Updated Mar 18, 2020 - Health

Axios-Ipsos Coronavirus Index: Americans hit by stress, job losses

Data: Axios/Ipsos survey, margin of error of ±3.2 percentage points; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Four in five Americans are worried about the coronavirus, with twice as many Democrats as Republicans saying they're very concerned, according to the nearly 1,100 adults polled for the debut installment of the Axios-Ipsos Coronavirus Index.

The stark new reality in America: 10% told not to work in the past week, 10% say they're self-quarantining, and 22% say their mental health got worse in the past week.

Details: This new index, produced in a partnership between Axios and global research firm Ipsos, is a vivid weekly barometer of the pandemic's effects on Americans’ health, finances, trust and quality of life.

  • It will show how we are adapting to social distancing and other realities in this period of national uncertainty.

Between the lines: The national survey was conducted Friday through Monday (March 13-16), as the public began to come to terms with the significance of the outbreak.

  • That was just before the U.S. government asked people to begin a 15-day period of social distancing, and President Trump proposed sending checks to Americans to offset hits.
  • Despite the impact they're feeling in other ways, most Americans said their physical health is unchanged. Only 4% said they know someone who's tested positive.

Why it matters: The effects of school closures, business restrictions, social distancing and the overloading of the medical system are only beginning to set in. People’s perceptions are certain to change as testing becomes more broadly available and the numbers of confirmed cases rise.

  • “America is just now coming to grips with the seriousness of the coronavirus outbreak,” said Cliff Young, president of Ipsos U.S. Public Affairs. "We expect next week’s poll will reflect the drastic changes in behavior, as the reality of the virus modifies our day-to-day life."
  • The findings reflect something between a panic and a "national malaise," Young said, manifesting in anxiety and uncertainty but also "psychological dissonance."

The survey caught Americans in transition as they start to change their behavior. While 79% said they're concerned, 56% still reported going out to eat in the past week.

  • But some basic social conventions have changed: 64% said they'd stopped shaking hands, and 93% said now they're washing their hands with soap for at least 20 seconds.
  • 46% had skipped or cancelled attending large gatherings in the past week.

The findings on physical vs. emotional health were among the most interesting:

  • 82% said there was no difference in their own physical health over the past week (and about half of the rest said their health actually improved).
  • 86% said their access to health care had not changed in the last week, while 9% said it had gotten worse.
  • But 22% said their mental health had gotten worse, and 29 percent said their emotional well-being was taking a hit.

By the numbers: Most of the direct impacts people were feeling had more to do with cancelled work or social gatherings, hits to their retirement savings or not being able to find certain goods at the store.

  • One in 10 said their business has been closed entirely, at least temporarily.
  • One in five said they’ve been told to work from home, while one in three said they’ve been told to shift to teleconferencing rather than in-person meetings.
  • One in four is finding it harder to do their job.
  • On household goods, 44% said it’s been harder to access food or other household needs. One in three tried but failed to buy hand sanitizer, while one in four couldn't find toilet paper.
  • The financial impact is real: 43% said their 401(k) or retirement plan has taken a hit.

In their search for reliable information, respondents were mixed over whether to trust network TV, cable news, national newspapers and digital news, while 74% said they didn't trust social media.

  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was the most trusted institution for accurate information about the virus, at 84%. Meanwhile, 70% trust state government, 67% trust their local governments and just 53% trust the federal government.
Data: Axios/Ipsos survey, margin of error of ±3.2 percentage points; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

On mental health, the first installment showed respondents in the Northeast were the most concerned, while Midwesterners were the least worried.

  • The survey also suggests women are experiencing more negative mental health consequences than men about the spread of the virus and what it will mean for their families.
  • Respondents under 30 were the most likely to say their mental health has gotten worse in the past week (30%), followed by those ages 30-49 (25%). Fewer than one in five respondents 50 and older said so — even though seniors face higher risk of death from the virus.
  • This may reflect the multi-layer concerns of working people who are raising children, caring for older parents and saving for retirement — but it also may reflect partisan splits.
  • Republicans expressed less concern than Democrats about the seriousness of the threat — and Republicans tend to skew older and male while Democrats skew younger and female.

Methodology: This Axios/Ipsos Poll was conducted March 13-16 by Ipsos' KnowledgePanel®. This poll is based on a nationally representative probability sample of 1,092 general population adults age 18 or older.

  • The margin of sampling error is +/-3.2 percentage points at the 95% confidence level, for results based on the entire sample of adults.
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