Coronavirus poll: many Americans blame Covid crisis on US government

More than 50 per cent of Americans believe the US government bears substantial responsibility for the situation compared to less than 40 per cent who blame the World Health Organisation

More Americans blame the US government instead of foreign nations for the coronavirus crisis in the United States, a rebuke to the Trump administration’s contention that China or other countries are most at fault, a new poll shows.

The poll by The University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy and The Associated Press-NORC Centre for Public Affairs Research was conducted before President Donald Trump tested positive for the virus Friday and was hospitalised. Mr Trump has downplayed the severity and impact of the pandemic in recent months.

Although many see plenty of blame to go around and there’s a wide bipartisan divide over who is responsible, 56 per cent of Americans say the US government has substantial responsibility for the situation. That compares with 47 per cent who place that much blame on the governments of other countries and only 39 per cent who say the same about the World Health Organisation.

“It reflects a general lack of confidence in the way the government has handled the situation,” said Austin Wright of the Harris School for Public Policy.

More than 1 million people worldwide, including more than 200,000 Americans, have died of Covid-19 in the outbreak. Mr Trump has squarely blamed the virus’ spread on China, where it originated, and an inadequate response from the WHO.

As he faces a rough reelection contest in November, Mr Trump has steadily ramped up criticism of China for the virus and announced the US would halt funding for and withdraw from the international health agency over alleged Chinese interference in its work. Critics, including public health experts, have said China bears some responsibility but have also harshly criticised Mr Trump’s response.

The poll shows Democrats are especially likely to say the US government is responsible for the situation, while many Republicans are likely to place the blame elsewhere. Among Democrats, 79 per cent say the US government has a great deal of responsibility, while 37 per cent say that about other countries’ governments and 27 per cent about the WHO. Among Republicans, 38 per cent say the US government is responsible, compared with 60 per cent for the governments of other countries and 55 per cent the WHO.

Self-described conservative Republican Ralph Martinez, a 67-year-old grocery store manager from the Fort Worth, Texas area, said he wasn’t sure that any government could have handled it better and dismissed criticism that Mr Trump had downplayed the matter.

“It’s an open question, honestly,” he said. “I don’t care who’s in office, I think they’re going to do their best for everyone. But how much can they do?”

Mr Martinez, who said he had to throw a customer out of his store for not wearing a mask recently, lauded Mr Trump for not wanting to create panic in the early stages of the outbreak in the US He also recalled unprecedented runs on items such as toilet paper and paper towels when people realised the virus was not a momentary phenomenon.

“You would not believe how crazy these people got,” he said. “I can’t imagine how bad it would have been if the government had come out and said this is the end of the world.”

Nathan O’Neil, a 38-year-old Democrat who lives in Virginia, said he thought the country was on track now but that the government had bungled its early response.

“I think they should have taken it more seriously earlier,” he said. “Granted they were hamstrung by lack of information from China and the WHO, but I think they should have been pro-mask a lot sooner.”

“They should have told us early on how serious this was,” said Mr O’Neil, who said he knows at least one person who contracted the virus but recovered. “Instead they said it’s going to be fine, it’s not going to affect us. That’s really going to hit their credibility.”

The poll also showed that most think the US should play a major role in the development of a coronavirus vaccine, but many also think other countries should play a role, including both European countries and China.

But if the US develops a vaccine first, about 6 in 10 say it should be kept for Americans first, even if it means fewer people around the world get vaccinated. This view is especially common among Republicans, with about 7 in 10 saying a US-developed vaccine should be saved for Americans first, but about half of Democrats also agree with that assessment.