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Brief Updated: 17 Mar 2020

Coronavirus Attitudes Reflect America’s Partisan Fracture


As discussed back in our 2017 report Marketing to Divided America, once-neutral topics have become charged in the US. This has come to include health issues like immunisation for children – Democratic politicians have pushed for stricter laws following the resurgence of measles, while Republicans largely oppose them. Consumer response to the coronavirus has fallen in line with this pattern, with Democrats more attuned to medical realities in hard-hit regions and acknowledging public-health experts.

An NBC News/WSJ poll conducted on March 11-13 found that 68% of Democratic voters and only 40% of Republicans worried an immediate family member might catch the coronavirus, while 56% of Democrats compared to 26% of Republicans believed their day-to-day lives would change in a major way. Similarly, a March 5-8 Quinnipiac poll found as many as 29% of Republicans were “not concerned at all” that they or someone they know might be infected, versus 10% of unconcerned Democrats.

This chasm is fuelled by the contrasting news media and pundits that each side tunes into. Republican-favoured Fox News (which has an older audience skew), had been downplaying the threat until Monday. This helps to explain why boomers were slow to take the virus seriously, despite being a high-risk demographic. The NBC/WSJ poll found Republicans were roughly half as likely as Democrats to say they planned to stop attending large gatherings, travel and eat out at restaurants.

The surprisingly wide gaps here point to how partisanship now informs Americans’ identity and behaviour. Increasingly, brands have aligned themselves with a ‘side’, such as left-leaning Nike’s support of Colin Kaepernick (see The Brief), while choice of brands, from jeans to car, signals likely allegiance to a political POV, as The Wall Street Journal has charted.