This analysis is based on the results from our poll of 542 randomly sampled California voters fielded March 26 and 27, 2020. The margin of sampling error is +/-4.2% at the 95% confidence level. This survey was conducted online with voters who have a cell phone number or email address on the voter file. Invitations were sent via email and text message.
Fear and Concern Rampant During Coronavirus Outbreak
Despite relatively very few Californians being infected or even knowing a COVID-19 victim, fear of infection is high, concern about the virus invading their neighborhood is near universal and residents are abiding by government directives though not strictly staying at home. Residents sense that those around them are now taking the coronavirus seriously, though one-in-seven disagree. Many are uncertain that the virus originated naturally, with a hefty minority believing it is man-made. That possibility plays into some resistance to becoming vaccinated if a coronavirus vaccine becomes available.
COVID-19 Infections and Recoveries
At the time of the survey, 64% of California voters did not know anyone in their circle of family, relatives and friends who are infected with COVID–19. However, reflecting concerns swirling over asymptomatic carriers of the disease, 29% report being unsure whether they know a carrier. Only 8% know someone who is infected, and 4% know more than one. Three percent know a person who has already recovered.
Fascinating hotspots exist in heavily white neighborhoods. Thirteen percent in areas where three-quarters or more are white report knowing people with COVID- 19, and 8% know multiple victims. That starkly contrasts with only 5% in more ethnically diverse areas knowing anyone with the disease.
COVID-19 Infections Within the Household
A tiny 0.6% say they or someone in their household is already infected. However, in raw numbers that means 69,000 — certainly not a tiny number — California households have come down with COVID-19. Confirmed cases at the time of the survey amounted to only 4,687.
Beyond whose who may already have the disease, just shy of half think they or someone in their household is likely to contract COVID-19, with 15% regarding that as very or extremely likely.
What one sees can color perceptions, and that is certainly the case with COVID-19. Those who know an infected person are much more likely to think they or their household will catch the disease. Three- quarters of those who know of COVID-19 cases believe they are at least somewhat likely to get it themselves. On the other hand, the vast majority who do not know a victim downplay the possibility of their own household contracting it. Only 41% feel they are at least somewhat likely to become infected, and just 8% think that is very or extremely likely. As the disease spreads, more people personally become aware of a case, and the assumption that they will be next will increase substantially.
Voters evidently put a lot of stock in President Trump’s approach to dealing with the coronavirus, which is both good and bad. Those who are very or extremely confident in his approach typically shrug off the possibility of becoming infected; most of those folks say that’s a longshot. However, most who lack confidence in Trump believe they are at least somewhat likely to get COVID-19.
Another factor is age. The elderly rarely believe there is a good chance they or someone in their household will get the disease, as nearly two-thirds of those older than 76 say that is unlikely. Charitably, that could be because they are taking more precautions, but, as we’ll see, it could also be because older folks downplay the seriousness of the situations. The perceived chances of infection increase greatly among those 58 to 76, and within the age group younger than that, 57% believe it is at least somewhat likely they will contract COVID-19.
How strongly someone complies with the governor’s directive to “shelter in place” has a little to do with how likely they are to contract COVID-19. For those observing very strict compliance — not leaving one’s home — 44% think it is unlikely they will come down with the disease. This compares to about 38% for those not strictly complying. On the other side of the scale, about one-third who admit to lax compliance say they are very or extremely likely to become infected.
Geographically, the Bay Area’s Alameda County residents regard themselves as the most likely to catch the virus. Nearly 30% say that’s at least very likely and another 48% believe it is somewhat likely.
Coronavirus in the Community and Concern for Virus Spread
At the time of the survey, 7% of California voters said the virus is present in their community. Republicans more often see the coronavirus in their community, as 10% report it has spread to their area. In contrast, only 6% of Democrats say it’s in theirs. Eleven percent of men believe the virus is now in their community, while only 5% of women report the same. Los Angeles County seems to be a hotbed for COVID-19. Eleven percent in that gigantic metropolis say the virus has already invaded; only 6% elsewhere believe it is in their community.
