More strikingly, a significant share of voters, mostly Republicans, say they don’t expect the outbreak to have major effects on their daily lives — a view that runs counter to the recommendations of public-health officials.
The poll was conducted March 11-13, surveying 900 registered voters. It went into the field the day of Trump’s address to the nation on the outbreak on Wednesday, the same day the NBA suspended its season after a player, Utah’s Rudy Gobert, contracted the virus and actor Tom Hanks announced he and his wife, actress Rita Wilson, had also tested positive for coronavirus.
Only 15 percent of voters say they expect the virus to change their lives “in a very major way,” and an additional 26 percent say they think it will change their lives “in a fairly major way.” But 39 percent expect only “small” changes, and 17 percent say it won’t change their lives in any way.
The combined 41 percent who expect major changes to their lives includes 56 percent of Democrats, but only 26 percent of Republicans. Democrats are also more likely than Republicans to say they have or will be canceling travel plans (47 percent, versus 23 percent) or plan to stop eating at restaurants (36 percent, versus 12 percent).
“Simply put, it is very clear that partisanship has infected our views of the coronavirus,” Democratic pollster Jeff Horwitt told NBC News.
Voters do expect things to get worse: Roughly six-in-10, 60 percent, said the worst is yet to come. But 6 percent said the worst was already passed, and 31 percent said they don’t expect coronavirus to be a major problem in the U.S.
And despite the effects already seen — a wave of cancellations of public events, the tumbling stock market and the strain on the health care system — the share of voters saying the country is headed in the right direction (37 percent) is statistically unchanged from last December (35 percent).
Voters are split on their confidence in Trump to handle the crisis: 48 percent say they have a great deal or a fair amount of confidence in Trump, while 50 percent no or “not very much” confidence in him. By contrast, voters are more confident in their state government (75 percent great deal or fair amount of confidence), their local government (72 percent) or the federal government as a whole (62 percent).
The poll also tested opinions of Democratic voters following last week’s presidential primaries. Former Vice President Joe Biden is the first choice of Democrats, with 61 percent saying they would favor him if a primary were being held in their state today. That’s nearly double the percentage choosing Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), 32 percent. Four percent of Democrats choose Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii).
In hypothetical general election matchups, both Biden and Sanders lead Trump, though Biden’s 9-point advantage, 52 percent to 43 percent, is slightly larger than Sanders’ 4-point lead, 49 percent to 45 percent.
The poll’s margin of error is plus or minus 3.3 percentage points for all registered voters, and 4.7 percentage points for Democratic primary voters.