A new study led by LDI Senior Fellow Dan Hopkins that found high levels of support for the continuation of COVID-19 restrictions in Pennsylvania is the subject of major coverage in the Philadelphia Inquirer and WHYY’s Radio Times show.

Originally published on May 5 as a working paper on the SSRN Network, Hopkins and co-investigator Syon Bhanot of Swarthmore College, reported that their April survey of nearly 2,000 Pennsylvania residents found overall high levels of support and endorsement for social distancing measures and business closures that are central to an effective COVID-19 response.

Overall, 61% backed “staying at home for as long as necessary, even if the economy suffers,” while 26% backed reopening the economy.

Risks and benefits

“Ultimately, the fight against coronavirus is going to be determined by actions citizens take of their own volition, because they understand the risks and they understand the benefits,” Hopkins told the Inquirer. “We shouldn’t hesitate to lead and shouldn’t be overly influenced by a vocal minority who may be calling for other approaches.”

Hopkins, PhD, a Professor of Political Science at Penn’s School of Arts and Sciences, collaborated with the survey firm Civiqs to query state residents about their opinions related to Harrisburg’s and Washington’s coronavirus mitigation policies.

LDI rapid-response grant

The work was funded by LDI as part of its COVID Rapid-Response Research Grants program focused on key pandemic issues related to population health, health care delivery or health policy.

The survey also explored how partisan-driven “resistance to expert advice” might be at work across the state, particularly in light of anti-social-distancing protests in a handful of other state capitals, and the Trump administration’s efforts to downplay the infection’s threat.

The signs and chants of demonstrators at those recent demonstrations mirror the political rhetoric of the White House that has consistently brushed aside the advice of top medical authorities and prevented its own government experts from guiding the national pandemic response.

Anti-intellectualism and distrust

“Social scientists have documented declining levels of trust in government, public authorities and the news media that may reduce citizens’ willingness to comply with intrusive new policies,” Hopkins and Bhanot explained in their paper. “Evidence suggests not only that anti-intellectualism and distrust of elites are important forces in the U.S. political landscape, but also that their rise has been driven by increasing skepticism about elite expertise amongst Republicans.”

However, the researchers reported that although the survey found significant differences by political party in overall attitudes toward various coronavirus-related policies, “there is no evidence that elite framing reduced support for stay-at-home policies; if anything, (our findings) suggest that framing these policies as having elite support made people more likely to back them.”

In an interview with Marty Moss-Coane, host and executive producer of the WHYY Radio Times show, Hopkins noted one of the critical findings of the survey — the overwhelming majority of those polled said their primary source of information about the pandemic came from television, radio and newspapers rather than the internet.

‘Skewed view’

“The protests we’ve seen against (governors’ restrictive COVID policies) give us a skewed view,” Hopkins told Moss-Coane. “Part of what is so important is that there are many, many people who are not appearing on television or Twitter. I think by doing surveys like this we can get a sense of the opinions held by millions of Pennsylvania residents who are dutifully in their homes, or maybe they’re essential workers out doing their jobs but you don’t hear from them. Nonetheless, their views are going to be absolutely critical as we think about what policies can garner support moving forward through this pandemic period.”

This study was supported by a COVID-19 Rapid Response Grant from Penn LDI. In response to the pandemic, this grant supports LDI Senior and Associate Fellow projects that address urgent questions related to population health, health care delivery, or health policy during the pandemic. Learn more about LDI’s response to COVID-19 here.