The “Trump Republican” Response to Covid-19

Who are “Trump Republicans?” Results from the YouGov Blue Core (Series)

Throughout the 2019–2020 election cycle, YouGov Blue fielded a regular survey of about 1,000 US registered voters every week. Each wave of this project, the YouGov Blue Core, included a set of common political, demographic, and policy-related items, as well as items relevant to the particular news going on around a wave’s fielding period.

One of the common items we included pertained to political identity. We asked voters,

People often use labels to identify their political beliefs. Which of the following do you identify with? Select all that apply.

1. Moderate
2. Progressive
3. Liberal
4. Socialist
5. Conservative
6. Libertarian
7. Swing Voter
8. Nationalist
9. Obama Democrat
10. Democrat
11. Republican
12. Trump Republican
13. Other (please specify)

Voters could choose as many labels as they wanted, and labels were shown in a random order. We anchored the thirteenth option ‘Other’ to the bottom and for respondents to answer with an open-end response as well.

Here, we focus on Republican responses from the height of the campaign — from the end of June through election day, plus some supplemental data we ran in November 2020 and in January of 2021. This includes data on about 12,000 Republican voters, about 5,000 of whom identify as Trump Republicans. 57 percent of Trump Republicans selected ‘Conservative, and only 54 percent of Trump Republicans also selected ‘Republican’ in our question asking about political identity. 12 percent of Trump Republicans selected ‘Nationalist’, 10 percent selected ‘Libertarian;, and 10 percent chose ‘Moderate’, as well. Overall, Trump Republicans comprise about 18 percent of the electorate overall and about 42 percent of the Republican electorate.

In a recent post, we found that Trump Republicans are significantly more ideologically conservative than the rest of the party, are more politically active, watch more Fox News, and score higher on measures of racism and hostile sexism. Trump Republicans also use social media at similar rates compared to other Republicans, but “Trump Republicans are significantly more likely to do so to engage with politics and political causes.” Here, we focus on the deeper beliefs of Trump Republicans and others, with a particular focus on their beliefs about Covid-19, America’s healthcare system, and on conspiracy theories surrounding the two.

Throughout this analysis, we will be referring to Trump Republicans and also to Republicans who did not choose the “Trump Republican” label. For simplicity and brevity, we will use the acronym “TR” to refer to “Trump Republicans” and “NTR” to refer to “Non-Trump Republicans,” which means Republicans who said they preferred ideological labels besides “Trump Republican.”

Here, we focus on Covid-19 responses and perceptions of the “Trump Republican” samples in comparison to other Republicans and the general American registered voter population. We find:

  • Trump Republicans overwhelmingly trusted President Trump to handle the pandemic and affirmed his administration’s Covid-19 responses, including Trump Republicans who knew someone who had died of Covid-19.
  • 97 percent of Trump Republicans said the Trump administration handled the coronavirus response well, compared to 84 percent of Not-Trump Republicans.
  • Republicans considered the coronavirus to be a threat to the U.S. economy and American democracy more than a threat to their own health, their personal financial safety, or the health of the U.S. population as a whole.
  • When considering the threat of the coronavirus, Trump Republicans and Not Trump Republicans respond similarly, suggesting Republicans were generally more worried about the economic impact of Covid-19 (via shutdowns) than about the human cost of the pandemic.

In our weekly surveys, we asked respondents, “How worried are you about the spread of coronavirus?” Trump Republicans consistently showed the lowest worry levels among the three groups of Republicans. A total of 59 percent of Trump Republicans said they were “Not worried at all” or “Not that worried,” while 52 percent of All Republicans and 47 percent of Not Trump Republicans used the same responses, compared to 73 percent of voters overall who were very or somewhat worried about the pandemic.

Across the fielding period, we found that TRs consistently selected “Very worried” or “Somewhat worried” less frequently compared to their NTR counterparts. But the difference between the groups’ responses were statistically marginal.

