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High Confidence in Government to Handle Coronavirus

High Confidence in Government to Handle Coronavirus

Story Highlights

  • 77% trust the U.S. government to handle a coronavirus outbreak
  • Current trust exceeds that for prior global or U.S. disease threats
  • Two in three expect coronavirus to negatively affect the global economy

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- About three in four Americans say they are very (31%) or somewhat confident (46%) in the federal government's ability to handle an outbreak of the coronavirus. This is a higher level of confidence than Gallup has found for the government's handling of previous health scares.

Americans' Confidence in the Government's Ability to Handle a Coronavirus Outbreak, Compared With Previous Diseases/Health Threats
How confident are you that the federal government will be able to handle an outbreak of the coronavirus in this country -- very confident, somewhat confident, not too confident or not confident at all?
Very/Somewhat confident Not too confident/Not confident at all
% %
Coronavirus, 2020 77 22
Zika virus, 2017 64 33
Ebola virus, 2014 58 40
H1N1/Swine flu, 2009 67 32
Bird flu/Avian flu, 2005 54 45
Figures for bird flu (two polls in 2005), swine flu (two polls in 2009) and Ebola (three polls in 2014) represent averages

These results are from a Feb. 3-16 Gallup poll, which began just days after the Trump administration announced it would suspend entry of foreign nationals into the U.S. among those who had traveled to China in the prior two weeks. The first U.S. case of COVID-19, the disease caused by a member of the coronavirus family, was discovered in late January, and the first American died of the disease in China in the middle of Gallup's polling period -- though no one has died from the disease within U.S. borders. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) currently puts the number of confirmed cases in the U.S. at 15.

The combined 77% of Americans who are generally confident in the federal government's ability to handle a potential coronavirus outbreak tops the confidence Americans had that it could handle the Zika virus, the Ebola virus, the H1N1 virus (swine flu) and the bird flu at the time of those medical crises, between 2005 and 2017.

This high level of confidence may be related to the fact that all deaths from COVID-19 have occurred abroad, rather than on U.S. soil.

Americans Expect Coronavirus Outbreak to Harm World Economy

Two in three Americans anticipate what many economists project: that the global coronavirus outbreak will negatively affect the world economy. About one in six Americans (16%) believe it will have a "very negative" effect, while about half (49%) expect it to have a "somewhat negative" impact. Thirty-four percent do not foresee the outbreak doing any harm to the global economy.

U.S. Perceptions of the Coronavirus Outbreak's Effect on the Global Economy
Do you think the coronavirus will have a negative effect on the world economy, or not? (If yes) Do you think it will have a very negative effect, or only a somewhat negative effect?
Very negative effect Somewhat negative effect No negative effect
% % %
U.S. adults 16 49 34
Gallup, Feb. 3-16, 2020

However, large corporations -- including Apple, who said its reduced iPhone production in China due to the outbreak will eat at its quarterly revenue -- are bracing for a possible impact on their bottom line. An analysis by Dun & Bradstreet estimates that over 5 million companies globally have one or more direct/Tier 1 or Tier 2 suppliers in a Chinese region impacted by the coronavirus outbreak.

Worries About Coronavirus on Par With Previous Fears About SARS and Anthrax

Americans' level of worry about being exposed to coronavirus is at about the same level as it was for two of three other health risks Gallup measured previously.

More than one in three Americans report being very (12%) or somewhat worried (24%) that they or a family member will be exposed to coronavirus. This combined 36% is on par with Americans' worries about severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, in 2003 (37%) and exposure to anthrax in 2001-2002 (32%).

The West Nile virus outbreak in 2002, however, sparked more concern, with a slight majority (53%) worried about being exposed to it. This higher level of concern is likely due to the nature of West Nile, which first appeared in the U.S. in 1999. U.S. cases of West Nile never topped 100 in the years between 1999 and 2001, but exploded to more than 4,000 in 2002, when Gallup polled on the topic.

Americans' Historical Worries About Various Diseases/Health Threats
How worried are you that you or someone in your family will be exposed to [virus/health threat] -- very worried, somewhat worried, not too worried or not worried at all?
Very/Somewhat worried Not too worried/Not worried at all
% %
Coronavirus, 2020 36 65
SARS, 2003 37 62
West Nile, 2002 53 46
Anthrax, 2001-2002 32 68
Figures for SARS (three polls in April 2003) and anthrax (four polls in 2001 and 2002) represent averages

Nonwhites, Low-Income Households, Women Most Worried About Coronavirus

Americans' level of concern about themselves or a family member being exposed to coronavirus varies by subgroup:

  • Half of nonwhites (49%) versus less than a third of whites (29%) are worried.
  • Residents of low-income households (43%) are more worried than those in middle-income (34%) and high-income households (25%).
  • Women (40%) are more worried than men (30%).
  • There is a 10-percentage-point gap in worry between the youngest adults (40% among those aged 18 to 29) and the oldest (30% among those aged 65 and older).

Americans' Worries About Exposure to Coronavirus
As you may know, many people in Asia have recently died from a new disease known as the coronavirus. How worried are you that you or someone in your family will be exposed to coronavirus -- very worried, somewhat worried, not too worried or not worried at all?
Very/Somewhat worried Not too worried/Not worried at all
% %
U.S. adults 36 65
Men 30 70
Women 40 60
Whites 29 71
Nonwhites 49 51
18-29 40 60
30-49 37 63
50-64 35 66
65+ 30 71
Household income
$100,000+ 25 75
$40,000-$99,999 34 67
<$40,000 43 57
Gallup, Feb. 3-16, 2020

Bottom Line

Americans' concerns about the coronavirus outbreak are fairly measured, with their reported level of worry on par with previous outbreaks. But their confidence in the government's ability to handle the COVID-19 disease is uniquely robust, with a higher level of confidence than Gallup has recorded for other viral outbreaks over the past two decades.

Still, most Americans anticipate a negative effect on the global economy as a result of the outbreak -- and their expectations are backed up by economists and industry earnings reports alike. With so few U.S. residents infected by coronavirus at present, but consumer attitudes about the economy riding high, the potential for economic setbacks may be the biggest threat the virus poses to Americans at the moment.

View complete question responses and trends.

Learn more about how the Gallup Poll Social Series works.

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