More Than One-third of Americans Do Not Trust COVID-19 Testing

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As the U.S. death toll from the COVID-19 pandemic continues to climb, confusion, suspicion, and concerns remain among Americans regarding the accuracy of COVID-19 tests, and the nature of the virus itself, according to a new survey.

In partnership with YouGov, a recognized authority in public opinion data, we surveyed 1,072 Americans ages 18 to 55+, and found that political affiliation and ideology have the most influence in shaping people’s views of COVID-19 testing and the pandemic itself.

I. Political ideology, education level influence whether Americans trust COVID-19 testing

When survey participants were asked whether they trusted COVID-19 testing, regardless of whether they had experienced virus symptoms, 63.5% said they trust testing, while 36.5% of respondents do not.

Along political party lines, 78.2% of Democrats said they trust COVID-19 testing, compared to 58.6% of Independents, and 52.9% of Republicans. When looked at through the lens of political ideology, the numbers are even more skewed; 82.4% of liberals trust COVID-19 testing, compared to 62.4% of Independents, and 50.3% of conservatives.

Looking at voters from the 2016 presidential election, only 51% of people who voted for President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly downplayed the virus, trust testing, compared to 85.1% of people who voted for Hilary Clinton.

Nearly 60% of people do not trust COVID-19 testing because of accuracy issues

When asked why they do not trust coronavirus testing, 58.9% of all respondents said it is because testing is not 100% accurate, reflecting concerns about testing accuracy that have dogged screenings since the pandemic’s start.

Concerns about accuracy are shared in relatively similar numbers across the political spectrum; 65.1% of Republicans, 59.2% of Democrats, and 57.3% of Independents said they don’t trust COVID-19 testing because of accuracy issues. However, when it comes to other reasons for mistrusting COVID-19 tests, Democrats, Republicans and Independents have different views.

Conservatives are almost ten times more likely than liberals to say that COVID-19 is designed to hurt President Trump’s re-election, by a margin of 49.7% to 5.3%. Similarly, 51% of all people who voted for President Trump in 2016 said COVID-19 is designed to harm his potential re-election, compared to 15.2% of people who voted for Clinton.

Age appears to factor into these opinions as well; 34.3% of people ages 55 and older saying that COVID-19 testing hurts Trump’s re-election chances, compared to 17.3% of 18-34 year olds.

Republicans are also twice as likely as Democrats and Independents to say they don’t trust COVID-19 testing because COVID-19 isn’t real; 10.1% of Republicans hold this view, compared to 4.6% of Democrats, and 5.2% of Independents.

A respondent’s education level also plays a role in whether they believe that COVID-19 is real. No respondents with a postgraduate degree, and only 4% of people with a four-year degree said they believe COVID-19 is fake, compared to 9.3% of people with a high school education, and 10.8% of people with some college education, or a two-year degree.

More than a quarter of Republicans and Independents also indicated that their mistrust of COVID-19 testing is rooted in belief that it is part of a conspiracy to control the population. Americans ages 18-34 were also more likely to believe this theory; 28.9% said this is why they don’t trust COVID-19 testing, compared to 22.9% of people 55+, and 15.3% of people ages 35-54.

II. Half of Americans with COVID-19 symptoms did not get tested

These suspicions and concerns seem to bear out in the rates of testing. Of the 13.1% of survey respondents who had COVID-19 symptoms, roughly half did not get tested; 3.2% did not get tested because they didn’t want to, and 3.1% wanted to get tested, but didn’t. The other 6.8% of people who had symptoms got tested.

Independents who had symptoms got tested at a higher rate than Republicans or Democrats; 8.8% of Independents sought testing, compared to 6.4% of Republicans, and 5% of Democrats.

Accuracy concerns, lack of access main barriers to getting tested for COVID-19

Trust was a key influence in whether individuals who experienced COVID-19 symptoms got tested; 11.2% of all survey respondents said they did not get tested because they don’t trust COVID-19 testing, and 4.3% said they don’t trust medical testing in general.

For Democrats, access to testing, which has been an issue throughout the pandemic, was the biggest barrier; 10.9% said they could not get access to a test, and 5.9% said they couldn’t afford it.

Meanwhile, 18.3% of Republicans said they didn’t get tested because they don’t trust COVID-19 testing, and 13.7% said it was because COVID-19 is just a flu. Republicans were more likely than Democrats and Independents to say they didn’t get tested because COVID-19 is a conspiracy; 8.1% of Republicans cited this reason, compared to 2.9% of Independents and 0.8% of Democrats.

III. 70% of Americans say they would get tested if they have COVID-19 symptoms

Despite these obstacles, 70.1% of survey respondents said they would get tested if they developed COVID-19 symptoms. Among Democrats, 80.7% indicated they would get tested, compared to 69.1% of Republicans, and 65% of Independents. For the rest of the participants, 15.1% said they didn’t know if they would get tested, and 14.8% said they would not.

Over 75% of older Americans willing to get tested for COVID-19

Older Americans, who are most likely to be severely impacted by the coronavirus, are more willing to get tested if they develop COVID-19 symptoms; 76.1% of people in this age group said they would get tested, compared to 62.4% of 35-54 year olds, and 68.6% of 18-34 year olds.

Along political lines, discrepancies persist for willingness to get tested; 80.7% of Democrats said they would get tested if they developed symptoms, compared to 69.1% of Republicans, and 65% of Independents.

IV. Sources