Although we sometimes find that Trump Republicans respond to survey questions with the extremes of a response option scale (being more likely to “strongly support” policies aligned with Trump such as building a border wall, and to “strongly oppose” some Democratic policies like a public healthcare option), in this question Republicans across the party were solidly middling in their worry about the pandemic compared to voters overall, When framed as a personal concern, Trump Republicans expressed less concern about Covid than did the NTRs. (Controlling for other factors, we find that considering oneself to be an Evangelical or a Born-again Christian is correlated with lower worry levels of worry about the pandemic, though the overall effect is substantively small)

We then turned our focus to finding potential predictors for being very worried or not very worried about Covid-19 without filtering to just our Republican counterpart groups, i.e, including the full sample. Indeed, concern about Covid was highly polarized overall, with Democrats being consistently much more worried than Republicans (and with Independents about halfway in between). But even accounting for Party ID, identifying as a Trump Republican was about as strong a predictor as identifying as ideologically “very conservative” of being unconcerned about Covid. (These results are robust to other specifications, and we include just one chart for brevity)

We also tested the relationships of various other standard demographics we include in the the Core, and we found interesting and significant relationships between higher Covid-worry and identifying as female and older age. And we found lower Covid-worry to be significantly correlated with a ‘suburban’ or ‘rural’ geographic status compared to voters who lived in an urban area. We’ll continue our focus on Trump Republicans here while noting that there are other, deeper divisions in the electorate when it comes to who felt most worried about the pandemic.

Replying congruously with previous responses to their coronavirus-related worry levels, most Republicans across the board supported their state re-opening the economy throughout the 2020 election season. We asked our YouGov Blue Core participants, “Some governors are gradually reopening the economy and removing social distancing rules, while other governors say it is too early to do so safely. Do you support or oppose your governor re-opening your state’s economy and removing social distancing rules?” Here we found that 81 percent of Trump Republicans, 75 percent of All Republicans, and 72 percent of Not Trump Republicans supported reopening and removing social distancing rules.

And it is worth noting, too, that when offering an undecided option, Trump Republicans generally respond with ‘Not sure’ slightly less frequently in this Covid-19-focused section of the Core compared to their Republican counterparts and less frequently than Democrats.

A similar rate of Trump Republicans (compared to All Republicans) know someone who died from Covid-19

We asked all respondents if they, personally, knew someone who died from the virus. And we consistently found that Trump Republicans said yes at similar rates to Not Trump Republicans and all Republicans throughout this time period of the Core.

WIth 16 percent of Trump Republicans reporting they knew someone who died from coronavirus, we didn’t find a notable difference compared to the rates reported by Not Trump Republicans or All Republicans with 18 percent and 19 percent, respectively.

In our previous post, we did find that Trump Republicans are older compared to our Republican counterpart groups. And, we expected to report that Trump Republicans knew someone who died from coronavirus more frequently compared to all Republicans and NTRs, especially considering how comorbidities and older age increase risk of death or long term health problems after testing positive for Covid-19. But we did not observe TRs reporting higher rates of knowing someone who passed during the pandemic.

All Republican groups showed incredibly high approval for Trump’s pandemic response

While many of the coronavirus-related questions within the Core tracker involved a bit of extra consideration with extra clarifications listed within the wording, we did ask some straightforward questions to gauge respondent gut responses. We asked respondents, “How well do you believe the Trump administration is handling the coronavirus response?” Across our Republican groups, survey takers responded with extremely affirmative responses towards Trump’s response. But Trump Republicans were 31 percentage points higher on feeling Trump responded “very well” than the rest of their party. Fully 73 percent of Trump Republicans felt the president responded “very well” to the pandemic, compared to just 42 percent of NTRs.

