New Survey: Americans have little trust in what President Trump says regarding COVID-19 or his management of the pandemic
Fairleigh Dickinson University, Madison, New Jersey, June 2, 2020 – Americans are getting information about the coronavirus pandemic from political leaders and medical professionals, but confidence in those sources varies widely. A recent national survey conducted on behalf of the Fairleigh Dickinson University School of Pharmacy and Health Sciences finds that Americans are more likely to trust information that comes from medical professionals than politicians, with President Trump seen as least trustworthy regarding the information he provides. This and other findings from the survey suggest that Americans are putting their faith in medical expertise when it comes to getting critical information on how to best protect themselves and their loved ones from COVID-19. There are, however, substantial differences in who and what they trust based on a person’s politics and race.
The poll interviewed 1003 American adults nationwide on landlines and cell phones from May 20 through May 25, 2020.
Medical professionals top the list of those Americans say they trust most for information about the coronavirus. Fifty-eight percent say they have a “great deal” of trust in doctors and scientists, while government-run websites are trusted by around a third of all Americans (36%). However, once political leaders become the source of information, Americans are more likely to distrust than trust what they see, hear, or read. Around a quarter (27%) have a great deal of trust in statewide elected officials, including their governor, and barely a fifth (22%) fully believe what their president tells them. In fact, the president is the only source who a majority (55%) of Americans distrust rather than trust.
“These findings point to the immense level of distrust Americans have in the ability of elected officials to communicate critical information needed to manage the COVID-19 pandemic and the obvious lack of meaningful leadership at the federal level,” said Bojana Beric-Stojsic, director of MPH program and an Associate Professor of Public Health, FDU School of Pharmacy and Health Sciences. “What is most surprising and very distressing is that only 58 percent of Americans have a great deal of trust in doctors and scientists in the midst of a health crisis.”
Americans do give doctors and scientists much higher marks than the president when it comes to evaluating the reasons for evolving and sometimes conflicting information. Almost eight-in-ten believe that doctors and scientists change their recommendations on how to prevent and treat the coronavirus based on newly discovered scientific evidence (77%) rather than bowing to political pressure (23%). The opposite is true when it comes to the president, as more than half (53%) say his recommendations often change for political reasons rather than newly emerging scientific evidence (47%).
There is, however, a significant partisan divide on these issues. Although clear majorities of both Democrats and Republicans say that changing recommendations from doctors and scientists are due to newly discovered scientific evidence, President Trump’s evolving statements are understood very differently. Eighty-four percent of Republicans believe science dictates the president’s statements, while virtually the same percentage of Democrats (86%) believe political pressures explain changes in President Trump’s public statements about how to prevent and treat COVID-19. A huge gap between Democrats and Republicans also characterizes perceptions of the overall trustworthiness of the president (3% versus 47%), with a smaller but still significant difference separating Democrats from Republicans on their willingness to extend a “great deal” of trust to statewide elected officials like the governor (36% versus 20%).
“It’s notable that not even among his own partisans and those who approve of the job he’s done in managing this crisis does the President get a majority to say the information he provides about the coronavirus can be trusted a great deal,” said Krista Jenkins, director of the FDU Poll and professor of government and politics.
There are also significant racial disparities in assessing Trump’s performance and trustworthiness. More black Americans (83%) disapprove of the President’s management of the pandemic compared to 43 percent of white and 62 percent of Hispanic respondents; and 70 percent of blacks have absolutely no trust that the President provides accurate information about the coronavirus, compared to 37 percent of whites and 44 percent of Hispanics. More black Americans (79%) also believe Trump changes his recommendations about the coronavirus due to political pressure compared to 47 percent of whites and 60 percent of Hispanics.
“Minorities have been hit hard by the virus. Navigating their way through this pandemic is apparently being made more difficult by the deep well of distrust that exists between President Trump and non-whites in the United States. These numbers only serve to underscore how black, white and Hispanic Americans experience life differently in the United States, even on matters of life and death,” said Jenkins.
