WTOP coronavirus poll: Trust in government, media falls

Playgrounds, like this one in Alexandria's Angel Park, are closed.
Playgrounds, like this one in Alexandria’s Angel Park, are closed.

Basketball nets in Alexandria's Angel Park are covered.
Basketball nets in Alexandria’s Angel Park are covered.

Quiet streets in Petworth in Northwest D.C.
Quiet streets in Petworth in Northwest D.C.

Quiet streets in Petworth in Northwest D.C.
Quiet streets in Petworth in Northwest D.C.

ARLINGTON ,U.S., March 30, 2020 .The TSA security check point is seen almost empty at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Arlington of Virginia, the United States, on March 30, 2020. The United States has reported more than 160,000 COVID-19 cases, according to the latest tally from Johns Hopkins University's Center for Systems Science and Engineering ,CSSE.
The TSA security check point is seen almost empty at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Arlington of Virginia, the United States, on March 30, 2020.

Chairs are covered with plastics due to the outbreak of COVID-19 at Union Station in Washington D.C., the United States, March 29, 2020.
  The number of COVID-19 cases in the United States has topped 140,000, according to the latest tally from Johns Hopkins University's Center for Systems Science and Engineering on Sunday.
Chairs are covered with plastics due to the outbreak of COVID-19 at Union Station in Washington D.C., the United States, March 29, 2020.

A sign about the coronavirus is displayed over Route 50 in Davidsonville, Md., Monday, March 30, 2020. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan issued a “stay-at-home” directive in response to the coronavirus effect on Monday.

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Playgrounds, like this one in Alexandria's Angel Park, are closed.
Basketball nets in Alexandria's Angel Park are covered.
Quiet streets in Petworth in Northwest D.C.
Quiet streets in Petworth in Northwest D.C.
ARLINGTON ,U.S., March 30, 2020 .The TSA security check point is seen almost empty at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Arlington of Virginia, the United States, on March 30, 2020. The United States has reported more than 160,000 COVID-19 cases, according to the latest tally from Johns Hopkins University's Center for Systems Science and Engineering ,CSSE.
Chairs are covered with plastics due to the outbreak of COVID-19 at Union Station in Washington D.C., the United States, March 29, 2020.
  The number of COVID-19 cases in the United States has topped 140,000, according to the latest tally from Johns Hopkins University's Center for Systems Science and Engineering on Sunday.

More people believe coronavirus “is a real threat,” but fewer are following daily news about COVID-19, as trust in government and media continues to decline.

A national online poll of 1,006 interviewees, produced by Heart+Mind Strategies for WTOP between March 25 and March 26, showed a growing number of people believe the coronavirus “is a real threat, rather than overblown,” said Erin Norman, senior solutions consultant with the polling firm.

“Over three-quarters of Americans are following news about the coronavirus, (77%) and that’s actually down four points from last week (81%),” Norman said. There was an even sharper decline among people 18 to 22.

Of the youngest Americans polled — Generation Z: “They are 12 points less likely than they were last week to be checking the news multiple times a day,” said Norman. “So, we’re seeing some fatigue, overall, in terms of news coverage of the virus.”

Last week, millennials, those born between 1980 to 1994, were slightly less likely to believe COVID-19 posed a real threat. However, the percentage grew by nine points — up to 78%, and is now on par with the total population.

The reality and duration of the crisis is causing people to cancel plans, including socializing in groups, working out at the gym, attending worship services and dining out.

“This week we saw a really big uptick in plans that were outright canceled, not adjusted,” Norman said.


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Not all of the findings in the poll were negative.

“There’s actually a lot of positive news, when you look at how people are reacting to it,” Norman said. “We are now up seven points from last week, with 49% of Americans who believe this is bringing us closer together, rather than driving us further apart.”

In a time when partisan gridlock has resulted in few compromises and bipartisan victories: “We have more than half of self-identified partisans, Democrats and Republicans, saying that this is bringing us closer together.”

The number of Americans who feel “concerned” is up 5% over last week, yet the number who feel “hopeful” is also up 5%.

Trust in most institutions started low last week, and has fallen further. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (59%) and the World Health Organization (53%) have the most trust.

However, only 28% trust the federal government; 37% trust state governments; and 32% trust local or city governments.

Fewer than one-third of those polled trust media sources, with numbers dropping for local broadcast, national broadcast, local newspapers and national newspapers.

“That’s challenging, when we’re in a situation where information is key,” Norman said. “And people are taking what they hear from major institutions with a grain of salt.”

The poll was an online quantitative survey. The surveyors say that if they were to estimate a margin of error, it would be +/- 3.1% at 95% confidence.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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