It would be an understatement to say that the United States (and the rest of the world) has been and continues to be confronted with unprecedented challenges in 2020. The emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, the economy’s worst quarter on record (Q2), protests about systemic racism erupting across the country, climate change manifested as record-breaking wildfires in the West and severe hurricanes in the Southeast, have all caused people to wonder “What’s next?” Add to that a rapidly-approaching and contentious presidential election that is polarizing the nation, and it’s no wonder that all of this is taking a toll on many Americans. Which of these, though, weighs most heavily on people’s minds?
IntelliSurvey’s most recent ‘Life in the Time of COVID-19’ survey, fielded in the US from September 18-24, 2020 among 977 adults in the US, sought to uncover the answer to that question. Respondents were presented with five major areas of concern, first asked which is of most concern to them and then asked to explain why.
It should be noted that this wave of the survey was not a nationally representative sample, but instead was comprised of roughly equal numbers of White and Black Americans (499 and 478, respectively) in order to better allow for a comparison between the two groups.
As shown in the chart below, among all respondents, the COVID-19 pandemic, is, by far, of the greatest concern, with more than 4 in 10 (43%) selecting this option. This is followed distantly by the economy (19%), the upcoming Presidential election (16%), systemic racism (12%), and climate change (5%). Somewhat surprisingly, 5% of respondents indicated that none of these are areas of concern.
However, when the results to this question are examined by race, significant differences can be seen between White and Black respondents. As seen in the following chart, although the COVID-19 pandemic is the most common concern among both groups, a significantly higher percent of Blacks than Whites cite it as their biggest concern (46% vs. 40%, respectively). This result reflects the fact that Black Americans have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic; Black Americans represent about 13% of the US population, but roughly 22% of COVID-19 deaths.
The economy is the second most common area of concern among all respondents and also among White respondents; but unsurprisingly, for Black respondents, systemic racism is of significantly more concern (5% vs. 18%, respectively). By contrast, significantly lower percentages of Black respondents indicate that the upcoming Presidential election and the economy are their major concern. The only issue on which there are no significant differences between White and Black respondents is climate change, which is the lowest area of concern for both groups.
Reasons for selecting the area of most concern
After selecting their major concern, respondents were asked, in an optional question, to explain why they made their selection. The following are some of the respondents’ verbatim explanations for each issue. Note that the concerns are presented in the order cited by the total respondent base.
- “There are many pressing events that are concerning right now but the covid 19 simply has more of a likelihood of Killing me before climate change.” (Black respondent)
- “It’s my belief that the country won’t be able to 100% focus on anything until the fear of the pandemic is over” (White respondent)
- “I chose that event because it has had the most impact on society for several months. People died, lost jobs, lost houses, lost families. Due to the pandemic. When things subside there will be a lot to rebuild to get the country back to normal standards” (Black respondent)
- “I am really concerned about the COVID 19 pandemic because it is a deadly, contagious virus that many people are still not taking seriously. I am in the vulnerable category, and feel that I am risking my health every time I need to go out to the grocery or drug store. The emotional health in our household is declining.” (White respondent)
- “if a loved one or I don’t survive a bout of Covid 19, nothing else is important to me” (Black respondent)
- “If we keep dying of all the other choices won’t be an issue” (White respondent)
- “Because this is the most important issues that’s giving me anxiety whenever I leave my home to go anywhere.” (Black respondent)
- “There are too many people who don’t take it seriously, including many politicians. We don’t know the lasting medical conditions that it may cause or if it will shorten lives of people who caught it but didn’t pass away.” (White respondent)
- I have several concurring illnesses that would exacerbate Covid-19 and make it deadly for me. Concentrating on creating a vaccine, maintaining social distance and wearing masks, etc. need to be done in order for the US to stave off the worst of the virus.” (Black respondent)
- “Many people are not taking it seriously enough. If everyone would adhere to mask wearing and social distancing, we would be a lot closer to the end of the virus period. People just don’t seem to realize the seriousness of it.” (White respondent)
- “COVID will clear up on its own with what we are doing so the next thing is to boost the economy.” (White respondent)
