65 Percent of U.S. Adults Say Donald Trump Was Too Slow to Respond to COVID-19 Outbreak: Poll

Donald Trump
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a daily briefing of the White House Coronavirus Task Force in the Rose Garden at the White House April 15, 2020, in Washington, DC. Alex Wong/Getty

As the novel coronavirus continues to produce some of its most unrelenting damage across the country, Americans indicate that they largely believe President Donald Trump can and should have acted sooner to mitigate the crisis.

According to a survey released Thursday by the Pew Research Center, 65 percent of U.S. adults believe that the president was too slow to take major steps to address the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. Americans under the age of 50 were 20 percentage points more likely to say so.

Seventy-three percent of U.S. adults say the worst is yet to come.

The survey was conducted last week, when between 1,500 and 2,000 Americans were dying each day from COVID-19.

Trump has defended his administration's response during the critical month of February, when many reports indicated that the government missed a window to take aggressive, pre-emptive action.

"How do you close down the greatest economy in the history of the world when on January 17 you have no cases and no death?" the president said at a press conference Monday. "We're supposed to close down the country?"

Trump has further suggested that any sweeping actions he might have taken earlier on would have been opposed by the public at the time. As an example, he said that "every Democrat thought I made a mistake when I" implemented travel restrictions on visitors from China at the end of January.

But critics say inaction extends well beyond February, citing his administration's more recent reluctance to use the full measure of the Defense Production Act to compel production of medical equipment in short supply. While the Trump administration has invoked the law in limited fashion, officials have also suggested they believe it is a more powerful tool when used as leverage. Trump has previously derided the law, saying at a press conference in late March that "we're a country not based on nationalizing our business" and making a comparison to Venezuela.

Overall, a majority of the public do think it is acceptable for elected officials to criticize the Trump administration's response. Americans across party lines, however, differ in the degree to which they approve. While 85 percent of Democrats think it should be acceptable for elected officials to criticize how the Trump administration is handling COVID-19, Republicans are almost evenly divided, with a slight majority shunning the idea.

Fifty-seven percent of U.S. adults now believe Trump is doing a poor or fair job of providing accurate information about the outbreak. A little more than half of Americans believe that he is making the situation appear better than it really is. Similar percentages believe the same about his meeting the needs of hospitals and working with state governors. On all of these questions, Democrats and Republicans remain deeply polarized.

The Pew survey was conducted from April 7 to April 12 and has an overall margin of error of 2.1 percentage points.