Concern within California is rampant. In addition to the 7% who say it has already spread to their community, 32% are extremely concerned and another one-third are very worried about the coronavirus affecting their community. Only 6% say they are unconcerned.
A chief reason for such widespread alarm is that even folks who do not believe they or their household will become infected sense this is a disease that could disrupt their community and are at least somewhat concerned about it. The amount of trepidation increases dramatically for those who think it is very or extremely likely that they or someone in their household will become infected.
The research also shows President Trump is pivotal in his ability to either calm nerves or put Californians on edge. Voters lacking confidence in his approach tend to be very or extremely worried about the virus coming to their community. Those who express high confidence in how the president is addressing this challenge show less concern about the virus spreading to their community.
Demographically, Latinos tend to be more worried about COVID-19 visiting their community. Forty-six percent express extreme concern, while only 30% of non-Latinos say the same.
Observing the “Shelter in Place” Directive
The vast majority of Californians are complying with the governor’s order to “shelter in place.” In fact, 9% had never left their house in the week between his directive and the time they were interviewed. Such strict compliance tends to be greater in racially mixed areas, where 30% to 50% of the population is white. On the other hand, men more often fall on the non-compliant end of the spectrum, as 8% have left their house for non-approved reasons, twice as much as women.
Are Neighbors Taking COVID-19 Seriously?
Seventy-two percent believe their neighbors are behaving appropriately during the coronavirus outbreak. While that’s the sense of the overwhelming majority, there is another 14% who believe those around them are not taking the situation seriously enough. Younger women are more likely to be in this camp, as 32% of them perceive those around them being too lax with the coronavirus threat. Only 4% of all voters think their neighbors are overreacting. It’s Californians over the age of 70 who more often see those around them going overboard, as 12% feel their neighbors are blowing the situation out of proportion.
Is the Virus Man-Made or Natural?
We split the sample so that half the respondents on this question were read the word “coronavirus” and the other half read the label “Chinese virus.” There is no significant difference in the results between the two versions, so the label had no effect on how respondents answered whether the outbreak is of man-made or natural origin.
Despite no solid evidence that coronavirus was man-made, only 27% of voters definitely believe it is a naturally occurring virus. Another 26% believe it is “probably” natural, but are uncommitted to a firm position. At the same time, 30% believe the coronavirus is probably or definitely man-made, and 18% are unsure.
Republicans are prone to believing coronavirus is a man-made creation. Forty-six percent express that opinion versus only 38% regarding it as natural. Another group questioning the coronavirus’s origins are nonpartisans and those in minor parties who reside where fewer than 15% have graduated college. Among them, 51% believe the virus was made in a lab, and less than 30% believe it is natural. Nonpartisans and minor party registrants in highly educated areas strongly differ with that perspective, as more than two-thirds posit coronavirus is natural. Democrats agree with them. Thirty-five percent are convinced the virus is natural, and another 27% feel it’s probably natural. Still, that leaves even a lot of Democrats (38%) seriously questioning conventional wisdom, and they tend to be in Latino areas.
Would You Get Vaccinated?
Forty-seven percent report they would be extremely likely to become vaccinated against the coronavirus if such a vaccine were available. Another 23% say it is very likely they would, putting the market for such a drug at about 23 million doses in California alone. About 6% are confirmed anti- vaxxers, saying they would not be likely to get vaccinated.
Interest in becoming vaccinated is heavily influenced by whether one thinks the virus is natural. Those who are certain of that are virtually all-in on vaccination. But being extremely likely to get vaccinated drops to only 41% if there is some doubt that coronavirus is natural. Then there are the folks who believe it’s man-made. Only one-third of them would be extremely inclined to vaccinate against COVID- 19 and 22% probably wouldn’t get the vaccine if one were developed.