Researcher talks about how people form opinions of COVID-19

Reporter: Morgan Rynor Writer: Jack Lowenstein
Published: Updated:
Lee Reinie with Pew Research Center. Credit: WINK News.

Local governments in Southwest Florida have operated differently to respond to the coronavirus pandemic. Several have some form of mask mandate; others put beach restrictions in place for the July 4 holiday weekend. But there is disparity for how local governments are making decisions during the pandemic.

A director with Pew Research Center spoke to us from Washington D.C. Friday and told us a bit about how people form views toward a crisis such as COVID-19.

First, information is the key.

“People are struggling to get the information that they want and not necessarily sure that they’re getting the right information,” said Lee Reinie, the Pew Research Center director of internet and technology research

That’s causing a divide in the outcomes people want.

“So it speaks to a lot of the strain and stress that Americans are feeling about, ‘I don’t know who’s giving me the right advice. I don’t know how to live my life comfortably as I move forward,’” Reinie explained. “And, so for some people, they take the steps that are sort of most put them out in the community. They want to return to work, or they want to not be limited in their movement around. For other people, their safety and the safety of the people around them is paramount in their minds, and they are defaulting to sort of being very cautious.”

And it affects how people feel about their neighbors.

“People are pretty desperate to get the right answers, but they don’t necessarily know that their neighbors are coming to the same conclusions that they are,” Reinie said. “So that influences how they think about their neighbors.

Reinie says Democrats are trusting health experts at a rising rate. They want those experts to weigh in on policy; whereas, he says Republics are not seeing a new trend.

“It’s about the same as it used to be, so the pandemic hasn’t affected it,” Reinie said.

But Reinie said party lines don’t matter as much at the local level.

“At the local level, it’s a different set of calculations,” he said. “People sort of start by saying local officials are close to home. Sometimes they’re pretty easily accessible, so, if they mess up, I can have access to them and tell them how they mess up.”

While this map of so many different opinions looks scary right now….

“When we ask people how do we get out of this mess? You know we’re in an environment where people don’t feel good about each other and don’t necessarily feel good about any of the government institutions that are trying to serve them. And what they will say is the national situation is pretty hopeless,” Reinie said. “They hope that local initiatives, local conversations, that may be put one partisan against another partisan something like that will soften people’s attitudes or at least give people a sense that they have something in common with their neighbors.”

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