Juror Attitudes in the Age of the Coronavirus:
Political Opinions and Attitudes
The data referenced in this article was collected in March 2020 as part of our 2020 Juror Attitudes in the Age of the Coronavirus survey. This article should be reviewed in conjunction with our overview article. For a copy, please contact [email protected]. The statements, opinions and results listed in this document may change as the landscape caused by the pandemic evolves.
Political attitudes have greatly influenced perceptions of the COVID-19 pandemic and opinions about appropriate responses; simultaneously, however, the pandemic itself is also leading to shifts in political attitudes, which ultimately will impact jurors’ views towards litigation. This article explores this evolving process through a close look at the data collected in DecisionQuest’s recent nationwide survey.
For this article, individuals’ attitudes and experiences with COVID-19 were analyzed by the variables of: 1) political orientation (self-described conservatives versus “middle of the road” or moderates versus liberals) and 2) political party affiliation (Republicans versus Independents versus Democrats).  Many statistically significant differences between these groups were found and they are discussed throughout this article. 
The Effects of Political Attitudes on Views of the Coronavirus
In this day and age, it sometimes seems like partisans of different stripes or people with differing political orientations exist in different realities when reacting to various events. Thus far, the reaction to the Coronavirus has been no exception to this general phenomenon.
In this survey, it was found that political conservatives were more likely than liberals and moderates to believe that the seriousness of the Coronavirus is generally exaggerated and less likely to report having made major changes in lifestyle in order to protect themselves against the virus. About one-third (32%) of conservatives believed that the seriousness of the Coronavirus is generally exaggerated, as compared with 18% of moderates and 14% of liberals.
Eighteen percent of conservatives reported that they were living normally and not taking special precautions and another one-quarter (25%) of conservatives responded that they were taking precautions but were not limiting trips to only necessary ones. Six percent of moderates were not taking special precautions and another 17% were taking precautions but not limiting trips. Finally, similar to moderates, 8% of liberals reported not taking special precautions and another 15% stated that they were taking precautions but still engaging in unnecessary trips.
Political conservatives had more confidence than others in both their own ability and the government’s ability to effectively deal with the Coronavirus. Thirty-nine percent of conservatives were very confident in their own ability to control how the pandemic will affect their lives, as compared with about one-fifth (21%) of moderates and 18% of liberals. Also, one-third (33%) of conservatives were very confident about the government’s ability to control the Coronavirus pandemic and another 45% were somewhat confident. Only 9% of moderates were very confident in the government’s ability and another 35% were somewhat confident. Twelve percent of liberals were very confident and another one-quarter (25%) were somewhat confident.
Interestingly, despite conservatives being more likely to report thinking that the dangers of the Coronavirus are exaggerated and having confidence in themselves and the government to effectively deal with these dangers, they were also more likely to have suffered adverse economic and health effects from the pandemic. A higher proportion of conservatives than the rest of the sample reported that: 1) they or their spouse/significant other had lost their job due to the virus; and 2) that they themselves or someone close to them had gotten the virus. Thirtyeight percent of conservatives reported that they themselves or their spouse/significant other lost their job, whereas 31% of moderates and 27% of liberals reported this event having happened to them. About one-quarter (24%) of conservatives reported that they or someone close to them had gotten COVID-19, as compared with only 11% of moderates and 14% of liberals. This result, coupled with the fact that conservatives were less likely to report having made major changes in lifestyle in response to the Coronavirus, would seem to indicate that this group is suffering a higher rate of illness from the virus than others in the population because of less of a willingness to take precautions.
It is important to note that this survey data was collected relatively early in the course of the pandemic, so it will be important to see whether different political groups’ opinions shift in future DecisionQuest surveys regarding the pandemic and, if so, how.
The Coronavirus’ Effect on Political Attitudes
One part of the story unfolding right now is that different political groups in America hold very different impressions of the pandemic and what is an appropriate response; but this is not the complete story. Another important trend to watch, particularly for trial lawyers, is how the American public’s overall political outlook changes in response to having lived through a global pandemic. These changes in political views will inevitably affect jurors’ attitudes towards various types of litigation.
Already Morning Consult, in a survey done at the end of March, found that there was an increase in support for Medicare for All. This survey found 55% approval and 35% disapproval, meaning net support for this program stood at +20% as compared with +11% in mid-February. Also, this same survey found that 43% of registered voters reported that the Coronavirus has made them more likely to support universal healthcare, as compared with 26% who reported that it made them less likely. This shift in attitude likely reflects a widespread dissatisfaction with the difficulties that the American healthcare system experienced in handling the pandemic and a subsequent desire for the system to work differently. Publicity about lack of ventilators, PPEs and testing kits, as well as the public’s concerns about possible personal financial costs for themselves or their family members for COVID-19 treatment, has caused many Americans to become more open to the idea of substantial changes to the healthcare system in the United States. This may mean that juries become more receptive to lawsuits that are intended to change the way that healthcare organizations operate, e.g., antitrust lawsuits directed at the healthcare industry. Also, particularly with the large increases in insurance premiums projected in the years ahead (as a result of insurers bearing much of the financial burden of treating COVID-19), jurors may become even more resentful of the high costs of health insurance and more hostile to health insurance companies when deciding any kind of health insurance-related litigation.
