Democrats and Republicans split on accuracy of coronavirus death statistics, polling shows

Almost half of Americans said they believe that official death toll statistics understate the number of coronavirus deaths in the United States, according to a mid-April Gallup/Knight Foundation poll. A quarter said the statistics were accurate and another 26% said deaths were being overstated, with stark partisan divides.

At the time the survey finished fielding responses on April 20, the number of coronavirus deaths nationwide stood at around 36,600, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. The reported number of coronavirus deaths had since grown to more than 98,000 as of Tuesday afternoon, according to the same tally.

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Republicans were much more likely to believe the reported coronavirus death toll is too high, with 50% who said the number is exaggerated, 31% who said the number is accurately stated and 19% who said it is understated. A plurality of independents (44%) thought the death toll was understated and 72% of Democrats agreed.

Americans’ views on the lethality of the coronavirus are also divided along partisan lines.

Two-thirds of Americans stated that coronavirus is more deadly than the seasonal flu, while 87% of Democrats correctly identified the death rate for coronavirus as higher than the flu, 66% of independents and only 40% of Republicans said the same.

In its wording, the question stated that the death rate for the seasonal flu was 0.1%, continuing “that means roughly one person dies from the seasonal flu for every 1,000 people who get it” and asking respondents to estimate whether coronavirus’ death toll was greater than, less than or the same as the flu.

In recent guidance for mathematical modelers, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said its “best estimate” is that about 0.4% of people who show symptoms and have Covid-19 will die. Experts criticized that number as low, but it’s still higher than the 0.1% of people who die from the flu.

The poll found slight movement since its late March survey, with an overall increase in Americans who identified coronavirus as more deadly than the seasonal flu (up 7 percentage points), mostly reflected among Democrats, up 13 percentage points since March. However, there was no real movement among Republicans, who were no more likely in April than in March to say the coronavirus was more deadly than the seasonal flu.

A CBS/YouGov poll out more recently, in mid-May, found that about half of Americans said the death toll is larger than is being reported, with fewer who thought it was smaller or about accurate and similar partisan splits.

The Gallup/Knight Foundation survey was conducted online April 14-20, with a random sample of 1,693 adults. The total sample of national adults has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.