When it comes to how medical and science professionals are perceived, partisanship also comes into play, with Republicans expressing greater levels of suspicion than Democrats. Three-quarters of Democrats say they trust doctors and scientists a great deal to provide them with solid information about the coronavirus. Significantly fewer Republicans say the same (43%). And a double-digit divide separates partisans on the trustworthiness of information from government-run websites, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (49% Democrats versus 24% Republicans).
Gender also reveals differences in how sources are regarded. Significant disparities exist between how much men and women trust websites like the CDC’s. Forty-two percent of women have a great deal of trust in what they read versus 29% of men. And, although majorities of both women and men give high marks to doctors and scientists for what they offer, women (63%) are more likely than men (54%) to do so.
Governors Trump Trump on Leadership
Governors are rated higher than President Trump on questions of leadership during the crisis. Sixty-nine percent approve of their governor’s job, with opinion divided on the job that the president has done (49%). The performance of state governors is regarded similarly by partisans of both stripes, but the President gets little love from Democrats (11% approve; 89% disapprove), and only about half of political independents say he’s doing a good job (48%).
State leaders generate mixed opinions among Americans who live somewhere with past or present mandatory restrictions on where they can go and what they can do. Among the 90 percent of Americans surveyed who live somewhere with mandatory restrictions, around half (46%) say their state has moved safely to reopen, with a greater number believing things have moved too quickly (31%) as compared with those who are concerned the pace has been too slow (23%). However, black respondents are even more critical of reopening efforts, as 51% of black respondents say states are reopening too quickly, compared to 26% of whites and 41% of Hispanics.
Finally, Americans give their neighbors high marks for the job they’ve done in helping the stop the spread of the virus. Around a quarter (22%) say those in their community are doing an “excellent” job with another 46 percent who give those around them a “good” rating. The rest rate their neighbors as “only fair” or “poor” when it comes to their efforts in stopping the spread of the virus and flattening the curve.
The survey was conducted by The Fairleigh Dickinson University Poll on behalf of the FDU School of Pharmacy and Health Sciences. A random sample of 1003 was drawn of adults (18+) nationwide, including in Alaska and Hawaii, and live interviews were conducted in English and Spanish, upon request, on landlines and cell phones between May 20 through May 25, 2020. Persons without a telephone could not be included in the random selection process. Respondents within a household are selected by asking randomly for the youngest adult currently available. The interview was conducted in English and included 303 adults reached on a landline phone and 700 adults reached on a cell phone, all acquired through random digit dialing.
In this poll, the simple sampling error for 1003 adults is +/-3.6 percentage points (including the design effect) at a 95 percent confidence interval. Thus, if 50 percent of adults nationwide in this sample favor a particular position, we would be 95 percent sure that the true figure is between 46.4 and 53.6 percent (50 +/- 3.6) if all US adults had been interviewed, rather than just a sample.
The full analysis, along with the poll’s questions and tables and a detailed methodological statement, can be found on the FDU Poll website.
About Fairleigh Dickinson University
Devoted to the preparation of world citizens, Fairleigh Dickinson University offers over 100 undergraduate and graduate degree programs, including doctoral programs in pharmacy, nursing practice, clinical psychology and school psychology; and an AACSB-accredited business school. Degree programs are offered on two New Jersey campuses and at two international campuses: Wroxton College, in Oxfordshire in England, and the Vancouver Campus, in British Columbia, Canada. For more information, visit FDU online.
About FDU Poll
The FDU Poll is a university-based survey research center that began in 2001. It has conducted over a hundred publicly released polls guided by a mission to provide high quality, scientifically sound, non-partisan measures of important issues facing New Jersey and the nation. To learn more visit us online
About FDU’s School of Pharmacy & Health Sciences
The Fairleigh Dickinson University School of Pharmacy & Health Sciences is one of only two degree-granting pharmacy schools in New Jersey and is the first in the state to be associated with a private university. The School’s dynamic program of study integrates the very best practices in pharmacy education today. The school has also expanded its presence in the field of public health and health professions with the addition of health sciences programs such as Master of Public Health, Master of Social Work, Occupational Therapy and Physician Assistant.