- “I think without taking care of the economy first nothing will get better. The economy is the epicenter of the shaken country. Money is not everything but without it success is not possible.” (Black respondent)
- “This is the event impacting my family’s life the hardest” (White respondent)
- “We are running out of money and food” (Black respondent)
- “Because it would have long lasting effects even if a vaccine was created and normal life were to resume.” (White respondent)
- “Because I want the world to get better economically so people can save their home and business so many have lost so much doing this pandemic and I afraid that we are going to run out of food and supply for our family and homes such as paper produce.” (Black respondent)
- “I understand the importance of staying healthy but watching all these businesses close in my community is heartbreaking” (White respondent)
- “People need to work to make money for rent, food, and clothes!” (Black respondent)
- “Because the outcome of the election will affect all the other facets if the government.” (Black respondent)
- “I believe this election is the most important presidential election this country has ever had. This year will be a choice between freedom or communism” (White respondent)
- “It’s the one that will have the most affect on the near and long term future of the country” (Black respondent)
- “The president & his administration as well as all the House & Senate is key to getting every other agenda. To address climate change, pandemic, economy etc…we need to vote for elected leaders who care about the people & their issues.” (White respondent)
- “Because I feel that the figurehead of the nation should actually support the nation and represent us as a collective.” (Black respondent)
- “Because the fate of our country hangs in the balance” (White respondent)
- “The election could determine if this country will be fit to live in for the next four years. The incumbent has got to go!” (Black respondent)
- “The next president will have a huge burden of getting the country back to status quo. The election seems to affect all other events right now.” (White respondent)
- “Racism has always existed in this country, and in spite of the way the average white person has thought of it, racism has not gone away or improved. The way police are trained to view the public endangers us all, but disproportionately endangers people of color and now, in the midst of a pandemic, the public at large has finally had the time to see with their own eyes the blatant abuse and violent killings of several people of color. Protests have arisen and now is the time to deal with this, while there is still momentum. People are risking their safety and their lives to promote change for others. It needs to be a priority.” (White respondent)
- “I love everything and everyone. I believe that we are all equal. Obviously, America doesn’t.” (Black respondent)
- “This has been an issue for a very long time that really needs change .” (White respondent)
- “Although the pandemic is a concern, wearing a mask, social distancing & following the other guidelines will keep my family and friends relatively safe. Systemic racism, could likely kill many of us while being black.” (Black respondent)
- “Police brutality hasn’t gone away” (White respondent)
- “Because I’m tired of being afraid of being black and being killed by a police officer” (Black respondent)
- “I want to see equality in action” (White respondent)
- “Systemic racism undermines the very fabric of our nation.” (Black respondent)
- “Because it can end our world COVID-19 can’t” (Black respondent)
- “Climate change will create disasters that get progressively worse at a quicker rate. Also it could potentially kill billions of people of not make our planet uninhabitable for humans.” (White respondent)
- “It’s starting to become very apparent.” (Black respondent)
- “Regardless of what else is going on the world doesn’t stop changing. Mother nature can take us all out” (White respondent)
- “Cause it affects our future” (Black respondent)
- “Where I live we are not getting enough rain. It is hotter and hotter each year. Plants and trees are suffering. We need the climate to get back to where it was 5 years ago” (White respondent)
- “just look at the west” (Black respondent)
- “We need to start working on this to secure the future of this planet.” (White respondent)
Stress, Stress and More Stress
Concerns and worries are not in short supply this year, and as per a recent Kaiser Family Foundation national tracking poll conducted in mid-July: “…53% of adults in the United States reported that their mental health has been negatively impacted due to worry and stress over the coronavirus… Many adults are also reporting specific negative impacts on their mental health and well being, such as difficulty sleeping (36%) or eating (32%), increases in alcohol consumption or substance use (12%), and worsening chronic conditions (12%) due to worry and stress over the coronavirus.” A Medical News Today Newsletter article indicates that “Racism, or discrimination based on race or ethnicity, is a key contributing factor in the onset of disease. It is also responsible for increasing disparities in physical and mental health among Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC).
For tips on coping with stress during these trying times, see the CDC’s article on Coping with Stress.
Respondents for this survey were collected via Lucid Marketplace.