WASHINGTON — More Americans blame the U.S. 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 Center for Public Affairs Research was conducted before President Donald Trump tested positive for the virus Friday and was hospitalized. 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% of Americans say the U.S. government has substantial responsibility for the situation. That compares with 47% who place that much blame on the governments of other countries and only 39% who say the same about the World Health Organization.
"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. 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, Trump has steadily ramped up criticism of China for the virus and announced the U.S. 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 criticized Trump's response.
The poll shows Democrats are especially likely to say the U.S. government is responsible for the situation, while many Republicans are likely to place the blame elsewhere. Among Democrats, 79% say the U.S. government has a great deal of responsibility, while 37% say that about other countries' governments and 27% about the WHO. Among Republicans, 38% say the U.S. government is responsible, compared with 60% for the governments of other countries and 55% 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 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?"
Martinez, who said he had to throw a customer out of his store for not wearing a mask recently, lauded Trump for not wanting to create panic in the early stages of the outbreak in the U.S. He also recalled unprecedented runs on items such as toilet paper and paper towels when people realized 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 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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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 U.S.-developed vaccine should be saved for Americans first, but about half of Democrats also agree with that assessment.
That's true even though about half of Republicans say they don't intend to get a vaccine. Overall, 65% of those who do intend to get a vaccine say a U.S.-made vaccine should go to Americans first, but so do 56% of those who don't intend to get one.
For Wright, that was a surprising finding. "One piece that's really striking that shockingly few people in the U.S. would be willing to take (a vaccine) … and the open hostility toward providing the vaccine to other countries. And, that's strongest among Republicans, despite the fact that more Republicans say they won't take the vaccine themselves."
About 8 in 10 Americans — Democrats and Republicans alike — say the U.S. should play a major role in the development of a vaccine. At least half say the same about the WHO (57%), European countries (55%) and China (51%).
But there's a partisan divide on the role of those outside the US. Seventy-five percent of Democrats and just 39% of Republicans see a major role for the WHO. Sixty-two percent of Democrats and 41% of Republicans see a major role for China. The divide is smaller on the role of European countries, with 64% of Democrats and 50% of Republicans saying they should play a major role.