Political and personal reactions to COVID-19 during initial weeks of social distancing in the United States

PLoS One. 2020 Sep 24;15(9):e0239693. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0239693. eCollection 2020.


Objective: To examine perceptions, behaviors, and impacts surrounding COVID-19 early in the pandemic response.

Materials and methods: A cross-sectional survey of 1,030 U.S. adults was administered on March 31st, 2020. This survey examined attitudes toward media, government, and community responses to COVID-19 by political ideology and sociodemographic factors. Knowledge, anxieties, and impacts of COVID-19 were also assessed.

Results: Conservatives were more likely to report that COVID-19 was receiving too much media coverage and people were generally overreacting; liberals were more likely to report the government had not done enough in response to the pandemic. Females and those with lower income experienced more COVID-19 related economic anxieties. Those working and with children at home reported higher social, home, and work disruption. Social distancing behaviors were more common among liberals and were associated with increases in depressive symptoms. General knowledge about COVID-19 was widely exhibited across the sample, however, Black and Hispanic respondents were less likely to correctly answer questions about the availability of a vaccine and modes of transmission.

Conclusions: Public health experts should consider the political climate in crafting messaging that appeals to the values of those across the political spectrum. Research on the COVID-19 pandemic should continue to monitor the effects of social distancing on mental health and among vulnerable populations.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Anxiety
  • Betacoronavirus
  • COVID-19
  • Communicable Disease Control / methods
  • Coronavirus Infections / psychology*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Depression
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Humans
  • Internet
  • Male
  • Mass Media
  • Middle Aged
  • Pandemics
  • Pneumonia, Viral / psychology*
  • Politics*
  • Public Opinion*
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Social Isolation*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United States

Grants and funding

The authors received no specific funding for this work.