As the 2020 US presidential election cycle ramps up, a significant amount of attention is drawn towards the Federal Government and its handling of key issues over the past four years. Yet, despite this clamor, recent polling by Redfield & Wilton Strategies shows that a plurality of respondents (44%) believe their own state and local governments matter most in addressing major issues in the news and in their lives.
Differences and even tensions between the State Governments and the Federal Government have long been a staple of American politics, but the coronavirus crisis has returned these differences to the foreground. Each state implemented its own measures to ease the strain on hospitals and restrict the spread of the virus, coming to their own decisions as to when, if at all, to implement a stay-at-home order and to lift such an order. The crisis also saw sparring between governors, who complained of a lack of needed medical equipment, and President Trump, who worried that stay-at-home orders would have a severe economic cost.
In our poll conducted last week, we found that 45% of Americans, a plurality, think their own states are better prepared than the US as a whole to stave off a second wave of the coronavirus pandemic. This bias towards state governments is present across all demographics, regions, and political inclinations. Meanwhile, respondents were more pessimistic about the ability of the United States overall to stave off a second save.
Respondents also showed a bias in favor of their own state governments over those of other states. 52% of respondents think their state handled the coronavirus crisis better than most other states.
In part, these figures reflect the different experiences with the coronavirus pandemic in the country. Across many states, the virus was significantly less of a threat than in places like New York. If the virus is to re-emerge at the rate seen in April, it may be more likely that specific parts of the country will see flare-ups rather than the entire country at once.
But these figures are also consistent with a certain trust in and understanding of State Government as well. In a previous poll on April 21, 72% of respondents agreed that the federal government should assist state governments in facing the crisis, rather than taking over entirely. In addition, 57% of respondents thought that States should have the right to implement shelter-in-place orders, instead of the Federal Government.
Given the experience of this pandemic, 57% of respondents agree that public health is better managed on a state-by-state basis than at a federal level. This number may have extraordinary implications for issues relating to healthcare. If the Federal Government cannot be seen as able to reliably and efficiently manage a national health situation, then healthcare as a key electoral issue may be devolved to the state level.
However, a disadvantage of this approach is state competition for resources. Without some federal intervention, it may be difficult to negotiate the costs of medical resources effectively, thus wasting money, time, and efficiency, and possibly reducing health outcomes. These issues may explain why over a third of respondents (38%) think the federal government matters most in addressing major issues. This figure is consistent across demographics, location, and political parties, which is interesting as it suggests the level of centralization or decentralization in the United States does not divide the public among traditional partisan lines.
Most interestingly, the pride of many Americans in their own state also has a financial dimension, as 38% of respondents say they would be willing to pay more for products made in their State rather than other states of the US. Of this smaller group, 72% believe their state handled the coronavirus better than the US as a whole. There therefore appears to be some connection between preference or even pride for one’s State and views on how one’s State handled the coronavirus crisis.
Even more surprisingly, as many as 25% of respondents think their state would be better off as an independent country than as part of the US. Only a plurality of respondents (45%) affirmed the contrary, suggesting that there is a very significant proportion of the population for whom the shared project of the United States may be losing its appeal –– even as independent statehood remains a distant possibility.
As attention in the media shifts from the coronavirus crisis to the protests that have followed the death of George Floyd, the way in which each State Government responds to the protesters and their demands might once again impact the views of many Americans on the merits of State and Federal government, especially given that policing is largely localized. With the country rapidly navigating from crisis to crisis, it would not be surprising for public opinion to continue hardening in either direction. More polling to come from Redfield & Wilton Strategies on this front.