That said, all of the Republican factions here are incredibly supportive of the Trump administration’s Covid-19 response overall. A staggering 98 percent of Trump Republicans said the Trump administration responded “very” or “somewhat” well, as did 84 percent of NTRs.. However, the intensity of difference between TRs and NTRs should speak for itself in illustrating the difference in exuberance between response levels. Here, we observed a 31 point difference between TRs responding ‘Very well’ and Not Trump Republicans responding with ‘Very well’.

Republicans approve of Trump’s response to Covid-19 — even if they know someone who died of Coronavirus

This support for Trump holds up even accounting for the 16 percent of Trump Republicans who personally knew someone who passed away from Covid-19. Among Trump Republicans who knew someone who died of Covid-19, 96 percent said the Trump Administration was handling the pandemic “very well” or “somewhat well” (and of those, fully 74 percent selected “very well”). In the overall sample, only 34 percent of respondents who knew someone who died of Covid-19 responded the same way. That’s a 62 point difference between the subset of TRs and the full sample.

When you look at the group of Not Trump Republicans who knew someone who died of Covid, 77 percent responded agreeably to the Trump administration handling the pandemic, with 40 percent responding ‘Very well’. This chart looks astonishingly similar to the prior one. For comparison’s sake, 98 percent of TRs and 86 percent of NTRs who did not know someone who died from Covid-19, at the time of taking the survey that is, responded agreeably toward the Trump administration’s coronavirus response. Knowing someone, personally, who died from Covid-19 does not appear to shift Republican responses.

These Republican respondents most likely do not blame the Trump administration or the federal government’s actions for the deadly illness fallen on the people they know.¹ With this in mind, we turn to who Republicans trust to address the pandemic. Unsurprisingly, almost all Republicans trust former President Trump to handle the coronavirus response better, whether they identified as Trump Republicans or not. But we did find interesting differences between the Republican factions.

Trust in Trump’s response among Republicans was overwhelmingly high across the board. While that is expected, we found a noticeable drop in trust between Trump Republicans (98 percent) and NTRs (82 percent). 98 percent of Trump Republicans trusted Donald Trump to handle the pandemic more as opposed to Joe Biden. Less than 1 percent of Trump Republicans trusted Biden more, and 1 percent was unsure. Among Republicans altogether, 88 percent trusted Trump more, 6 percent trusted Biden more, and 6 percent were unsure. And, among Republicans who are not Trump Republicans, 82 percent trusted Trump more, 9 percent trusted Biden more, and 10 percent were unsure.

Here we found a 16 point difference between TRs and NTRs who chose Trump; we found an 8 point difference between TRs and NTRs who chose Biden; and, we found a 9 point difference between TRs and NTRs who were undecided on who they would trust more to handle the outbreak.

Trump Republicans distrust the media’s response to Covid-19 while self-reporting high consumption of Fox News

When we asked, “How well do you think that each of the following individuals or groups are responding to the coronavirus outbreak in the United States?” we randomly shuffled and listed twelve important actors separately to gauge approval. Respondents could select one of the following six response options: Have not heard of this individual or group, Very well, Somewhat well, Not that well, Not well at all, and Not sure.

In the following graph, we highlight those who selected an option somewhere between Very well and Not well at all. For each individual or group, we subtracted the combined points of “Not that well” and “Not well at all” from the combined points of “Very well” and “Somewhat well” to create a net approval percentage for each. Here, we illustrate the net approval of each individual or group’s coronavirus response for Trump Republicans, Not Trump Republicans and then included the third chart to show the magnitude of difference in responses we observed between those two groups.

When asking survey respondents about key actors in the pandemic response, we expected to observe Trump Republican responses toward President Trump and Vice President Pence to top the list in approval, and we did with 94 and 92 percent net approval, respectively. And in comparing Trump Republicans to Not Trump Republicans, we expected NTRs to still approve of the two but at a lower rate, especially regarding the pandemic response. And we did, with 66 and 70 percent net approval for President Trump and Vice President Pence, respectively. But the substantive differences between TRs’ (+29) and NTRs’ (+22) trust in Trump’s Covid response bear further exploration as the House prepares to vote on the next round of relief. NTRs might also prove to be more receptive to the new administration’s response if coronavirus cases drop in the first 100 days of the Biden administration and might in turn disapprove more openly of Trump’s positions on health and safety guidelines.. A significant chunk of Republicans who shy away from the “Trump” label appear to be willing to support the new Administration’s approach or who are at least are on the fence).

