Coronavirus impacts: Disrupted lives, elevated stress, and soaring worry: Poll

Many report stress, worry, over the virus; 77% have experienced disruption

March 27, 2020, 6:00 AM

The coronavirus crisis weighs heavily on the American public: Seventy-seven percent in an ABC News/Washington Post poll say their lives have been disrupted, seven in 10 report personal stress and as many are worried that they or an immediate family member may become infected.

Forty-one percent in this national survey, conducted Sunday through Wednesday, say someone in their own community has been diagnosed with the new coronavirus; one in 10 (11%) personally knows someone who has been diagnosed with the disease.

See PDF for full results, charts and tables.

Testing remained an issue at the time of these interviews; 44% said there were people in their area who wanted a test but couldn’t get one. Reported unavailability of tests rises to 58% among those who reported diagnosed cases in their community, vs. 35% of those with no known local cases.

Personal concerns are amplified by painful economic disruption. As reported yesterday, the poll, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates, finds that one in three Americans say they or an immediate family member have been laid off or lost their job as a result of the pandemic, and 51% report a cut in pay or work hours. Ninety-two percent expect a recession.

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In the political arena, President Donald Trump’s overall job approval rating advanced to his best on record in ABC/Post polls, 48%, even as 58% say he acted too slowly in the early days of the outbreak. This is the first time since he took office that Trump’s approval rating has exceeded disapproval of his work, 46% (though the difference isn’t statistically significant).

Fifty-one percent approve specifically of Trump’s handling of the outbreak; 45% don’t.

That said, there are substantial risks to the president. Trump’s overall approval rating drops among people who are more worried about catching the coronavirus, report severe local economic impacts, say their lives have been especially disrupted or know someone who’s caught the virus. He also has lower approval in states with higher per-capita infection rates.

PHOTO: President Donald Trump answers a questions during the daily briefing on the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, at the White House on March 24, 2020, in Washington.
President Donald Trump answers a questions during the daily briefing on the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, at the White House on March 24, 2020, in Washington.
Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

Some of this relates to the demographics of the affected states, and some reflect greater levels of apprehension among Trump’s critics. Nonetheless, the results suggest that as the crisis deepens, the risks to views of his performance likely rise.

Two comparisons underscore the extent of the crisis on a personal level. The number of adults who report experiencing stress as a result of the pandemic (70%) exceeds the highest level of stress caused by the Great Recession as measured in ABC/Post polls (61% in March 2009). And the 69% who are worried about infection in their immediate family far surpasses the highest level of such fears in past epidemics, 52% for swine flu in October 2009.


One dramatic impact is on work: Twelve percent of Americans say they’ve started teleworking – working online from home for pay – since the outbreak began. That’s the rough equivalent of about 30 million adults.

Teleworking is twice as prevalent among people who say there’s been a diagnosed case in their community compared with those who don’t know of any local cases, 29% vs. 14%. Indeed, 18% in affected communities say they started teleworking just since the outbreak began, vs. 7% in other communities. Working remotely also is highest by far among higher-income and more-educated adults.

Another impact is on students. Seventy-one percent say they or someone in their immediate family has had school or college classes canceled or moved online. That jumps to nearly all of those with a child under age 18 living in their household, 93%.

Vast numbers report taking action. About nine in 10 adults say they’re practicing social distancing, staying home as much as possible and not going to restaurants and bars; 82% report washing their hands more frequently; and 61% have stocked up on supplies, up vastly from 35% in a similar question in a Kaiser Family Foundation poll 10 days ago.

PHOTO: Evanston residents line up for voting at Trinity Lutheran Church in Evanston, Ill., March 17, 2020.
Evanston residents line up for voting at Trinity Lutheran Church in Evanston, Ill., March 17, 2020.
Nam Y. Huh/AP

Underscoring tremendous stress on the travel industry, 53% also have canceled travel plans, a number that’s grown from 13% in mid-February and 42% in mid-March, again in KFF polls.

Apart from their reported actions and their levels of worry, people assign themselves differing levels of risk of coming down with the coronavirus. Just 20% see themselves as having a high risk, 36% a moderate risk, 35% low risk and 8% no risk.

Among people who personally know someone who’s been infected, 75% see themselves as being at high or moderate risk, compared with 54% of others; and risk assessment is higher, by 12 percentage points, among those living in states with the highest per-capita infection rates, compared with those in states with the lowest rates.

