WASHINGTON – Vice President Mike Pence says the U.S. response to the coronavirus pandemic is “a cause for celebration,” but a new poll finds more than half of Americans calling it fair or poor.
The Gallup and West Health survey out Thursday found that 57% of U.S. adults rated the national response to COVID-19 as fair or poor, particularly in light of the fact that America has the world's most expensive health care system.
The numbers amount to a flashing warning for President Donald Trump and his White House team, eager to change the narrative from projections that show a growing number of U.S. pandemic deaths to a story of American resilience and economic revitalization that reinforces his reelection bid.
In a Wall Street Journal opinion article published Wednesday, Pence castigated the news media for focusing on rising COVID-19 cases in states like Texas and Arizona.
“We’ve slowed the spread, we’ve cared for the most vulnerable, we’ve saved lives, and we’ve created a solid foundation for whatever challenges we may face in the future,” wrote Pence, who leads the White House coronavirus task force. “That’s a cause for celebration, not the media’s fear mongering.”
The poll found that only 23% of adults rated the national response as excellent or very good, while an additional 20% rated it as good.
“We always assumed that we have the best — how could the U.S. not have enough masks, and gloves, and gowns?” asked Dr. Georges Benjamin, head of the nonprofit American Public Health Association.
“The answer is that we have always made the assumption we had all that stuff without properly planning,” added Benjamin, who reviewed the results of the poll.
The survey comes at a time of uncertainty about the future of the pandemic in the U.S.
The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington is now projecting about 200,000 deaths by Oct. 1, a sizable upward revision from an organization whose modeling has gotten favorable reviews from White House experts. Several states that embraced reopening are seeing increases in coronavirus cases, and there's concern that massive demonstrations over police killings of African Americans may also accelerate the spread.
“I think what we observed in terms of the COVID response is a divided and distracted leadership, and what these numbers reflect is that America woke up to that,” said Tim Lash, president of the West Health Policy Center, which focuses on lowering health care costs.
Gallup survey director Dan Witters said the lackluster reviews of the coronavirus effort are pronounced among people with higher levels of education. Sixty-five percent of college graduates rated it fair or poor, compared with 49% of people with a high school diploma or less.
“As you move into the more educated stratum of the population ... the response becomes significantly more negative,” Witters said. Among people with a postgraduate degree, 72% said the COVID-19 effort was fair or poor.
Throughout the pandemic, Trump has been at odds with many scientists, at first downplaying the potential impact of the virus and later promoting treatments that turned out to be risky and ineffective.
The poll also indicated a split by race and ethnicity. Witters said black people and other minorities were significantly more likely to give the national response low marks (66%) compared to white people (51%). African Americans have experienced a disproportionate share of deaths and serious complications from the virus.
The survey reinforces public perceptions of a partisan divide over COVID-19, with 44% of Republicans calling the government's response excellent or very good, compared to only 6% of Democrats. Among political independents, 57% rated the response as fair or poor, while 20% said it was excellent or very good.
There was widespread agreement, however, on one point: By 88% to 11%, Americans want the government to negotiate the prices of coronavirus treatments with the pharmaceutical industry. That sentiment cuts across party lines.
The Gallup and West Health survey is based on telephone interviews from May 11 to 22 with a random sample of 1,016 adults ages 18 and older in all 50 states and Washington, D.C. For results based on the entire sample, the maximum margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3.9 percentage points.