have had serious issues with the response, we see the plurality agreeing with many of these responses.” It might be, Orlando suggested, that people who are displeased are responding not to the “concrete actions” taken, but perhaps “the tone and messaging.”
Kozina commented on the groups who said that actions taken were “too far.” This is a segment that concerns her. “These are the folks who are not going to practice social distancing, are not going to wear masks in public, and are going to attend/plan large gatherings,” she said. “It’s important to remember that this is a public health crisis, and it’s not just about individuals. The behavior of a few can affect the health of many.”
About the Poll
METHODOLOGY: This national survey was conducted from September 27 through October 2, among a base of 1,000 respondents nationally, using an online instrument. The national sample has an associated margin of error of +/- 3.0 percent at a 95 percent confidence for questions asked of all 1,000 respondents.
The statewide survey was also conducted from September 27 through October 2, among a base of 500 respondents, using an online instrument. The sample has an associated margin of error of +/- 4.5 percent at a 95 percent confidence for questions asked of all 500 respondents.
The Saint Leo University Polling Institute conducts its surveys using cutting-edge online methodology, which is rapidly transforming the field of survey research. The sample is drawn from large online panels, which allow for random selections that reflect accurate cross sections of all demographic groups. Online methodology has the additional advantage of allowing participants to respond to the survey at a time, place, and speed that is convenient to them, which may result in more thoughtful answers. The Saint Leo University Polling Institute develops the questionnaires, administers the surveys, and conducts analysis of the results. Panel participants typically receive a token incentive—usually $1 deposited into an iTunes or Amazon account—for their participation.
The Saint Leo University Polling Institute survey results about national and Florida politics, public policy issues, Pope Francis’ popularity, and other topics, can also be found here: http://polls.saintleo.edu. You can also follow the institute on Twitter @saintleopolls.
Jo-Ann Johnston, Saint Leo University, University Communications firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 467-0843 (cell/text).
Mary McCoy, Saint Leo University, University Writer & Media Relations, email@example.com, (352) 588-7118 or cell (813) 610-8416.
About Saint Leo University
Saint Leo University is one of the largest Catholic universities in the nation, offering nearly 60 undergraduate and graduate-level degree programs to more than 19,500 students each year. Founded in 1889 by Benedictine monks, the private, nonprofit university is known for providing a values-based education to learners of all backgrounds and ages in the liberal arts tradition. Saint Leo is regionally accredited and offers a residential campus in the Tampa Bay region of Florida, 16 education centers in five states, and an online program for students anywhere. The university is home to more than 95,000 alumni. Learn more at saintleo.edu.