Government Response

Trump’s 51-45% rating specifically for handling the coronavirus crisis finds approval 10 points higher than in a CNN poll three weeks ago. That said, many more, 66%, express confidence in the federal government’s ability to handle the outbreak; that includes just 26% who are very confident.

Others attract greater confidence. Seventy-eight percent are confident in the ability of their state government to handle the outbreak and the same number express confidence in their local hospitals and health agencies. Again, many fewer (three in 10) are very confident.

Comparisons are challenging given the differing nature of national crises, but there’s a general tendency for Americans to rally to the president’s side at such moments, at least initially. Trump’s approval rating is up 5 points from mid-February. George W. Bush’s approval rating soared by 31 points after the 9/11 attacks; George Bush’s, by 16 points at the start of Operation Desert Storm in 1991.

Notably, Trump’s approval rating among Democrats is up 13 points since mid-February to a new high, albeit just 17%; and up 10 points among liberals to 19%, also a high. He remains vastly more popular among Republicans (86% approve) and conservatives (75%) with middling approval from independents (49% approve) and lower among moderates (40%).

As mentioned, the president’s ratings are lower among harder-hit Americans.

His approval rating is 55% among those who report moderate or lighter economic impacts in their community, vs. 41% among those who see severe impacts. It’s 62% among those who have experienced only limited disruption to their lives, vs. 38% among those who report a lot of disruption. It’s 12 points lower among those who personally know someone who’s contracted coronavirus vs. those who don’t, 38 vs. 50%. And it’s 12 points lower among people in states with eight or more cases per 100,000 residents (as of Sunday), compared with people in the comparatively lightly affected states (fewer than four cases per 100,000).

Part of this may reflect the fact that Democrats are more populous in states that are harder hit; nonetheless, it shows a risk for Trump to the extent that conditions worsen.

States with statewide nonessential business closures
States with statewide nonessential business closures
ABC News

The view that Trump acted too slowly in the early days of the crisis – 58% overall – is higher in the hardest-hit states. In states with 1,000 or more cases as of Sunday (when interviews began), 67% say he moved too slowly, compared with 51% of those in states with fewer than 200 cases. Similarly, it was 67% in states with the highest number of cases per capita (eight or more per 100,000 residents) vs. 52% in those with fewer than four cases per 100,000. And 68% of those in states with non-essential business closures (again, as of Sunday) say Trump moved too slowly, vs. 53% in states without these closures.

Stress and Worry

As noted, 70% of adults report personal stress as a result of the pandemic; this includes 36% – more than one in three Americans – who call it serious stress. There’s a substantial gender gap, with women 16 points more likely than men to say the virus is a source of stress, 77 vs. 61%. The gap is especially large between Republican women – 73% with coronavirus-related stress – and Republican men, 49%.

Stress also is more prevalent in urban and suburban areas (72 and 73%, respectively) than in rural areas (59%).

There also are differences among groups in worry about catching the coronavirus. Seventy-seven percent of Democrats and about as many independents (73%) are very or somewhat worried, compared with 56% of Republicans. Similarly, about three quarters of liberals and moderates alike express worry, compared with 59% of conservatives (including 64% of somewhat conservative Americans, dropping to 53% of strong conservatives).

Compared with an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll of registered voters in mid-March, worry is up most steeply among independents – 45% worried then, 73% now – but also up 16 points among Republicans and 9 points (from a higher starting point) among Democrats.

There are a variety of explanations for partisan and ideological differences in response to the virus. Republicans and conservatives are far more apt to respond positively to Trump’s handling of the crisis, and so may see less reason to worry. Also, worry is 11 points higher in states with non-essential business closures and 9 points higher in states with the most cases per capita, compared with states with the fewest per-capita cases. As noted, more Democrats and fewer Republicans live in those higher-concern states.


This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by landline and cellular telephone March 22-25, 2020, in English and Spanish, among a random national sample of 1,003 adults. Results have a margin of sampling error of 3.5 points, including the design effect. Partisan divisions are 30-24-37%, Democrats-Republicans-independents.

The survey was produced for ABC News by Langer Research Associates of New York, N.Y., with sampling and data collection by Abt Associates of Rockville, Md. See details on the survey’s methodology here.

Christine Filer, Sofi Sinozich and Allison De Jong contributed to this report.

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