The CDC has emphatically not done a good job in this, my man. The agency’s inability to produce a workable, widely available diagnostic test in a timely way during the scariest pandemic in a century feels like a Chernobyl-scale failure in light of what’s about to hit New York and the rest of the country. In hindsight I think it’ll be seen as one of the most consequential government breakdowns in American history, in tandem with the feds’ inexplicable unwillingness to use the WHO’s coronavirus test after the CDC’s own testing development hit a snag.
No one, up to and including Trump, deserves less public confidence right now than the CDC. It would only be a slight exaggeration to say “they had one job” and that they blew it. And yet they’re the *most* trusted government actor on this list. Why?
Partly, I think, it’s the fact that news junkies like you and me are extreme outliers in terms of how much information we consume. Much of the public is probably still blissfully unaware that the CDC and FDA fell down on the job despite all the hype about it in papers like the Times and WaPo. It may also be that the CDC’s reputation as nonpartisan and science-focused insulates them from public criticism even when there’s plenty to criticize. They fight disease. There’s no reason for Democrats or Republicans to have any strong partisan animosity towards them.
But maybe it’s as simple as this: Anthony Fauci is likable, reassuring, sober about the threat, and on TV roughly 12 hours a day now. He’s the face of the federal government’s scientific response to the pandemic. Some share of Americans may be extending their confidence in Fauci to the feds’ entire scientific response team. That is, the CDC’s numbers here may largely be a measurement of public reaction to Fauci and people like Deborah Birx.
You can see clearly how much partisanship informs these ratings (or doesn’t, in the CDC’s case) by the fact that Pence scores barely higher than Trump even though he’s gotten good reviews from all players as a sober, responsive actor. It’s mostly just Team Red/Team Blue stuff driving the numbers for him and POTUS, with Pence rated a bit more highly by Democrats and Trump rated a bit more highly by Republicans.
Here’s another theory for why the CDC polls so inexplicably well. Maybe Republicans and Democrats each view the agency positively for different silly reasons and it just so happens that those reasons align right now to produce an overall high rating. Check out the wide divide between righties and lefties on whether coronavirus poses a threat to the health of Americans as a whole:
Republicans are still in heavy denial about the extent of the threat, which may be why they’re chill about the CDC. So they screwed up the tests. So what? Relax, bro. Democrats, meanwhile, may be so consumed with animosity towards Trump that they’re grading the CDC on a huge curve. Scientists are experts, right? They’re the “adults in the room” stuck having to cater to a big orange baby. Lefties need to place their faith in *some* government actor here and it’s sure not going to be Trump. By process of elimination, it has to be the CDC.
Another new poll today, from YouGov, finds that worries within both parties over COVID-19 are rising steadily, with 71 percent of Republicans saying they’re somewhat concerned about an epidemic and around 90 percent of Democrats saying so. When you drill down and focus on which media people are consuming, though, the numbers look … different:
New polling on media attention and #covid-19 from YouGov and The Economist:
% who say they are worried about the virus, by media they most pay attention to:
National newspapers (NYT/WaPo): 72
Broadcast news: 68
Local news: 57
Fox News: 38
— G. Elliott Morris (@gelliottmorris) March 18, 2020
Fox viewers are unusually complacent about the disease. I wonder why.
By the way, the first signs of Trump’s job approval beginning to slide have emerged, which was to be expected in a crisis of this magnitude. The bottom hasn’t fallen out or anything like that; he’s just dipped a few points in Gallup, from 47 percent to 44, in line with where he stood for much of the past year. It’ll be fascinating to see how much or how little blame the public assigns him for his response to a freakish once-in-a-century black-swan event like coronavirus even though he was conspicuously slow to take it seriously in his public comments. I think his rating will remain surprisingly solid so long as he appears to be proactive in trying to head off the crisis. Major stimulus packages, military assistance to states that are hit hard — all of that will preserve public confidence. Some Democrats think coronavirus might actually make him harder to beat this fall. If we’ve made progress against the disease before November, if the fiscal stimulus is helping Americans weather the economic storm, voters will conclude that he was up to a major challenge and will reward him for it.
But don’t be too confident. The Dow tanked again today and now sits lower than it did on Inauguration Day 2017. Every last bit of gains during the Trump era has now been erased, with more pain to come. That’s not his fault, but the “let’s try something different” impulse among voters will be strong too.