Coronavirus pandemic breaks through Wisconsin’s partisan divide

Posted on Categories Lubar Center, Marquette Law School Poll

Pollsters and political observers of all stripes in the Trump era have grown used to the strong role party identification plays in shaping Americans’ perceptions of reality. To give one example, in October 2016 just 14% of Wisconsin Republicans said the economy had gotten better over the previous year. Just a few months later, after Donald Trump’s inauguration, 59% said it had. The proposed border wall with Mexico, the Mueller Report, Ukraine, impeachment–all have had the same bifurcated public response.

The current coronavirus pandemic is different. Majorities of all Wisconsin’s partisan groups are following the outbreak closely, are very concerned about the epidemic, and support the steps taken by state and local leaders thus far. There is a gap between Democrats and Republicans, but compared to the issues mentioned above, the gap is small.

The discussion below combines data from the Marquette Law School Poll conducted March 24-29 along with open-ended responses from 200 online panelists selected to match Wisconsin’s demographic makeup. These responses were collected over the same time period as the telephone poll. You can view all of the results from both surveys at https://law.marquette.edu/poll/category/results-and-data/.

Concern about the virus’ spread

Ninety-nine percent of Republicans, 97% of Independents, and 100% of Democrats are following the coronavirus outbreak at least “somewhat closely.”

How closely are you following the news about coronavirus?
Party ID Very closely Somewhat closely Not very closely Not following at all n
Republican 74 25 1 0 236
Independent 70 27 2 1 316
Democrat 87 13 0 0 255

Democrats are the most likely to be “very concerned” about an epidemic in the United States, but Republicans and Independents aren’t dismissing the risk either. Ninety percent of Republicans are at least “somewhat concerned,” compared with 92% of Independents and 99% of Democrats.

How concerned are you about a coronavirus epidemic here in the United States?
Party ID Very concerned Somewhat concerned Not very concerned Not concerned at all Don’t know n
Republican 56 34 8 3 0 236
Independent 61 31 6 2 1 316
Democrat 87 12 1 0 0 255

Democrats are also the most worried about personally experiencing COVID-19. But again, Independents and Republicans still express high levels of concern; 64% of each group are at least “somewhat concerned.”

Taking into consideration both your risk of contracting it and the seriousness of the illness, how worried are you personally about experiencing coronavirus?
Party ID Very worried Somewhat worried Not very worried Not worried at all Don’t know n
Republican 28 36 20 17 0 236
Independent 22 42 24 11 0 316
Democrat 44 42 10 4 0 255

Nearly every month, the Marquette Poll asks about 200 Wisconsinites to answer some free response questions online. Often we ask, “what do you think is the most important problem facing this country today?” Usually, responses vary widely but not this time. More than 2/3rds of respondents volunteered something about the current pandemic, including equal shares of Democrats and Republicans.

Here are a few of their responses

an under-30 woman from Waukesha County, Independent

Most important problem: “Right now I think the important problem that this country is facing is the Corona virus.”

How has the coronavirus outbreak affected you and your family? “Well all of the part time workers in my family has been laid of temporarily so there’s no income from some of our family members.”

What should the state and local government do to deal with the coronavirus outbreak? “Honestly I can’t even say what they should do”

a woman in her 40s from Milwaukee County, Democrat

Most important problem: “Coronavirus and the confusion of how to handle it”

How has the coronavirus outbreak affected you and your family? “My daughter and I have been in the house since [redacted] because I am a teacher and she is a student where schools have been closed. We have done what we needed to do to live. We only shop for necessities once a week. I watch the updates on CNN everyday. I am concerned about returning to work and sending my daughter back to school in weeks since the doctors (experts) don’t share the same mindset as the one currently overseeing the US.”

What should the state and local government do to deal with the coronavirus outbreak? “The state and local government should continue to pay attention to data and make decisions based on data and not notions from the federal government”

a woman in her 60s from Ozaukee County, leans Republican

Most important problem: “The effects of the Covid-19 on people and the economy.”

How has the coronavirus outbreak affected you and your family? “We are self isolating and making minimal trips to stores.”

What should the state and local government do to deal with the coronavirus outbreak? “Delay the spring primary in WI. Can’t limit gatherings to 10 people and then have a primary where hundreds of people will come plus exposure to the poll workers. WI governor has been a leader in sheltering in place. But, can’t have it both ways with sheltering in place AND a primary election.”

a man in his 60s from Waukesha County, Independent

Most important problem: “A lack of civility = a lack of God individually and as a society”

How has the coronavirus outbreak affected you and your family? “Only not being able to meet together with other family members and with other believers.”

What should the state and local government do to deal with the coronavirus outbreak? “Not restrict the financial ability of the population and certainly NOT engage in election tampering (i.e. messing around with date of voting in person)!!!”

Many people’s lives have already changed

Many people in Wisconsin have already begun paying a steep economic cost for the state’s social isolation measures. We find that 9% of respondents have already lost a job or been laid off. A quarter have at least one family member who has lost a job. Work reductions are even more common. A fifth (21%) of respondents are working fewer hours due to the coronavirus outbreak. Twenty-six percent are being required to work from home.