Aside from the former President and Vice President, we observed the most significant differences in opinion when asking about the CDC/NIH, Dr. Anthony Fauci, and the World Health Organization. Where we observed a net -56 percent approval from Trump Republicans, we observed a -39 percent from Not Trump Republicans regarding the WHO, for a net difference of 18 percentage points. Where we observed a net -5 percent approval from Trump Republicans, we observed a +15 percent from Not Trump Republicans regarding the CDC and NIH, for a net difference of almost 20 percentage points. In the case of the latter, the direction of approval differed between Trump Republicans and Not Trump Republicans, which is interesting because both responded with strong disapproval for the World Health Organization, a global health organization that distributes similar recommendations to the CDC but was publicly rebuked by President Trump.

It is also important to note the vast difference in approval of Dr. Fauci’s Covid-19 response compared to Dr. Deborah Birx’s . The Trump administration named Dr. Deborah Birx as the White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator under Vice President Pence’s Chair role. Dr. Fauci also served on the Task Force, but was openly criticized and attacked by President Trump while doing so. While Trump Republicans and Not Trump Republicans said Dr. Birx responded to the outbreak well at similar rates, with net approval of 31 and 33 percent, respectively, the two groups remained divided on their opinion of Dr. Fauci. We observed a TR net approval of Dr. Fauci at -17 points. This means 17 percent more TRs said Dr, Fauci responded Not that well or Not well at all to the outbreak than those who said Very well or Somewhat well. Whereas NTRs had a +9 point approval for Fauci. We contend that some of this approval from NTRs stems from some of the public and publicized contentious encounters between President Trump and Dr. Fauci. NTRs appear more comfortable with Dr. Fauci’s dissension from Trump’s response, although they do still show high approval for Trump’s response.²

And lastly, one of the most notable takeaways from this set of items lies in responses to journalists and the media. WIth a net approval of -76 points from Trump Republicans and -66 points from Not Trump Republicans, Trump Republicans, of course, expressed their disapproval more frequently than NTRs, but both were strikingly disapproving of journalists & the media. It is important to reference back to our earlier point that both Trump Republicans and Not Trump Republicans list Fox News as frequently consumed news sources.

This begs the question How do Trump Republicans perceive the figures they consume through Fox News and other conservative media outlets? Do Trump Republicans consider Fox News in a category entirely outside of journalists and the media? And, how can the covid-concerned media spread informative sources that can penetrate the consumption wall Republicans have built up?

Trump Republicans do not believe Trump’s Covid-19 response was influenced by political considerations

We asked all survey respondents if they believed that President Trump let political considerations, like his re-election campaign, interfere with his pandemic response, and once again we observe Trump Republicans strong backing of their namesake. We saw a 21 point difference between Trump Republican and Not Trump Replican responding ‘Very well.’ This, once again, illustrates their leaning toward answering with extremes when ‘Trump’ or the ‘Trump administration’ is referenced in the question wording.

As expected, a strong majority of Trump Republicans — 75 percent — disagreed that Trump’s political motivations influenced his coronavirus response. Overall, 59 percent of Trump Republicans strongly disagreed that President Trump let political considerations, like his re-election campaign, influence his decisions on the federal government’s coronavirus response. 16 percent of Trump Republicans somewhat disagreed, 9 percent somewhat agreed, and 10 percent strongly agreed. In the The NTRs in the sample were slightly more likely to say they believed Trump let political considerations influence the Covid-19 response, fully 31 percent of NTRs somewhat or strongly agreeing that he had.