As part of the Coronavirus crisis, a large segment of the American public has needed help from state and federal governments in the form of unemployment and other “social safety net” benefits. The public has also seen many state and federal government agencies being involved in relief efforts and in coordinating responses to this crisis. Probably in reaction to the help that state governments have provided to people coping with the pandemic, a national Quinnipiac University poll from early April found that 74% of the sample approved of the job that their Governor was doing to handle the response to the Coronavirus, whereas only 24% disapproved. Similarly, a Pew Research survey conducted in late March of this year found a more positive opinion being held by the public regarding nine out of the ten federal agencies asked about then, as compared with ratings in September 2019, likely due to the public’s reaction to the help that federal agencies are providing now. For example, 73% of Americans reported holding a positive opinion of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), as compared with 64% of the public in September of last year. Another example is, during this same time period, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) saw an increase in its positive rating from 52% to 65%. The only exception to this trend was the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) whose positive rating stayed essentially unchanged, 79% versus 80% in September 2019. However, this agency saw a big increase in positive opinion as compared with September 2015, when 71% of the public held a favorable view of the agency.
This increased need for and approval of state and federal governments’ pandemic-related intervention may ultimately translate to greater comfort with the government intervening in other areas, such as in corporate America through increased business regulation. DecisionQuest’s current survey appears to support this notion of growing public approval of government regulation, with 72% of the entire sample endorsing the statement “Government regulation of business is necessary to protect the public interest” as compared with 68% endorsing this statement in 2018. Arguments made to jurors about the importance of the free market and the detriments of regulation may receive less favorable reception than in the past. Additionally, due to more positive feelings towards state and federal governments, lawsuits brought by these parties may now start with more of a “leg up” with juries than before.
Naturally, the public in recent days has become increasingly concerned about keeping their immediate environment safe and disease free. As part of this, Americans are increasingly demanding that employers take all steps necessary to protect risks to their health. This is especially of concern because as states start to loosen their restrictions, employees may feel like they are being forced to go to work, even as they have concerns about their personal safety. Already, a wave of COVID-19 lawsuits have been filed against grocery stores, large box retailers, manufacturers and hospitals by employees who allege that they have been exposed to unsafe work environments. It is likely that even when the pandemic subsides, jurors will still be more focused on employers’ obligations to provide safe working environments to their employees than in the past. In addition to changes in juror attitudes towards employment lawsuits, there are likely to also be shifts in opinions regarding toxic tort lawsuits. Jurors who know someone who was hospitalized or died from COVID-19, or even those who have been particularly affected by this crisis psychologically, may be more willing to accept allegations that a plaintiff was sickened or killed by minute levels of toxic substances.
As the pandemic continues, people around the world have increasingly relied on the internet to maintain much needed human contact, both through social media and video calling. As the public’s attention shifts away from social media’s role in the dissemination of misinformation towards technology’s beneficial role in maintaining human relationships, “Big Tech” may see an improvement in its overall corporate reputation, which could pay positive dividends for this industry when their companies are involved in upcoming jury trials. On the other hand, wellpublicized incidents of “Zoom-bombing,” in which video calls’ security was breached and participants’ privacy was violated, could mean that jurors will be increasingly sensitized to and disturbed by lawsuits alleging companies did not properly protect consumers’ privacy and/or personal data.
We are in the midst of a reconfiguration of society in reaction to a worldwide pandemic. Although the nature of many upcoming wholesale shifts in juror attitudes is not yet apparent, what is clear is that there will be change. Case themes and narratives that may have worked well for juries in the past will need to be reexamined in light of this current crisis and its ongoing fallout. To serve our clients well in the future, we will need to let go of certain perceived “truths” and to recalibrate our approach to juries and trials, informed by the new reality that exists.
DecisionQuest will continue to monitor the impact of the crisis to understand juror decision making in this changing landscape. If you have questions about our survey and want to discuss how the Novel Coronavirus may impact your upcoming jury trial, please contact [email protected]
About the Authors:
Dr. Miles Hutton is a Senior Consultant in DecisionQuest’s Boston office. Dr. Hutton works with high-profile clients on case evaluation, strategy development, venue studies and juror profiling. He has consulted a variety of cases throughout the country including insurance, contract, patent, securities, pharmaceutical liability, whitecollar crime, antitrust, asbestos and toxic tort matters. Prior to joining DecisionQuest, Dr. Hutton worked as a research psychologist and a marketing consultant. Several of his academic articles have appeared in such publications as Journal of Immigrant and Refugee Services, Psychiatric Services and Psychological Services.
Anupama Gulati, M.S. is an integral part of DecisionQuest’s Boston office. With her keen interest in juror psychology and decisionmaking, she has engaged in various research activities including, but not limited to, strategic theme development, online jury research (JuryLive®), post-trial interviews, juror social media research, juror profiling and rating, as well as jury selection and voir dire. Ms. Gulati has most recently worked on patent, antitrust, contract and personal injury cases, although she consults on a wide array of civil litigation and selected criminal matters.
 For this analysis, due to the statistical unreliability of small cell sizes, unregistered voters and those who were registered with a third party were excluded.
 For the sake of brevity, only the percentages for COVID-19 related questions by political orientation are reported in the text. However, as is clear from the accompanying tables, there are also many significant differences by political party membership, with Republicans being similar in outlook to self-described conservatives, Independents being similar in outlook to moderates and Democrats being similar to liberals.