Only 21% of Wisconsinites say none of these things have happened to them or their family. There is no difference in support for the state’s mandatory social distancing measures between people whose families have been affected this way and those who have thus far escaped unscathed. Even among those who have personally lost their jobs or had hours reduced, 82% say the state’s actions have been an appropriate response.

Here is what some Wisconsin voters had to say.

an under-30 woman from Racine County, Republican

How has the coronavirus outbreak affected you and your family? “We are without jobs and our whole life seems like it has been cancelled.”

What should the state and local government do to deal with the coronavirus outbreak? “quarantine”

a man in his 30s from Waushara County, Democrat

How has the coronavirus outbreak affected you and your family? “We are isolated with our family, working from home with limited contact to the outside world. Where we are fortunate to have jobs, it’s been difficult at times without outside contact.”

What should the state and local government do to deal with the coronavirus outbreak? “I think they should keep people quarantined, but take steps to ensure they have adequate healthcare and that their economic needs are being met.”

a woman in her 50s from Shawano County, leans Democrat

How has the coronavirus outbreak affected you and your family? “I was working 3 jobs.. and now I am unemployed. My nephew who lives here just got laid off”

What should the state and local government do to deal with the coronavirus outbreak? “Provide assistance for mortgages, utilities and quicker unemployment”

a woman in her 40s from Washington County, Republican

How has the coronavirus outbreak affected you and your family? “yes we are all at home and some lost jobs”

What should the state and local government do to deal with the coronavirus outbreak? “not sure”

a woman in her 30s from Winnebago County, Democrat

How has the coronavirus outbreak affected you and your family? “The isolation is causing emotional turmoil and we are suffering money-wise.”

What should the state and local government do to deal with the coronavirus outbreak? “I’m not sure.”

a man in his 30s from Kenosha County, Republican

How has the coronavirus outbreak affected you and your family? “Yes we are forced to work from home and to stay home all week.”

What should the state and local government do to deal with the coronavirus outbreak? “I totally agree with their decision for them to mandate everyone staying home.”

a man in his 70s from Milwaukee County, Republican

How has the coronavirus outbreak affected you and your family? “we feel locked up and fell like we are living in a communist country”

What should the state and local government do to deal with the coronavirus outbreak? “ask people to be cautious but not demand stay at home or shut downs”

Support for government measures is strong

More than 8-in-10 Republicans and Independents as well as 95% of Democrats support the state’s mandatory social distancing measures. Thirteen percent of Republicans, 15% of Independents, and 2% of Democrats call these decisions an “overreaction.” Essentially the same numbers of each group agree that “the state or federal government should have the authority to limit public gatherings and store hours for public health emergencies.”

Do you think the decision to close schools and businesses, and to restrict the size of public gatherings is an appropriate response to the coronavirus outbreak or is it an overreaction that will do more harm than good?
Party ID Appropriate response Overreaction Don’t know Refused n
Republican 83 13 3 1 236
Independent 82 15 3 0 316
Democrat 95 2 2 0 255

Tony Evers’ approval rating now stands at 65%, up from 51% a month ago. The improvement has come from all partisan groups with the biggest increase coming from Republicans (+19).

Here are a few characteristic responses:

an under-30 woman from Winnebago County, leans Republican

How has the coronavirus outbreak affected you and your family? “I am constantly stressed. I am pregnant, and work in healthcare. Both my husband and I are going to work everyday. We are both afraid of what the future holds for us and our child.”

What should the state and local government do to deal with the coronavirus outbreak? “Keep up with the social isolation. For one month keep everyone on the ‘safer at home’ plan. I work in healthcare, I think this will work to flatten the curve and keep our supplies up as much as we can.”

a man in his 60s from Brown County, Democrat

How has the coronavirus outbreak affected you and your family? “I am currently working from home and under quarantine and my family is stressed out and bored.”

What should the state and local government do to deal with the coronavirus outbreak? “They should let the health experts who know what they are doing handle it and let the president do his job.”

a woman in her 30s from Milwaukee County, Republican

How has the coronavirus outbreak affected you and your family? “totally affected. I was diagnosed with a [health condition] in late November and have been out of work due to being diagnosed with [cancer] back in [redacted] and was finally getting better and was to start back to work [redacted] and due to the outbreak and my current [health condition] was advised by my doctor that I would not be able to go back to work on that date. so just when I thought I was going to get my life back coronavirus took that opportunity away from me.”

What should the state and local government do to deal with the coronavirus outbreak? “exactly what they are doing! keep people home and safe. the less opportunity there is for it to spread the sooner it will pass and we can all get back to our normal day to day.”

Hundreds of thousands of Wisconsinites have filed initial unemployment claims in the last several weeks. Our data suggests that almost 10% of Wisconsin registered voters had lost a job when we interviewed them, and even more are missing income from reduced working hours. Despite this, 44% of registered voters still expect the economy to get better next year; 34% expect it to get worse. Fifty-nine percent still say their families’ are “living comfortably,” compared with 30% “just getting by” and 10% “struggling to make ends meet.” If much of the country’s economy remains closed as expected over the next month or more, these numbers will surely worsen. As our open-ended interviews show, the pandemic is already harming Wisconsinites in profound ways. Despite (or perhaps because of) this, Wisconsin enters the crisis with more agreement about the threat and more unity about the sacrifices needed to combat it than any other period in recent memory.

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