Among All Republicans, 65 percent disagreed, 27 percent agreed, and 8 percent were unsure if Trump’s decisions regarding the federal coronavirus response were influenced by political considerations. Not Trump Republicans, unsurprisingly, showed a moderately less strong stance once again with this survey question. 59 percent of Not Trump Republicans disagreed, 31 percent agreed, and 9 percent were unsure.

Republicans worry about Covid’s impact on the economy — less about peoples’ health

Within the YouGov Blue Core, we included a module of questions where respondents reported how much they felt the coronavirus posed a threat to various elements of their personal lives and to life in America broadly. See below for the various items on which we asked respondents to comment. These items were randomly shuffled and posed to respondents one-by-one; respondents were not ranking the items against one another.

Without competition, Trump Republicans said that the coronavirus outbreak posed the greatest threat to the ‘The U.S. economy’. Here, we found that 84 percent of Trump Republicans said the coronavirus posed a threat to the U.S. economy, compared to the only 36 percent and 47 percent who said coronavirus posed a threat to their personal health or the health of the U.S. population as a whole. Trump Republicans feel that the virus poses a greater threat to the economy rather than their own personal health or safety. Perhaps those expressing worry in the earlier question are actually voicing their concerns to the political response as opposed to the public health response to the virus. Similarly, 85 percent of all Republicans and 86 percent of Not Trump Republicans said the coronavirus posed a threat to the U.S. economy.

77 percent of Trump Republicans also said the coronavirus posed ‘A major threat’ or ‘A moderate threat’ to the rights and freedoms of the U.S. population as a whole. 68 percent of TRs said coronavirus posed a threat to American democracy; 68 percent said the coronavirus posed a threat to American values and traditions; and, 67 percent said the coronavirus posed a threat to the maintenance of law and order in America.

Trump Republicans said that the coronavirus outbreak posed a major or moderate threat to the U.S. economy at a lower rate compared to the full sample, but in the three latter categories, Trump Republicans responded with greater concern than the general public. We listed ‘the U.S. economy’ using relatively neutral language which could be interpreted by our respondents in varying ways. We don’t necessarily find the lower (4 pt) concern from Trump Republicans to be particularly striking. But, the 20 point, 13 point, and 8 point difference between TRs and the Overall Sample in the “Rights and freedoms,” “American values,” and “Law and order” items suggest that TRs are increasingly unhappy with how the government might be infringing on their individual liberties.

YouGov Blue selected those three themes based on rhetoric opposed to Covid restrictions and health guidelines from conservative-leaning media outlets. We found that non-Republicans showed greater concern for those voiced directly in the rhetoric style of their media sources. This suggests perhaps that Trump Republicans, and all Republicans for that matter, think the political reaction to the virus is cause for serious concern, not the virus itself. We didn’t find any items where Trump Republicans and not Trump Republicans differed significantly in opinion on the threats of the coronavirus. This indicates that although Trump Republicans and Not Trump Republicans vary in self-identifying labels, they have similar opinions on their priorities during the pandemic.

Conclusion

Generally speaking, Trump Republicans are unwavering in support for their namesake. But, there are interesting factions of Republicans who dissent from the conventional answer choices of their fellow conservatives. In items that did not prime a partisan cue (i.e., did not explicitly reference Joe Biden or Democrats broadly), we found an increased response difference between Trump Republicans and Non-Trump Republicans.

These findings are critical to understanding that the faction of Not Trump Republicans have diverging and stronger opinions compared to Trump Republicans. But these findings should be taken to address varying factions of Republicans and only those who identify as such — not Independents or Democrats with some conservative ideologies.

¹ YouGov Blue has surveyed panelist beliefs in conspiracy theories on the origin of the coronavirus. But we did not include those questions in our Core tracker during this time period between the June 30th and October 30th waves.

² We also want to note that some of the discrepancy between approval magnitudes for Dr. Birx and Dr. Fauci could be attributed to lower name recognition compared to President Trump and Vice President Pence.

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