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Steve Merriweather waits to vote inside Riverside University High School in Milwaukee on April 7 during Wisconsin's primary.

Daniel Acker/Reuters/Reuters

Americans are growing increasingly anxious over both the coronavirus pandemic and the state of the global economy – and forging a rare bipartisan consensus that the United States must reach out to other countries to fight the spread of disease, a new poll suggests.

The Pew Research Center survey found that more Americans currently view the spread of infectious disease as a major threat than any other issue, including terrorism and climate change. They overwhelmingly support international co-operation to tackle the problem.

The poll also found a stark class divide, with lower-income and less-educated Americans far more likely to be concerned about disease, pointing to the inequalities in a country where millions of people have little or no access to health care.

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The numbers provide an early glimpse into how the pandemic could shape election-year politics.

U.S. President Donald Trump is taking heat for ignoring early warnings about the coronavirus and favours an isolationist foreign policy, which included a threat last week to cut funding to the World Health Organization. He had staked his bid for re-election in November on a booming economy, which now has all but shut down because of the virus.

“We know that people are very concerned about the threat of infectious diseases,” said Jacob Poushter, associate director for global attitudes research at Pew Research. “Indeed, we saw it grow over the course of the poll.”

In the poll, 79 per cent of respondents listed the spread of infectious disease as a major threat, 19 per cent pegged it as a minor threat and only 2 per cent said it was not a threat at all.

Americans' growing concerns

Percentage who say the following is

a major threat to the U.S.

80%

The spread of infectious diseases

The condition of the global economy

China's power and influence

70

Global climate change

60

50

40

30

2009

2011

2013

2015

2017

2019

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE:

PEW RESEARCH CENTER

Americans' growing concerns

Percentage who say the following is

a major threat to the U.S.

80%

The spread of infectious diseases

The condition of the global economy

China's power and influence

70

Global climate change

60

50

40

30

2009

2011

2013

2015

2017

2019

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: PEW RESEARCH CENTER

Americans' growing concerns

Percentage who say the following is a major threat to the U.S.

80%

The spread of infectious diseases

The condition of the global economy

China's power and influence

70

Global climate change

60

50

40

30

2009

2011

2013

2015

2017

2019

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: PEW RESEARCH CENTER

Concern was relatively even across the political spectrum, with 82 per cent of Democrats and 77 per cent of Republicans saying disease was a major threat. Ninety-two per cent of Democrats and 79 per cent of Republicans said international co-operation was very important when dealing with the problem.

The poll of 1,000 American adults was conducted by telephone from March 3 to March 29. Its margin of error is 3.7 percentage points. Concern over disease rose during the period of the survey, from 73 per cent among early respondents at the start of March to 84 per cent among those surveyed later in the month, as COVID-19 spread and states began ordering tougher control measures.

In addition, economic angst was up sharply. In 2017, the condition of the global economy was a major problem for just 37 per cent of respondents. Now, it is 55 per cent. Physical-distancing measures have closed most businesses and thrown millions of people out of work.

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U.S. President Donald Trump dismissed concerns over the coronavirus as a 'hoax' when the epidemic first emerged.

Yuri Gripas/Reuters/Reuters

Mr. Trump dismissed concerns over the coronavirus as a “hoax” when the epidemic first emerged.

Earlier this month, The New York Times and Axios revealed memos written in January and February by Peter Navarro, Mr. Trump’s trade adviser, warning the President about the growing problem, apparently to no avail.

Last week, Mr. Trump said he might pull U.S. funds from the WHO because he accused it of being too close to China, where the outbreak originated. He has also referred to coronavirus as the “Chinese virus” and a “foreign” menace.

Existing inequalities clearly shaped concern about the pandemic, the poll found.

People earning less than US$50,000 a year were 10 percentage points more likely to say infectious disease was a major threat than those with income over that threshold. Respondents without a university degree were nine points more likely than those with one to say the same.

“One thing that the coronavirus pandemic has done is lay bare the vulnerabilities and the shortcomings of our systems in a way that no one can ignore any more,” said Capri Cafaro, a former Ohio state legislator who teaches at American University. “The election could become a referendum not specifically on Trump, but on the status quo.”

People wait in a lineup of cars at Traders Village for free groceries from the San Antonio Food Bank.

William Luther/The San Antonio Express-News via AP/The Associated Press

Service workers have found themselves either laid off or obliged to keep working under conditions that could expose them to infection.

The U.S. has no universal health care system, leaving 28 million Americans with no health insurance and others with plans that require hefty out-of-pocket co-payments or deductibles. And unemployment insurance benefits are minimal in some U.S. states, forcing Congress to temporarily expand them to deal with the economic shutdown.

The survey has also tracked a steady rise in concern about the growing power and influence of China. In 2017, 41 per cent of respondents listed it as a “major problem”; now, that figure stands at 62 per cent. Mr. Trump is currently fighting a trade war with Beijing, which he accuses of stealing American factory jobs.

Other threats in Pew Research’s poll did not see the same political consensus as the spread of infectious disease.

Climate change, for instance, was labelled a major threat by 88 per cent of Democrats but only 31 per cent of Republicans.

Large numbers of people moving from one country to another was a major problem for 58 per cent of Republicans and 29 per cent of Democrats.

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Difference in Americans' growing

concerns, by political association

Percentage who say the following

is a major threat to the U.S.

Democrat/leaning Democrat

Republican/leaning Republican

ISSUE

DIFFERENCE

The spread of nuclear weapons

72%

72%

0

Cyberattacks from other countries

72

73

1

The spread of infectious diseases

5

77

82

China's power and influence

6

62

68

Long-standing conflicts between

countries or ethnic groups

8

35

43

Terrorism

8

69

77

The condition of the global economy

17

46

63

Global poverty

19

38

57

Russia's power and influence

46

68

22

Mass migrations

29

58

29

Global climate change

31

88

57

0

20

40

60

80

100

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE:

PEW RESEARCH CENTER

Difference in Americans' growing

concerns, by political association

Percentage who say the following

is a major threat to the U.S.

Democrat/leaning Democrat

Republican/leaning Republican

ISSUE

DIFFERENCE

The spread of nuclear weapons

72%

72%

0

Cyberattacks from other countries

72

73

1

The spread of infectious diseases

5

77

82

China's power and influence

6

62

68

Long-standing conflicts between countries or ethnic groups

8

35

43

Terrorism

8

69

77

The condition of the global economy

17

46

63

Global poverty

19

38

57

Russia's power and influence

46

68

22

Mass migrations

29

58

29

Global climate change

31

88

57

0

20

40

60

80

100

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: PEW RESEARCH CENTER

Difference in Americans' growing concerns, by political association

Percentage who say the following is a major threat to the U.S.

Republican/leaning Republican

Democrat/leaning Democrat

ISSUE

DIFFERENCE

The spread of nuclear weapons

72%

72%

0

Cyberattacks from other countries

72

73

1

The spread of infectious diseases

5

77

82

China's power and influence

6

62

68

Long-standing conflicts between countries or ethnic groups

8

35

43

Terrorism

8

69

77

The condition of the global economy

17

46

63

Global poverty

19

38

57

Russia's power and influence

46

68

22

Mass migrations

29

58

29

Global climate change

31

88

57

0

20

40

60

80

100

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: PEW RESEARCH CENTER

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story included a chart that reversed some Republican and Democrats views.

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