Juror Attitudes in the Age of the Coronavirus:
Attitudes Toward the Government

Social Crisis, Social Attitudes: Who Can I Trust?

As jury trials remain paused for now, we contemplate what it will be like when we are able to conduct in-person (or even online) jury trials again. How will we predict the pandemic’s impact on future jurors and its economic implications? To understand reactions to our shared COVID-19 experience, we have studied samples of potential jurors to see how their current attitudes and experiences will affect their future attitudes. How do they feel about regulations? Do potential jurors have confidence in the Federal government, or do they have more confidence in themselves? How do individuals see fellow citizens who are less economically advantaged? How will these potential jurors find in future cases based on their current 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.

Reactions to the Government’s Role and Power

One of the major structures people turn to, especially in times of stress, is the government. They hope that the government will help set rules—everything from which businesses can open to how the vulnerable will receive assistance in tough times. The importance of studying these attitudes rests with the understanding that individuals place trust in their institutions and that trust can affect reactions to many types of cases. These attitudes, as described below, also affect perceptions of plaintiffs and defendants, which may blend with case-specific attitudes. The following are some of the results regarding how potential jurors perceive governmental functions in general, the extent to which government is necessary to protect the public’s interests and the role of government in helping the disadvantaged.

    • We found that 51% of our participants said that they were convinced that the government often does a better job than people give it credit for, versus 49% who believe the government is almost always wasteful and inefficient. This suggests that, at the beginning of this crisis, perceptions of whether the government can be trusted to be efficient started at an even split. In the charts below, note that there appears to be a trend towards more people believing in the government’s ability to do a better job than people give it credit for than in previous years (51% in 2020 versus 44% in both 2016 and 2018). During a crisis, citizens often band together to support the government, but faith in the government and its abilities will be tested as this virus and the fallout (deaths and economic losses) continue.

Which of the following statements comes closest to your view?

    • In addition, 72% of participants found that government regulation of business is necessary to protect the public interest, versus 28% who believe that government regulation of business usually does more harm than good. This sentiment that government is necessary to advocate for public interest is in line with findings from both 2016 and 2018. Again, we study this type of variable, because we want to track whether jurors believe regulations are necessary, i.e., in antitrust cases, security cases, automotive and trucking cases, and toxic tort cases. In times of crisis, this kind of expectation is likely to be heightened. We will continue to track this data and utilize the findings to develop juror profiles for cases in which views of regulations are paramount.

Which of the following statements comes closest to your view?

Government regulation of business

    • We asked other questions in our survey about perceptions of disadvantaged people and government assistance. More participants in this survey felt that disadvantaged people today have “hard lives” (59%) versus those who felt disadvantaged people have it “easy” due to government benefits (41%).
    • Further, 63% of participants felt that the government should do more to help disadvantaged Americans, even if it means going deeper into debt, compared to 37% who said that the government can’t afford to do much more.
    • Additionally, when comparing our 2020 data to our existing database, there were several indications of change in views about public policies designed to aid the disadvantaged. More Americans favor governmental programs to aid the disadvantaged today, during the pandemic, as compared to in previous years.
    • There also appears to be an increase in the percentage of respondents who believe impoverished individuals today have hard lives because government benefits do not go far enough to help them live decently, from 45% in 2016 and 52% in 2018 to 59% in 2020. (See chart above.)
    • There is also an increase in the percentage of respondents who believe government aid to the disadvantaged does more good than harm because people cannot get out of poverty until their basic needs are met, from 51% in 2016 and 54% in 2018 to 62% in 2020.

It is likely that the percentage of individuals expecting the government to aid the disadvantaged (and particularly the unemployed) will be even greater in the coming months as a result of this pandemic. The extent to which respondents’ perceptions have changed in a statistically significant manner this year will be explored in further research.

The Government’s Role vs. the Individual’s Role

Importantly, we next asked about perceptions regarding the government’s role in controlling the pandemic and also about individuals’ perceptions of their abilities to control if they get the virus.

    • A small percentage of participants (18%) were “very confident” about how the government would be able to control the pandemic; a greater percentage (35%) felt “somewhat confident,” 27% were “a little bit confident,” and 20% were “not at all confident.”

How confident are you of the government’s ability to control the
coronavirus pandemic?

