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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The pandemic is throwing a wrench into Americans' understanding of science, which has big implications for climate change.

Driving the news: Recent focus groups in battleground states suggest some voters are more skeptical of scientists in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, while surveys reveal the persistence of a deep partisan divide.

Why it matters: Science is at the heart of understanding the impacts of a warming world and what kind of policies governments should enforce.

  • The world's response to COVID-19 is providing what some experts say is a hyper-fast glimpse into how the world might address climate change over a longer period of time.
  • Climate change, because it's slower moving and its impacts more diffuse, is going to be even harder to tackle than a relatively fast-moving pandemic.

Where it stands: Swing voters in five battleground states surveyed over the last six months expressed an increasing skepticism about science as the pandemic took over America.

  • Focus groups with nearly 60 swing voters in Ohio, Iowa, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin answered questions on several topics, including science and climate change, on a regular basis. (Most of the voters voted for Barack Obama in 2012, then Donald Trump in 2016.)
  • These focus groups, part of a broader project conducted by the nonpartisan research firms Engagious and Schlesinger, are a small handful of voters and don't offer a statistically significant sample like a poll would.
  • The responses nonetheless provide a richer snapshot inside the minds of voters in key states.

How it works: The voters were asked whether, during the pandemic, scientific experts are a net-plus or net-minus when it comes to guiding public policy.

  • In more recent months — August, September and October — the voters were more evenly divided on the question.
  • In earlier months (April to July), more voters said scientists were a net-positive than said they were a net-negative.
  • "I trust them a little less since COVID," said Taylor, an Obama-Trump Michigan voter. "They have gone back and forth too many times. First it was wear masks, then it was don't."

The intrigue: These snapshots provide a rich backdrop to surveys that suggest a mixed picture of Americans' acceptance of science.

  • Nearly a third of voters in several battleground states say they have greater confidence in scientists since the pandemic, while 22% say their trust in science has weakened, according to a survey conducted by centrist think tank Third Way and ALG Research.
  • That survey reiterated what Pew Research Center has found, which is that any increase in trust with experts has occurred almost exclusively among Democrats.

Methodology: Third Way's survey polled 1,500 likely voters across seven battleground states from July 23-29, with oversamples of 100 Black Americans and 100 Latinos. Its margin of error is +/- 2.5%.

Go deeper: Beyond America, trust in science rose during the pandemic

Go deeper

Key company sales gauge recovers to pre-pandemic level

Manufacturing plant in New York last year. Photo: Noam Galai via Getty Images

A key sales gauge has recovered past its pre-pandemic level, according to a new quarterly survey of business conditions by the National Association for Business Economics.

Why it matters: It’s another sign of businesses bouncing back from the depths of the pandemic recession, even with soaring coronavirus cases and a full economic recovery still far off.

Updated 56 mins ago - Health

First North American Omicron cases identified in Canada

COVID-19 testing personnel at Toronto Pearson International Airport in September. Photo: Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images

The first two cases of the new Omicron variant have been detected in North America, the Canadian government announced Sunday evening.

Driving the news: The World Health Organization has named Omicron a "variant of concern," but cautioned earlier on Sunday that it is not yet clear whether it's more transmissible than other strains of COVID-19.

4 hours ago - Health

WHO: Not yet known whether Omicron leads to more severe disease

Photo illustration: Pavlo Gonchar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

The World Health Organization on Sunday said that it is not yet clear whether the newly discovered Omicron variant is more transmissible than other strains of the COVID-19 virus.

Why it matters: The agency's statement comes as the variant, discovered in South Africa, has already been detected in European and Asian countries.

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