    • A greater percentage of men (24%) were very confident about the government’s ability to deal with the crisis than women (11%)—a statistically significant difference.

How confident are you of the government’s ability to control the
coronavirus pandemic?

    • In our survey, 49% of participants disapproved of President Trump’s handling of the response to COVID-19, while 37% approved; another 14% had no opinion.

Do you approve or disapprove of the way Donald Trump is
handling the response to the coronavirus (COVID-19)?

    • When asked about how confident they were in their “own ability to control how the Coronavirus pandemic will affect your [their] own life,” results showed that 44% of participants were “somewhat confident” and 26% were “very confident” in their own ability to control how the Coronavirus will affect their own life. Only 21% were “a little bit confident,” while 9% were “not at all confident.”

How confident are you of your own ability to control how the
coronavirus pandemic will affect your own life?

    • In summary, the data above shows that men are significantly more confident than women in their own abilities to control how the pandemic affects their lives.
    • Further, more confident people are more confident across the board; that is, they are confident about both the government’s and their own abilities to deal with COVID-19. In other words, confidence simply translates to approaching the pandemic in a more self-assured way overall. And, as shown above, men are more confident than women with regard to both themselves and the government.
    • Interestingly, there is a correlation between political philosophy and self-confidence in the context of the pandemic: conservatives report higher confidence than do liberals.

It is possible that a sense of confidence in themselves and in the government will be important indicators, not only of how a person weathers the storm of the pandemic, but also in how they see the vulnerable in this country.

Relationship to Verdicts in Our Case Scenarios

To understand how reactions to the pandemic might impact juror decision making, as part of this survey, we included a brief case summary of several different kinds of cases and looked at correlations between various attitudes toward the government and these case scenarios. There were three scenarios: A product matter (Mesothelioma), a personal injury claim (talc) and a labor and employment case (involving potential discrimination and harassment). We asked respondents to render decisions on liability and damages, including punitive damages. This is a well-established methodology, both in proprietary research like ours, and in the peer-reviewed, academic literature.

    • There was no statistical relationship between venue and verdict decisions.
    • There was an interesting correlation between “concern that they, or people they know, will get the Novel Coronavirus,” and verdicts.
    • Respondents who indicated higher levels of concern were statistically more likely to find in favor of the plaintiff and to award higher damages in all three case scenarios. People who reported maximum concern found for the plaintiff at almost 80% of the time.
    • On the other hand, people with lower levels of concern about getting the virus only found for the plaintiff about 60% of the time.

There were several statistically significant correlations between attitudes toward the government and these case scenarios.

    • Those who feel that government regulation of business is necessary to protect the public interest were more likely to be plaintiff-oriented and more punitive in the mesothelioma scenario, while those who believe that regulations are more likely to be harmful were more likely to be defense-oriented and were less punitive in that scenario. These attitudes were not significantly correlated with regard to verdicts in the harassment scenario, underlining that each case and case type are unique and deserve case-specific profiles.
    • Interestingly, attitudes about government efficiency were not statistically related to plaintiff or defense orientation in any case.
    • In a different vein, respondents who said that “government aid to the disadvantaged does more harm than good,” were more likely to be defense-oriented and awarded less damages and less punitive damages across the Mesothelioma and discrimination and harassment scenarios than those who think that “government aid to the disadvantaged does more good than harm.” Similarly, those who indicated that the “disadvantaged populations have it easy because they can get government assistance,” awarded lower damages in the Mesothelioma and discrimination and harassment scenarios. People in favor of aid to the disadvantaged found for the plaintiff 78% of the time. Those against aiding the disadvantaged only did so 66% of the time.

In Conclusion

The jury-eligible population’s response to the Coronavirus is important to study, as we determine which attitudes are related to plaintiff or defendant orientations and specifically which attitudes may be related to how they would find in cases that may go to trial. As trial consultants, we will watch the unfolding psychological currents which might affect perceptions of the parties in a lawsuit, the witnesses they would want to hear from, the themes that may be more persuasive and the ways that we can predict which type of jurors will react favorably and unfavorably to your case.

To learn more about the data and how it may impact your upcoming cases, or to discuss running a similar study with CaseXplorer® in your venue, please contact [email protected].

In the meantime, stay safe, stay healthy and keep a positive outlook.